You’ve played Desert Island, right? If you were stranded on a desert island, which (#) ____ would you want to have with you? Which five books? Which 10 albums? Which three spices? Which two friends?

I recently asked some local wine pros whose perspective I trust and admire to answer a wine-related version: “If deserted on an island, which winemaking region would provide the wines you’d drink?”

Behind the phrasing of my question is a political sentiment away from grape and toward place. We fetishize The Grape and treat wine like a cocktail: Add certain ingredients to yield a flavor we expect. This allows us to draw lines (“I don’t like Sauvignon Blanc”), which strengthens delusional thinking, severing us from the world.

The world shows constantly that context is everything. For wine, context is region: A place, with certain soils, suitable for certain grape varieties; a climate, with its own rhythms of change; and a culture, the marriage of location and people evolving over time and nurturing unique perspectives.

In context, The Grape is an essential tool of Nature, to be used in service of expressing The Whole. When we experience The Whole, we draw nearer to becoming whole ourselves.

Young, anxious, mobile American culture has trouble grokking context. My question about region is an attempt at said grok. Real wines tell stories about the places they’re from. I asked the question about region because I often forget this elemental fact. I drive too hard to pick out a wine’s flavors, rather than letting The Whole tell its own story.

Some responses were literal, asserting that on a deserted island it’s going to be hot and you’re going to be eating a lot of fish. For others, the answer was a region with many different viable wines (Loire, Campania, Alto Adige). For others, the variety was to be found within a particular wine or grape (Wachau Gruner Veltliner, French Pinot Noir), so as to offer maximal flexibility with different foods.

Still, there was an overwhelming winner: France’s Loire Valley. (Unabashedly geeky Ned Swain of Maine distributor Devenish Wines even said, “You can narrow it down to the central Loire.”)

Swain continued, “I love wines from here for their freshness and vibrancy, but also because there’s a huge diversity. In one area, you have Cabernet Francs ranging from lean and gamey to rich and juicy, Sauvignon Blancs that are light and crisp or lush and sensual, and then both sweet and dry Vouvray. Plus, it’s still the heart of the natural-wine movement.”

He’s right, and then some. Rodney Winchell, the passionate beverage manager at Street & Co. who is busy overhauling that restaurant’s wine list to thrilling effect, notes that if you include the entire Loire, you also get “crisp, saline and flinty Muscadet, the rich mineral and honeyed Savennieres,” some of the best values in the world for sparkling wine, and surprisingly profound Pinot Noir for both reds and neither-reds-nor-whites.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll write more about the Loire and a few other contenders. Meanwhile, readers should feel free to send their own thoughts.

For now, though, here is one Loire wine that is slowly gathering a cult-like following locally: Terres Blanches Ancestral Brut, $20 (Devenish). I’m just giddily crazy about this wine (though there really are other people in the cult). Some sparkling wines are about elegance; others are about mystery. Terres Blanches is about energy.

The wine just runs, like the tenths-seconds column on a digital timer ticking off blips just a touch faster than you can absorb. Its soft mousse is juxtaposed with compact, perfectly spaced bubbles.

Ginger/brown-sugar notes and tarte-tatin apples are there, as is a slight roasted quality, but any specific flavor notes are restrained, and permit the fresh vivacity of the wine itself to take the starring role.

Celine and Benoit Blet bought the Terres Blanches domaine in 2004, in a hidden corner of the Loire outside the well-known appellations, determined to make traditional wine in harmony with nature. The wine is from 100 percent Chenin Blanc grapes, but it’s not about The Grape. It’s about that harmony.

The biodynamically grown grapes are hand-harvested and fermented in cement, bottled and secondary-fermented with no sulfur added at all. Usually, such “natural” wines have a hard time surviving arduous shipping journeys and remaining dependable in the bottle, but this one does.

It’s not kooky, natural wine; it’s just entirely integrated, undisguised wine.

I recently drank the Terres Blanches at Street & Co. with oysters: Three fat, salty Norumbegas and three lean, briny Winter Points. Then came a taste of eggplant with white anchovy, and an English-pea-packed crab salad.

This refined, restrained yet vigorous wine ennobled each one of those dishes, and it’s hard to imagine the warm-weather meal that it wouldn’t.

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


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.