Of all the wines produced in France’s vast Loire Valley, Chardonnay is probably the least celebrated. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Muscadet, Cabernet Franc, and even Malbec and Pinot Noir have justifiably deserved reputations there. But Chardonnay? It’s a minor player at best.
And yet, this is an oversight. There is more-than-decent Loire Valley Chardonnay to be found and enjoyed. In the far eastern end of the Loire, the variety figures in the relatively obscure but often delicious wines from the small Cheverny appellation, where it is blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce crisp and elegant wines.
A hundred miles or so to the west, on the other side of the Loire not far from the Atlantic Ocean, Chardonnay is grown and bottled on its own in the Muscadet region. One producer doing this successfully is Couillaud Brothers, as this 2018 Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay amply demonstrates.
This is an IGP wine (for Indication Géographique Protégée), the designation that has replaced Vin de Pays and is used for wines whose grapes fall outside those permitted in an appellation — for example, in Muscadet, grapes beyond the signature Melon de Bourgogne variety fall under IGP. These wines often represent excellent values, which is the case with the $12 Bernier Chardonnay.
The grapes are grown in mica schist soil, which probably conveys the mineral-herbal-floral quality I found in the wine, along with its notes of pear and orange peel and touches of ginger and vanilla. There’s surprising complexity, especially since the wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel, with no oak exposure.
To be clear, we are not talking here about Chablis from Burgundy, the world’s most famous unoaked Chardonnay. But this modest wine from a little-known Chardonnay region is more than worth the price and will pair with a variety of lighter foods, from grilled lobster to roast chicken. Alcohol by volume is a food-friendly 12 percent.
Bernier also makes a Pinot Noir and a Sauvignon Blanc, which, at these prices, are certainly worth a try.