The first wine column I ever wrote was about wines imported by Jon David Headrick from France’s Loire Valley. I was excited to discuss wines I cared deeply for, and excited at the opportunity to use something particular and tangible in order to crystallize and communicate something general and principled.

Headrick was a natural fit. He imports unique wines, many of them at surprisingly low, everyday-drinking prices, and mostly from a single region in a single country. He’s not a generalist; he has a point of view. He is obsessed with place – most famously the Loire, but now also the Savoie, southwestern France and Champagne – and with low-impact, low-manipulation, low-alcohol, terroir-driven wines.

When treated right (i.e., with a light touch), Loire wines are shockingly fresh and alive, flat-out fun to drink and mineral-driven. This is by virtue of their natural habitat: Fed by and feeding the Atlantic, out of a riverbed composed of crushed seashells that transports limestone, chalk and schist. The wines are museums of salinity, ka-pow acidity and elegance.

It is the greatest place on Earth for such a tight-knit variety of white wines. Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire’s Sancerre is the most expressive and subtle in the world. (Yes, Marlborough, New Zealand, is a blessed region for S.B., but for me, the wines usually protest too much; they argue rather than communicate.)

Any Sancerre from Claude Riffault (mid-$20s) is a wonder, with a languid, relaxed attitude embracing all that flinty energy. The Merieau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is a mini-Sancerre, providing at $14 a level of complexity and enthusiasm some Sancerres-in-name-only can’t muster.

Muscadet makes any sentient human happy to be alive, and Muscadet from anywhere other than the Loire is an abomination. Try Headrick’s soothing old-vines beauty, Domaine del la Fruitiere’s “Petit M” ($12).

Then there are the Chenin Blancs of Vouvray and Savennieres, which consummate ethereal marriages of richness and acidity, and which I hope you will continue to ignore so I can keep paying preposterously low prices for them. La Craie 2010 ($15) is “intro Vouvray” that hits all the right notes: Chalky grip, eyes-wide cut, hint of brown sugar at the back.

Loire reds are as true as stone: The Pinot Noir subtle, silky and coiled; Cabernet Franc a cosmos of audacious spices and perfumes, a Hermes of terroir (like the peppery, debonair Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon 2009, $20); and fascinatingly distinct iterations of Gamay (Merieau 2010, gravelly and porous, crossed with grill-marks, $14).

Headrick’s Loire wines greet and celebrate spring like few others I know, so I was thrilled to chat with Jon David himself, who, despite having grown a real business out of the Loire and garnered several prestigious awards for his work, has few illusions about the game he’s playing.

“We’re selling from little-known regions,” he said, “from wineries no one has heard of, which produce wines that taste very different from what is widely available. The people who seek out those qualities, who pay attention to what they buy at the grocery store and do not buy what mass-marketing encourages them to buy, those people are our friends.”

The crazy-making thing is that such wines can be so user-friendly. They don’t require Ph.Ds in enology, atonal music, post-structuralist philosophy or Brooklyn micro-geography. All they require is a receptivity to flavor and terrain at their essences, and a desire to drink your wine while you eat food that you or someone you trust cooked.

“Coastal markets are our strongest,” Headrick told me. “Not just for the seafood, although that’s a natural connection, but for the entire emphasis on freshness, purity of flavor, simplicity of handling.”

Many of those qualities arise from the value Headrick places on natural winemaking: “minimal manipulation, a very fresh and quiet way of making and bottling wines, no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.”

“At the end of the day,” he said, “it’s a matter of trust. I trust the winemakers I work with, and I’ve developed trust with a network of customers: distributors, restaurants, retailers. If you find someone you trust, stick with them.”

Headrick wines are available in Maine through Central Distributors.

 

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]