Thierry Puzelat is a wonderful producer from the Touraine region in the Loire Valley. He runs his family estate, Clos du Tue Beouf, with his brother as well as his own negociant business.  For the negociant wines he sources grapes from organic and biodynamic vineyards, many of them from a grower based in the village of Tésnieres, where there is abundant limestone and silex in the clay soils, which contribute to the extraordinary minerality found in all of his wines.

One of the things I like so much about Puzelat is that he is a champion of ancient local varieties commonly snubbed by mainstream winemakers. Menu Pineau and Pineau d’Aunis are both native to the region and all but extinct. Neither grape is related to the Pinot family, but their names seem to suggest that somebody thought so at some point. Menu Pineau is a white grape which makes wine full of spicy, woodsy, apricot flavors. Pineau d’Aunis is a red grape which makes light reds, full of mineral and fresh berry character. They both tend to have a certain cedar-like quality that is difficult to explain. I once sold his Tésnieres Pineau d’Aunis to customers in a Chelsea wine shop, and they’d either come back and buy a case or return the bottle as faulty! I eventually took to selling the wine with a warning — “This wine is super weird” — which scared off the people who wouldn’t like it and enticed the people who would. Puzelat’s sparkling blend of Menu Pineau and Chenin Blanc, “Pétillant Naturel”, is a lovely, earthy apéritif; and I once had the pleasure of ordering it for a reasonable price at ICI, one of my neighborhood restaurants in Brooklyn.

The Pétillant Naturel is made not by the méthode champenoise, but the méthode ancestrale — an approach to making wine sparkle also used in Bugey-Cerdon, Gaillac, Limoux and Die. The wine is fermented to about 6 degrees of alcohol, and then bottled.  The fermentation to about 7 or 8 degrees of alcohol is completed in the bottle with additional yeast or sugar, and the primary yeast is often not removed, leaving a cloudy sediment in the finished wine.  This is how all sparkling wine use to be before the Widow Cliquot developed the riddling process.  This process of gradually turning the bottles upside down brings the yeast sediment to the tip of the bottle where it is then frozen and shot out like a bullet. Its a very inventive way to remove the yeast from a sparkling wine, but I’ll take a flavorful, cloudy bottle of Puzelat’s sparkling Chenin over Cliquot’s flavorless, clear as crystal “yellow label” Champagne any day.