THE MIGHTY AND MINI OF LOIRE - POUILLY FUME AND QUINCY
The word Pouilly Fumé would easily relate to many of our wine minds – a wine hailing from a historic region in central France... many would recognise this vast region as Loire Valley carved out by the longest river of France, River Loire. But if I mention the word 'Quincy' (which BTW is pronounced as Kaan-see in French), a few raised eyebrows is what I would expect. Here below I attempt on a doing a comparison of the mighty Pouilly Fumé (clubbed with its big brother Sancerre) and its mini, the quaint Quincy, which also happens to be an integral part of Loire Valley.
Why is that not many people know about Quincy? Quite simply…. because Pouilly Fumé has a much bigger production, has lot more coverage in the press, their wines are more accessible and frankly speaking it has a better reputation and history of producing some very distinct wines than any other sub regions of the Upper Lore Valley when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc, its signature white grape. Infact Sancerre reigns as the King of Loire Valley, covering approximately 3000ha on the left bank of River Loire, with Pouilly Fume spanning the right taking up another 1,400 hectares. Together they constitute the engine of Loire valley with the highest percentage of exports going out from these two regions (Sancerre 60% and Pouilly Fumé with 52% of its production as exports) which gives them the comfortably dominating international presence.
Pouilly Fumé gained historical importance because of its affiliation with the Benedictine Monks who started vineyards as early as 12th century. It also gained an upper hand as its location fell right along the Roman road. The proximity to River Loire, expansion of trade links that led to opening of the Canal in the 17th century, initiation of railways in the 18th century- all led to increased opportunities of exporting these wines to Paris and from there on to other European countries such as Belgium, Netherlands and finally to England. The site of Pouilly Fumé (and Sancerre) has also played an imminent role for their rise in the wine trade. Although they lie across each other with the River Loire cutting through in between, the vineyards share a similar terroir and microclimate that gives a unique identity to their wines. Their terrain, of flint and chalk is formed by erosion of fault lines along the Jurassic formations (150 plus million years old) of the Eocene and Cretaceous era, which gets expressed in their wines in the form of gun smoky piercing minerality in the wines. And together with the morning fog that surrounds the Loire vineyards keeping temperatures low, that extra ripening period adds exceptionally high levels of acidity and ageing ability. Even then, majority of these wines (barring some famous Chavignol, Amigny of Sancerre) are not meant to age for more than 3-4 years.
Now with all the uproar and the historical romance associated with Pouilly Fumé (and Sancerre) what got overshadowed was this hidden gem, Quincy that is only 40 km west of Pouilly Fume but which also has been historically producing white wines from Sauvignon Blanc. Infact, Quincy has been home to the region’s oldest vineyards, started as early as 1120 by Biturugians Cubi, the ancient Celtic inhabitants. Production was small and unfortunately got wiped off by the Phylloxera attack of the vines at the end of 19th that put an end to wine making here. Subsequently cereal farming was taken up as a more consistent measure of revenue for the growers. In an effort to attract the talented vignerons in Quincy and put their wines back into the world map, Quincy was granted AOC (Appellation d’Origin Contrôlee) in 1936 (as early as Chateau Neuf de Pape) even before Pouilly Fumé (which got its status in 1937).
So, are the wines different or are they similar? Given these regions are only 40km apart, what would one expect from the wines? In order to understand this further, I attempted a side by side experimental tasting and comparison of a wine from Quincy with a wine from the more established, Pouilly Fumé.
Chateau de Tracy, Pouilly Fumé 2015 (abv 13% abv)
Retailer : Jeroboams RRP £20.95 (92/100)
Under the leadership of Comtesse Alain D’Estutt d’Assay, belonging to the noble Stutt family from Scotland who migrated to France and have owned the Chateau since the 15th century, the vineyards have since been revived since the 1950s and are cared for organically (although not certified) and are noted for their exceptional quality and wine style. There are notes of lemon rind, gooseberries, baked tomatoes, white pear and asparagus on the nose. The palate shows similarly pronounced intensity of similar flavours, a strong grassiness with focused green herbal notes, white pepper with a lingering sharp tense acidity that finishes off bone dry. Austere and charming, the entire palate has an underlying smoky stony appeal that makes the wine quite elegant. On the whole, a brilliant expression of a classy and excellent quality Pouilly Fumé with lipsmackingly high levels of acidity. Great with goats cheese and as an aperitif.
Now on to Quincy…
Domaine Valery Renaudat, Les Nouzats, Quincy 2016 (abv 13%)
Retailer Cambridge Wine Merchants, RRP £13.99 (90/100)
Valéry Renaudat’s grandfather was a cereal farmer. Valery took up studying agronomy and viticulture after school and after a enriching work experience working in winery in California and Bourdeaux he went on to start his winery with a small 2 ha of land in and around Quincy and neighbouring Reuilly in 1999. Today he owns about 15 ha and since 1999 has dedicatedly worked on improving his wines to create an absolutely refreshing and lively Sauvignon Blanc. What I found in his wine was ripe lemons, sun kissed peaches, yellow apricots, hint of pineapple, passion fruit, sprinkle of crushed thyme, sweet basil leaves and elegant white flowers. A very youthful elegance is what I can associate with these wines. Clearly more fruit expression than the previous wine and as a result the high levels of acidity have beautifully mellowed with the fruit notes that make this wine highly food-versatile, to be paired with grilled fish, chicken salad, Thai and Chinese cuisines.
Situated along Cher Valley which eventually joins river Loire, Quincy’s production is trivial as compared to its mass-producing cousins, only a mere 300 ha. The soils here also diversify into sand and gravel terraces which gives these wines a unique character of their own. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes are early ripening because of the heat retention ability of the soil. While equally accumulating plenty of acidity, the floral and fruity aromas, the white wines from Quincy are more expressive than in the white wines of Pouilly Fumé. The wines may not age for more than 2-3 years but in terms of value proposition, there is little arguing that at 40% lower price, what you get through a Quincy wine is an attractive good quality Loire Valley wine, one that demonstrates an approachable and vibrant, fruit forward personality with underlying hints of minerality. Sort of... a contemporary playful wine from an old world region.
My ratings for both wines are based on their individual tastes. No doubt that Pouilly Fumé styles of Sauvignon Blanc wines are a class apart from the rest of the world, but if you are new to wines or want to try out something less austere, more fruity and more easy to relate to, more importantly having a lower price tag from the same region, you will not go wrong with Quincy!
Les Vins Du Cenre- Loire, Dossier de Presse Vins du Centre-Loire, BIVC, April 2017