Domaine Fouassier Pet’ Nat’ NV
The Loire Valley is one of France’s most significant regions for sparkling wine. Should this statement cause one or even both of your eyebrows to rise, here are a couple of fizzy factoids intended to win you over and which might be useful next time you unwisely find yourself playing a wine-themed game of trivia. Or sitting your latest wine exam, WSET, IMW or otherwise.
First, in 2020 the production volume of Loire Valley sparkling wine came to 43 million bottles, of which 24 million bottles was Crémant de Loire, by far the leading sparkling wine appellation in the region. While this is a long way behind Champagne which produces about seven times this volume each year, it is equally a long way ahead of Burgundy, the Jura, Alsace and the like, despite each of those regions also having its own crémant appellation. In terms of volume, the Loire Valley comfortably takes sparkling wine second place after Champagne.
Secondly, the region also has at least two centuries of sparkling wine history. It was Jean Baptiste Ackerman who started the ball rolling when he founded the house of Ackerman-Laurence (today, simply Ackerman) in 1811. Originally from Flanders, Ackerman had worked in the Champagne region for a year before he settled in Saumur, and he brought with him a knowledge of the new ‘méthode champenoise’. With his know-how, and with access to the many kilometres of subterranean tunnels and galleries cut through the soft chalk rock, a perfect environment for making and aging sparkling wines, all the requisite conditions for a Saumur-based sparkling wine boom were in place.
Understandably, the varieties used as the base material for these wines largely reflect the local viticultural landscape. In appellations such as Vouvray and Montlouis Chenin Blanc naturally dominates, but the same is true of Saumur and Crémant de Loire, with Cabernet Franc proving to be a useful blending partner. Beyond this Ligérian double act the most successful wines feature Chardonnay, perhaps unsurprising given this variety’s obvious synergy with the style, as seen in Champagne. I have also tasted really good sparkling wine made using Gamay, and even Melon de Bourgogne.
One variety so far absent from this list is Pinot Noir, perhaps surprising given what I have already said about Chardonnay. One reason for this is the small volumes available; despite the variety’s prestige, it accounts for only 3.5% of the entire Ligérian vineyard. Admittedly, Chardonnay only accounts for 4.6%, but whereas most of that is planted in Anjou and has little value other than as a component in a sparkling wine blend, much of the Pinot Noir is planted around Sancerre, where it has obvious value as the base material for highly priced still rosés and reds. Who would even think about making a sparkling wine with it?
Well, happily, one or two vignerons do. One is Philippe Gilbert, who fashions the variety into a delicious pétillant naturel style under the name of L’Émoustillant (it is well worth tracking down a bottle). This week I check out another, from the Fouassier family, who run a domaine situated close to the town of Sancerre and which has long been adherent to organic and biodynamic methods. The Domaine Fouassier Pet’ Nat’ is made using 100% Pinot Noir grown on Kimmeridgian terroir, the fruit picked by hand. The pétillance comes courtesy of the méthode ancestrale, and it has no dosage, as well as no added sulphites. In the glass it has an attention-grabbing deep red-rosé hue, while the nose is all smoky cherry fruit laced with little veins of liquorice. The palate is full and rather textured, carrying that same smoky and pithy red cherry fruit seen on the nose, with liquorice and floral, red rose-petal complexities. It has a quite full and bold style, with no shortage of fruit or texture, as well as a gently foaming mousse and great acidity. It is a wine of full-bodied and fizzy joy rather than finesse, and part of its textural impact perhaps comes from the 14.5% alcohol it is carrying (which was a complete surprise – the palate has no other suggestion of high alcohol). Ultimately, this is a joyous poolside pétillant delight, and just one more reason why sparkling wine fans should be paying the Loire Valley due attention. 92/100 (20/6/22)
Read more in:
- My guide to Pinot Noir in the Loire Valley
- A profile of Domaine Fouassier
- My guide to the geology of Sancerre