It is a nearly universally accepted truth that wine is intimidating. Even now, as someone who knows a fair amount about wine and someone who certainly knows what she likes in a wine, I am apprehensive about engaging in conversations with another person who “appears” to be quite well-versed in the language of wine. It’s human nature to want to be right and to be perceived as knowledgeable – and let’s face it, wine is just hard to know. There are so many varietals, and the same varietal may be called one name when grown in one region, and another when grown somewhere else. Add in labels in French, Italian, German, and heck, even English – and you’ve got an awful lot of ways that people can feel, well, ignorant.
But here’s one thing you can know: when you shop at Portland’s newest wine shop, Maine & Loire, no matter what bottle you buy, you’re getting a low intervention wine. So what does that mean, and why does it matter? Fundamentally, this approach is based in the belief that the entire process of making wine must be rooted in respect for the land (terroir) and the natural development of quality grapes into quality wine. In layman’s terms, it means chemicals aren’t applied in the vineyard (or very minimally), it means the grapes are cared for and harvested by hand, natural fermentation is allowed to take place (no manually added yeast), and it means the aging and preserving process is impacted as minimally as possible by additions like sulfites, which occur naturally in wine and are often added as a preserving measure.
It was this last item that excited my husband, Nick, the most. The morning after he and my dad consumed an entire bottle of Pinot Noir, purchased during our visit to Maine & Loire, he enthused, “And I don’t even have a headache!” What a proud moment.
While the emphasis on terroir driven, low-intervention, and natural and organic wines sets Maine & Loire apart as a shop, there is no question that it is the welcoming, knowledgeable owners who make it come to life. As they say on their website, they celebrate wines that are “alive and soulful,” and believe firmly in only selling those wines they also love. Their recommendations come from the heart in addition to a wealth of research. As Peter said, “what you see in the store represents more than a year of research.” For impact’s sake, I have chosen to interpret this to mean an entire year’s worth of hours – 8,760 (but perhaps I’m being too literal). Regardless, a great deal of time, energy, and care has gone into the selection they present in their bright, industrial space.
If you’re on the fence about visiting, you shouldn’t be. Check them out (and scoot next door to Maine Mead Works while you’re at it) at 63 Washington Ave, Portland, Maine. In fact, they have their first tasting coming up next Saturday, January 31st from 2pm – 5pm. My number one recommendation when you visit: talk to Peter and Orenda, the owners. Get their guidance and recommendations – and don’t be intimidated by the labels and languages. Wine is meant to be enjoyed first – only discuss it if you want to.
As Maine & Loire’s site says, drink more wine!