History: Wine in the Loire Valley date back to the 5th century but did not become popular until the Dutch discovered them in the 11th century. Wines of Poitou and Anjou were particularly popular in England until Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry II, during which England was given control of Bordeaux.
The geography of Loire varies greatly, in the east a climate dictated by the Atlantic and in the west a climate dictated by cool-continental. Vines occupy slops facing the sun and the entire region is approx. 50,000 HA (for reference, that’s half the size of Bordeaux).
While wines from Loire vary greatly, one can generally expect freshness, finesse and a natural acidity. Top grape varietals are Chenin/Chenin Blanc, which is also grown in South Africa (called Steen), California and South America and Cabernet Franc (both grown in mid-Loire). Sauvignon blanc is grown predominately in the east (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume). Melon de Bourgogn (muscadet) is grown in the west.
One of the most notable winemakers in the region, if not the country, is Nicolas Joly, owner of Coulee de Serrant, a clos in Savennieres. This 7-ha vinyard is famous for its characteristic white wines and for its progressive stance on biodynamic cultivation. Joly is perhaps one of the leading winemakers in this field.
The Wines of Pays de Nantes
This coastal area, the “Pays de Nantes” is the home of Muscadet. The Melon de Bourgogne grape makes a “neutral” wine. In cool years it can be rather tart. The better Muscadets come from Sèvre-et-Maine to the east of the city of Nantes. When choosing a Muscadet, perhaps the most important thing to look out for on the label is the term “Sur Lie.” This means that the wine has been aged on its “lees,” the mix of yeast cells and grape fragments that remains after fermentation. Sur Lie wines are bottled directly off the lees without filtration and have added fruitiness, a nutty quality and sometimes a little hint of sparkle on the tongue.
The Wines of Anjou and Saumur
Credit: Bottles Notes
Trying to put your finger on the typical Anjou-Saumur variety is a bit like trying to identify France’s signature cheese. Sweet and dry, red and white, sparkling and Rosé, Anjou produces an astounding variety of wines. Almost half of production is still Rosé, although that number is on the decline. Since Rosé is usually a blend of lesser grapes, the popularity of the wine hasn’t made any one grape variety famous.
Instead, Anjou-Saumur is known for its Chenin Blanc and its Cabernet Franc. The Chenin Blanc grape is incredibly versatile. Depending on weather conditions, it can be used to create any type of wine – dry, sweet, or sparkling. Here, however, Chenin Blanc is best known as the grape of Saumur’s famed sparkling wines. Indeed, outside of Champagne, Saumur is France’s most important sparkling wine region.
In some of the best regions of Savennières, the Chenin Blanc achieves perfection. Chenin Blanc is naturally tart and high in acid, which can make it too bitter for dry wines. In Savennières, winemakers leave the grape on the vine all the way into November, combing the vines every few days and picking only the ripest grapes. This process, known as tries, tempts fate to send an early rain and takes an incredible amount of labor, but it can produce balanced sweet wines that far outstrip anything else Chenin Blanc has to offer.
It is in Saumur-Champigny that winemakers cultivate the Loire’s best Cabernet Franc. The shale and gravel in the soil in the soil here provide perfect conditions for the Loire’s specialty red grape. The result is a very dry, full-bodied wine with a deep color, heavy tannins and long life. Many believe this to be the Loire’s finest red wine.
The Wines of Touraine
Credit: Bottle Notes
Some wine regions are defined by a single excellent excellent and well-known variety. Touraine, on the other hand, is a microcosm of the Loire itself. It is known not for any one grape or wine, but rather for its impressive variety. All four types of wine are made here – white, red, rosé, and sparkling, and the whites occupy the full spectrum of dry, off-dry and sweet.
The Vouvray subregion the center of Touraine represents to many the pinnacle of Chenin Blanc. The wine produced here is known for its crisp and ripe acidity, its round mouthfeel, and its fragrant aromas of ripe pear. Vouvray can be dry and crisp, semi-sweet, fully sweet and even sparkling. The semi-sweet wine is known as “demi-sec,” or half dry. A sweet Vouvray will be labeled Vovray Moelleux, while a sparkling bottle is known as Vouvray Mousseux.
Chinon and Bourgeuil, located in the southwest of Touraine, have a very different distinction. Often associated with the best red wines the Loire has to offer, Chinon and Bourgeuil specialize in Cabernet Franc. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is also allowed, these regions help explain why the Loire is known for its specialization in Cabernet Franc. The reds here are light, soft, pleasant, and easy to like.
The Wines of Central Loire
Credit: Bottle Notes
This region is not as densely planted as the others in the Loire, and the vineyards are scattered widely across the countryside. Sauvignon Blanc is the area’s variety of choice, and its striking aroma is arresting. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are the region’s best-known Sauvignon Blancs, but some of the lesser-known appellations produce excellent wines as well. A bit of Pinot Noir is grown as well, but the region is known for its Sauvignon Blanc and its Pinot cannot compare to a good Burgundy.Read More