Wine in France is a life-long adventure. It is, of course, a central part of the food culture. An immense diversity of wines can be tasted at very reasonable prices. It takes some work and an honest assessment of your tastes to accomplish the best experience. It is quite possible to find very good wine for 10 euros ($13.50), something that I have a very hard time doing in the States. And the variety here is incredible compared with the formulaic approach of many New World wines. Wine in the French countryside is especially enjoyable because it can be tasted and purchase directly from the vigneron. The Loire region is unique because it offers the most diverse selection wine styles in all of France.
There is an etiquette at the vigneron. They are usually quite happy to give you a taste of their wine. An appointment is usually recommended unless the operation has a full-time reception or retail store designed for walk-ins. This is unusual but it does happen.
The expectation for a tasting with most vignerons when you meet them at their cave is that you will buy a minimum of one carton (6 bottles). Some vignerons are willing to take a small payment if you do not want to buy any wine. I usually just buy a carton regardless. This rule can be relaxed at a “porte ouvert”, where casual tastings are already set up, or it is a type of retail outlet. It is acceptable to buy just one bottle in a retail setting, but not at a special tasting appointment.
In Le Puy Notre Dame Domaine de la Paliene on the north side of the village as you enter from Doué la Fontaine is accustomed to receiving guests, and it is organic. Their wine is a little more expensive, but worth the money. They also have a retail space in Montsoreau.
One of my favorite Le Puy Notre Dame wines at the moment for the money is from Jackie Ripoche at Les Noades. Red wine from Le Puy has a distinctive minerality resulting from the limestone soil. His red, a classic Le Puy style, sells for 8.50 euros, an excellent value for an organic wine. I also like his rosé for 5.50 euros. It has a dry distinctive earthiness I have not tasted his whites or pétillants. You can often taste Jackie’s wines at the Saumur market on Saturday mornings. In this setting feel free to just buy a bottle or two to see how you like it. He is usually set up on the north side of rue St. Jean past rue Conneille. You can make an appointment too. He is located just west of Le Puy Notre Dame in the village of Argentay.
One of my all-time favorite Le Puy wines producers is Françoise and Phillipe Gourdon’s Château Tour Grise. We usually provide a bottle of their Crément de Loire to our guests arriving at our Petite Chateau. There is a nice complexity to their crément, and always appropriately dry. I love their 2003 Amandiers for an apéro, an off-dry white. Their bin 253 is a wonderfully blanced and complex red. They offer an excellent selection of other styles including dry white, rosé brut, several other red’s, and their Zéro wines, creative artisanal wines without an official appellation. See this short video including shots of their Guernsey cows in the vineyards, which organically fertilize the vines, and this video where Philippe passionately talks about their organic wines and best biodynamic growing conditions compared with chemically produced grapes. Even in French you understand the benefits of the bio wine environment for grape growing.
I have yet to visit many of the nearby vignerons. And of course there are countless wines to taste thorughout the Loire. When you don’t have the time, a good alternative is a local wine shop. I like Atout Vins in Doué la Fontaine, ten minutes away. The proprietor Thierry Berson speaks English and he knows his wines from throughout France. Finally, supermarkets have reasonable offerings (don’t tell my wine friends here that I said that). Leclerc in Saumur has the best selection. For most visitors, the wine selection at a supermarket is impressive.