The Loire Wine Region

Loire Wine Tours

Loire Wine Tours

The Loire river is the longest in France, over 1,000 kms. Wine making areas covering 750 sq kms (two thirds the size of Bordeaux) run the length of the central portion from Nantes in the west to Sancerre in the east.
  • Romans first planted vines in the 1st century AD. From 11th to 13th centuries the region provided the most esteemed wines in England and France.
  • The climatic influence of the Loire river is vital to ensure the elevated temperatures necessary to ripen grapes.
  • Best known for whites, but noticeable red production. Second most important French sparkling wine producer after Champagne.
  • To understand a long, straggling region, concentrate on four areas: from east to west, Centre-Loire; Touraine; Anjou-Saumur; Pays Nantais.

And if you want to know more…
Tales of the Riverbank
It’s a bit bonkers to try to make sense of a wine region that traverses most of France, but here goes. Below ground, the most important and consistent ingredient is limestone. This shades to harder, more granitic material towards the west. Both soils can give characterful wines, given proper conditions above ground. Cue le climat ligérien, the climate of the Loire valley, which is considered the most pleasant in northern France. The river itself is the key. It and its many tributaries provide moisture, drainage, and perhaps most importantly, temperature regulation. Let’s take a ride in a flat-bottomed boat (the Loire is not easily navigable) from east to west.

The pretty hilltop village of Sancerre, on the left bank of the Loire, is surrounded by vineyards of mostly sauvignon blanc with some pinot noir. The whites are bone dry with flavours of peach and gooseberry. There is no classification system, but look out for wines from the villages of Bué, Chavignol, and Ménétréol-sous-Sancerre which consistently produce the best quality. Sancerre provides reds and rosés from pinot noir: agreeable enough but not the area’s strong point. Pouilly-Fumé, another sauvignon blanc, is made around the nearby village of Pouilly-sur-Loire. Menetou-Salon and Quincy are neighbouring communes and produce whites which compare favourably with Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé value-for-money-wise.

If you twisted my arm and asked me which of our four areas was archetypical Loire, I guess it would have to be the Touraine, the area surrounding Tours. Not only is it geographically roughly in the middle of the river’s flow, but it is home to two of the Loire’s most famous wine regions: Vouvray and Chinon, spiritual homes respectively of chenin blanc and cabernet franc. The chenin blanc – based wines of Vouvray display great variation from dry through to sweet, and sparkling. The grape variety is characterised by its high level of acidity (also a factor in ageing potential). In cooler years, the dry and sparkling wines will be more to the fore, while in warmer vintages the proportion of sweet, botrytised, Sauternes-style wines will increase. Directly opposite Vouvray, on the west bank of the river, is the appellation of Montlouis which produces similar wines: best bet here are the sweets and sparklers.
If you want to know what cabernet franc really should taste like, go to Chinon. This red is a great food wine (and as such is popular with many a Parisian eatery). It is generally light to medium-bodied with notes of blackcurrant, though in good years wines can be mineral and gamey with enough tannin to give them medium-term ageing possibilities.

This is the area between Angers and Saumur and produces all wine varieties from dry to sweet to sparkling (Saumur has historically – since the 19th century - been a centre for bubbles). It also uses all the grape varieties allowed in the Loire and is therefore sometimes referred to as the ‘microcosm’ of the region as a whole. Particularly notable dry whites are made from chenin blanc in Savennières – very complex and sophisticated, while the same grape produces voluptuous sweet wines in Coteaux du Layon (look for Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume). Rosés are big here. Cabernet d’Anjou, either from cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon, is a little on the sweet side and is just made for sipping by the pool. When it’s BBQ time, change to Rosé de Loire, more acidic grolleau and therefore good with your grillades. Ah, life in rosé-tinted spectacles. The reds, in my experience, can be hit or miss – and it’s usually a miss with too much green tannin and cabbage aromas.

Pays Nantais
Home to the sometimes unfairly underrated Muscadet. Not to be confused with the musky muscat, this is made from melon de bourgogone, a grape which gives acidic, neutrally flavoured wine. The key to making the wine more interesting is the technique of leaving it sur lie, that is resting in contact with the lees, the sediment of dead yeast cells. This gives a yeasty roundness, often with a spritz of residual carbon dioxide. There is such a thing as basic Muscadet, but this is not worth the effort of reaching for your wallet: always go sur lie. One of the best tipples with oysters or, why not, as a simple apero.

Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne Nantes
Salon de The in the Loire
Chenonceau Chateau in the Loire Valley

Contact Me

For more information or to arrange your next tour with French Wine Tours, call John Sherwin on +33 (0)7 50 90 02 00
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