The wines of Pouilly-Fumé

June 27, 2018 by French Corner Cellars

The Loire Valley is an area that is part of a growing notion that a region can be at once legendary, but also overlooked and undervalued, especially in a world where the juicy, overdone wines have become the norm. But wine enthusiasts know the best it has to offer is not to be missed, and the big three regions within it – the west around the Muscadet region (melon de Bourgogne), the chenin blanc area around Vouvray, and the “center Loire with Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé – produce wines that leave an indelible mark that you’ll carry with you forever.

Today’s focus is on Pouilly-Fumé, an AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée ) created in 1937 around the village of Pouilly-sur-Loire. It is located opposite to Sancerre on the right bank of the Loire river. Wines made here are always Sauvignon Blanc, in fact, Pouilly-Fumé when broken down refers to the village of Pouilly-sur-Loire (Pouilly) and Blanc Fumé - a local nickname for Sauvignon Blanc – (Fumé). The Fumé is French for ‘smoky’, as by derivation these ‘flinty’ notes are a trademark of good Sauvignon Blanc from this region (this smell is called pierre à fusil, or ‘rifle stone’ when literally translated). These flinty notes are attributed to the soil, limestone to the east (also known as Caillotes) and to the west a mix of Kimmeridgian Limestone with presence of fossils, Limestone/clay and siliceous clay.

Pouilly-Fumé’s vineyard dates back from the 5th century, but serious development didn’t occur until the Benedictine Monks received the land in the middle ages. Here’s a fun fact: sacramental wine is traditionally white wine, because red wine constantly stained clothes!

It is also interesting that until the 1860’s, vineyards around Pouilly-sur-Loire were mostly growing Gamay (of Beaujolais fame) and Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc didn’t become dominant until after the Phylloxera louse devastated the land. Indeed, the American rootstock used to graft to the French vines took to the grape more easily. And so, in 2018, Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted grape in the appellation, with Pouilly-Fumé producing 1,859,771 gallons on average years.

A good wine from Pouilly-Fumé should have aromas of green fruit (lime, green apple, gooseberry), grapefruit and citrus notes, supported by mineral aromas of wet wool, slate and smoky flint. The structure and acidity should be vivacious, mouthwatering and nervy. In the mouth, Citrus (grapefruit, lemon) and floral nuances are accompanied by vegetal or mineral notes adding complexity. One of the most common problems when consuming these wines is over-chilling, perfect drinking temperature for cool-climate sauvignon blanc is 44*F, this keeps the balance between the fruit and acidity.