The Loire Valley (pronounced ‘lwar valley’), truly is the garden of France.
It is the land where white wine drinkers are in heaven (three quarters of the wine production here is white wine), and some incredible reds are secrets to be found.
The Loire River, runs from the east (inland, central France) to the west, where it meets the ocean. France’s longest river, its course is home to the Loire Valley and its magical vineyards which hug the meandering river as it journeys through north-west France.
It’s most famous vineyards are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, not far from Paris, so you have no excuse not to visit this varied and beautiful valley!
Its climate is quite cool so white wines that are produced aren’t full bodied or heavy; they are perfect for lunchtime food or on their own.
The most famous grape grown in the Loire Valley, is Sauvignon Blanc. Many of you would have tasted the New World versions, New Zealand and Australian Sauvignon Blanc. But in the Loire Valley, France, is where this grape originated.
It is here, and only here, that it can express much more subtle, less aggressive flavours of freshly cut grass, gooseberry and minerals. Divine! This is particularly evident in a favourite wine of mine, Sancerre (pronounced ‘son-sair’). Unfortunately, the prices are rising and rising as there is only a small area of production relative to other wines, and it is hugely popular!
Sancerre itself, is actually a place (remember that French wines are named by place) and the Sancerre AC is spread over fifteen villages in small vineyards, on the far east of the Loire Valley. Thus there will be quite a few producers to choose from, some more reliable in quality than others. Sancerre is famous for Sauvignon Blanc but also for Pinot Noir wines.
On the opposite side of the river, directly facing Sancerre, is Pouilly-Fumé. It is very hard to taste the difference between these two wines, however Pouilly-Fumé can have a slight smoky hint of flavour to it, caused by the flint in the soil (hence its name ‘fumé’, meaning ‘smoke’ in French).
Remember, do NOT confuse Pouilly-Fumé with Pouilly-Fuisse; a Chardonnay from Burgundy. Both of these appellations wines should be drunk young, as the wines will be at their very best.
Moving west, the next area (and appellation) is Vouvray AC. Here, dry, sweet and sparkling wines are made. The main grape grown here is Chenin Blanc and a huge variety of styles and flavours are produced.
These superb wines are grown from vines on soft soil (called tuffeau), which allows the root of the vines themselves to grow downwards, deep through the porous soil, developing huge root systems. This helps them obtain the perfect amount of water they need.
This produces perfectly ripe grapes which can retain their acidity. This helps the wines to age for a long time. These wines are full-bodied, exotic fruit wines which express honey and richness when they have aged.
The next areas are those producing the most famous, but often overlooked red wines of the Loire Valley. Loire red wine is made from Cabernet Franc with an ever increasing amount of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with it.
Chinon AC is the best red wine sub-region, its wines even being compared at one stage in the past with Bordeaux Prémier Crus. Then you have Bourgueil AC, Saint Nicolas-de Bourgueil AC and Saumur-Champigny AC. These are all great value, spicy, fragrant and fruity res which are highly enjoyable and definitely worth buying.
Further towards the west and the Atlantic Ocean, we have the sub-regions of Anjou and Saumur. Most of the wine in the Loire Valley is made here. The best wines (dry and sweet) are made from the white grape, Chenin Blanc, and produced in Saumur AC. The reds, from Cabernet Franc, are produced in Saumur-Champigny AC.
Also the delicious sparkling wine of the Loire, Crémant de Loire, is mainly produced in Saumur. In the area of Anjou, you have a high proportion of medium sweet, rosé wines being made.
Very importantly, in Anjou-Saumur, there is the Layon Valley where the infamous Côteaux du Layon AC sweet wines come from. These rank up there with the top sweet wines of the world e.g. Sauternes etc.
Savennières is another truly remarkable wine, grown just west of Anjou. This is a dry, full-bodied, complex, honey flavoured wine, when allowed to age and shine at its best- twenty years at least!
The furthest west point is the City of Nantes in the Pays Nantais region of the Loire Valley where the Loire River joins and flows into the sea. Muscadet is grown here in this region (this is actually the name of the wine not the sub-region which is against the normal French rules of naming a wine after a place!).
The grape used to make the wine is sometimes also referred to as Muscadet, but officially is called Melon de Bourgogne. These dry whites are apple flavoured with minerals and drunk young. You won’t find many rivals to accompany shellfish perfectly or match fresh water fish. A meal complete, in the sunshine.
Again, drink Muscadet young. It is also worth trying as the price is amazingly low in relation to it’s quality. This is because the wine isn’t commonly known and a secret worth keeping to yourself!
- Fresh, gooseberry, cut grass aroma whites to exotic fruit, full-bodied and honey flavoured whites
- Juicy, light and acidic reds
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chenin Blanc
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Franc
- Domaines Henri Bourgeois Sancerre
- Chavignol Sancerre
- Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé
- Gaston Huet-Pinguet Vouvray Moelleux (sweet Chenin Blanc)
- Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux Côteaux du Layon AC (sweet wines)
- Menetou-Salon AC Sauvignon Blanc (next door to Sancerre, so a similar tastes but less expensive. Usually much more reliable in year on year quality/taste).
- Vin de Pays Jardin de la France (country designated wine, from the garden of France). Good quality Loire Valley red and white wine. Well worth a buy.