Ashley Ragovin

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Fines Bulles: This is not a Riesling

You know how you have to have a little something sweet after you eat, because, sweet tooth? But there’s also that itch for something salty, because, salt jaw. Quite the dilemma, quite the cycle, indeed.

This is the wine fix for both: a burst of sunlit, fleshy ripe fruit and then, just when you think it’s going to be sweet, BAM! It hits you with a salty, crunchy smack in the mouth, letting you know it’s not some flabby cheat. Like you’re biting into a fresh peach while doing the backstroke in Mediterranean waters, right? You’re bound to swallow a little ocean with your snack, but the total overall flavor is definitely net positive.

This is a Fines Bulles, a sparkling wine made in a special region in the Loire Valley, one that has just as strict standards and practices as Champagne proper.

FYI, the Loire Valley might be France’s most diverse wine region, and everything from delicate white quaffers to deep, earthy reds can come from this region. It is a geographical bounty of well made and insanely delicious treats of all kinds. And sparkling wine from the Loire in particular is one of the hidden gems of the wine universe. I don’t think Chenin Blanc can be better expressed than when it comes from this area. 

This one is special, lovingly made by Methode Traditionelle (where a second fermentation happens inside the bottle). That process gives the wine a depth and complexity that’s difficult to achieve but so worth the extra effort and time. And while Champagne is generally made from Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, Loire sparklers employ Chenin Blanc, a grape I would dare say is the most versatile in the world.

Side note: When I was a Somm at Osteria Mozza, my co-Somm and now great friend showed up with his very first tattoo. It was the word “riesling” on his forearm. He staked his claim in permanent ink that Riesling was the most versatile and amazing varietal that existed. Tasteful as the tattoo was, I immediately contested that it was Chenin Blanc that was the most adaptable and incredible grape. We argued about it a lot in the cellar, while eating the service bread we swiped along with cheese in the cool, dark company of wall-to-wall Barolos from the 90s; we never resolved our differences on this one.

And now Adam is covered with hundreds of tattoos anyway, ranging from a poorly rendered hot dog to a very beautifully detailed flower. So, who’s to say?

The point is, I would more likely tattoo the word Chenin Blanc on my forehead than any other grape varietal (it should also be noted I have zero tattoos).

When a grape can be made austere and bone dry, or plush and semi-sweet, fleshy and full but still lean and mean, made still, made sparkling, made sweet and nearly every shade in between, it’s grape magic. For the record, Riesling can do all of those things very well, too. But you know, some people just like their cucumbers better pickled.

I’ve never met a Chenin from the Loire Valley I didn’t want to fall into and swim around in, but this gem from Breton could be my favorite sparkling Chenin in a very long time.

How can you describe something so perfect? Welp, I’ll try:

Imagine if cream soda grew up and swapped the sweet act for pure sexual magic. I tasted this wine and I just thought holy shit. Not my most articulate moment, but it’s true, I had that thought first. It’s so good: Salty and dry, like the sea flavor that sticks to your sun-drenched skin after a swim (or the skin of someone else you might get lucky enough to sample).

File this under: flavors that stop time, white flower scents so compelling you have to close your eyes to hear to them, Marvin Gaye, silk pajamas, no pajamas, French women shaped like dessert, being submerged in warm honey… I don’t know, it’s your fantasy not mine. Just make sure to have a glass of this in hand because it elevates everything, even potato chips. It is seriously perfect.  Made the old school way; 100% Chenin Blanc from a tiny farm in Loire, France.


THE WINE: Franck Breton Montlouis-sur-Loire Brut, Loire Valley, France

THE GRAPE: Chenin Blanc – maybe the most versatile and incredible grape of all time!

HOMETOWN: Montlouis sur Loire, France, across the river from Vouvray

TASTES LIKE: Salty and dry with a golden ripeness and hint of vanilla that is straight up adult cream soda – it’s practically X-rated.

GOES DOWN EASY WITH: There is nothing this wine can’t handle. I drank it four nights in a row: with nothing at all, with potato chips, with Mom and sushi, and then with nothing at all again, just to be sure. Solid gold.

IF YOU LIKE: Sparkling wine, check this: if Champagne is bone dry, brioche-y and serious, and Prosecco is fruit-forward and refreshing, this could be their lovechild, a progressive and complex creature – lithe and mineral, but voluptuous and generous at once.

WINE HACK: The extra TLC that goes into making a Methode Traditionelle wine makes it go the distance: This wine will still be great on night two and even three if you don’t finish it in one go. Just put a champagne stopper on it and store in the fridge.

Grand Cru + House Cleaning, A Pairing

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