Wines of the Loire
Although not one of the best known wine regions in France, it’s actually one of my favourites. When I first got into wine, my boyfriend and I at the time decided it would be a good idea to drive to Bordeaux. Although I vaguely remember visiting some wineries there, my most vivid memories are of the Loire. This perhaps had something to do with the fact that we had been slumming it for most of the holiday, and on reaching the Loire we decided to stay at an incredibly fancy chateau (somewhere very much out of our price range).
But I also remember driving along the river, and just dropping into wineries (often just peoples homes) and enjoying a little wine tasting. They were by the winemakers themselves full of passion, there was no snobbery even though we were young and naive, you didn’t feel pressured to purchase anything….going onto Bordeaux was quite the shock.
And because of this, the Loire has always had a special place in my heart. Today it’s best known for its white wines from Sauvignon Blanc, but there’s so much more than that! I hadn’t even tried a red wine from the area before I went there, and today red wines from Loire are the little hidden gems on wine lists which offer great value for money.
Three wines accompany this blog post – a sparkling, a white and a red, to give you a real essence the area:
Sparkling – The Wine Society’s Saumur Brut NV. A sparkling wine made from the Chenin Blanc grape. It’s bone dry, a nice acidity and a great alternative for (midweek) bubbly! (£10.95)
White – Val de Loire Chenin de Jardin, J. Mourat 2018. Also available from the Wine Society. Plenty of lemon and lime notes, bone dry with a sharp acidity. Perfect for fish, shellfish and delicate chicken dishes (£9.50)
Red – Les Nivières, Saumur. A Cabernet Franc from Waitrose (£9.99)
Why not watch the following video for a virtual wine tasting? I taste the three wines above, and it might be fun to drink along at home!
Quick Wine Facts
Loire is the name of the area, but also of the river (the longest in France).
Viticulture is centred around the villages of Touraine, Anjou, Saumur and Nantais.
White wine varieties include Chenin Blanc, Muscadet/Melon de Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. They account for over half of the wines produced here.
The best whites comes from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the east, and the most well known come from Muscadet on the west and right on the coast.
Red wine varieties include Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the best wines come from Touraine and Anjou.
Generally wines are fresh, light bodied and fruity and offer some great value for money wines.
As well as dry white and red, the Loire produces some fantastic sparking wines
Some great sweet wines are also produced here, mainly from Chenin Blanc and can age for years.
Climate – most of the wineries lie along the river. The westerly regions are right on the coast so experience maritime influences from the Atlantic, whereas the further inland vineyards experience a cool continental climate.
The grape which produces the greatest white wines of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur.
A wide range of styles are made, from dry to sweet, still and sparkling; generally good acidity, the styles relating to the degree of ripeness in the grapes. At the moment there seems to be a trend to seek fuller ripeness even for dry wines balancing their high alcohol with lower acidities and leaving a few grams of residual sugar for weight. Lanolin is also a common tasting note.
Grows best on limestone soils.
Young wines; fresh apple through to exotic fruit, smokey mineral notes, orange marmalade with some influence of botrytis or noble rot (more about that later).
With age they become more richer, rounder and honey flavoured.
Chenin Blanc, also called Pineau de la Loire, may have come to the Loire Valley more than a thousand years ago. It was firmly established by the 15th century, and like Cabernet Franc, was also praised by Rabelais, the great epicurean writer.
It buds early and ripens late – an element of risk.
The grape is subject to botrytis cinerea, also called “noble rot”, which is the mold responsible for some of the greatest sweet wines in the world. Water escapes from the grapes causing them to shrivel on the vine which concentrates the sugars, yet retaining a refreshing acidity.
The vineyards of Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray, for example, can produce long-lived sweet wines.
Finally, Chenin Blanc is the primary grape for many of the sparkling wines of the Loire Valley. Although other grapes may be added (according to the standards of the individual appellation) Chenin Blanc is almost always dominant.
Melon Blanc/Melon de Bourgogne/Muscadet
Fairly neutral variety but the best show green apple and grassy aromas.
Often see the term “sur lie” on the label which means aged on the lees, where the wine has been left in contact with dead yeast cells which add complexity and other flavours. The wines must spend at least a full winter in contact with the lees and not to be bottled until October, and not go through any filtering.
It can be used on the late of 3 sub-appellations including…
Muscadet-Sevre et Maine, established in 1936 covers just over 20,000 acres and produces 80% of all muscadets.
Vinified to avoid excessive herbaceous and fruit (like you see in New Zealand wines); not too low temperatures and possibly in some old oak.
Wines produced in the areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are some of the greatest expressions of the grape seen in the world.
Cabernet Franc, the most important red grape of the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine region, is a close relative of Cabernet Sauvignon. It ripens earlier than its more famous cousin, making it better suited to the cooler climate of the Loire. It probably originated in Bordeaux, where it is mainly used for blending, but it is well suited to conditions in the Loire Valley that it stands alone in such famous wines as Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny.
Cabernet Franc, also called Breton locally, came to the region by the 14th century. It has had a bit of a Renaissance in the last few decades which has seen an increase in plantings.
Cabernet Franc can make lighter bodied, less tannic wines than many other red grapes and they are generally ready to drink soon after bottling. However some wineries are making a more full bodied style, with the capability of ageing for many years.
Young Cabernet Franc is an ideal red wine for summer. It is sufficiently fruity that it can be refreshing when served slightly chilled! Some producers are making wines that can age, adding more complexity to the wines - savoury, gamey, mushroom notes.
Gamay is used primarily to make rosé wines in Anjou and Saumur, but it can also be used in the blended red wines. It can be made in a light, fruity style for consumption en primeur (with no ageing at all) or in a fuller style for longer keeping.
An exciting red wine full of energy – with fresh red berries and a hint of black pepper. It’s quite rare but it’s seeing a bit of a revival at the moment, but for a whole blog post on a wine from this grape, visit here
The Pays Nantais
On the Atlantic coast of Brittany, near the city of Nantes, the area has been producing wine since the Roman era. The region is known for Muscadet, (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape) the largest white wine appellation in France, and the ultimate crisp, dry seaside wine.
Anjou produces many of the Loire Valley’s best sweet wines Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, all made from Chenin Blanc. Anjou is also home to Savennières, a dry style of Chenin Blanc, as well as excellent red Anjou (made from Cabernet Franc) and the very popular, off-dry Rosé d’Anjou.
Known for its premiums sparkling wine and Saumur-Champigny, one of the Loire Valley’s great Cabernet Franc red wines.
Vineyards fall into 2 main groups; Chinon and Bourgueil in the West for red wines, and Vouvray in the east for white wines.
Cabernet France and Chenin Blanc, but also some great examples of Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec (locally known as côt)
Sometimes called the “Garden of France.” was where kings and nobles built many of the chateaux that make the Loire Valley one of France’s most popular tourist destinations.
This is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and of Sancerre the world’s most prestigious Sauvignon Blanc wine that sets international standards for the grape. Lesser known but equally fine examples include and Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly. The region also produces excellent reds and rosé from Pinot Noir in Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, and Chateaumeillant.
Chalky, well drained stony soils not to dissimilar from Chablis.
Producers to look out for – François Cotat, Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Pascal Cailleau, Olga and Jean-Maurice Raffault, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Clos Naudin
So, let’s test what you’ve learnt: (scroll down for answers)
What grape are the best sparkling wines from the Loire made from?
Name an area where some of the greatest Sauvignon Blanc wines come from?
What wine is the Pays Nantais region best known for?
What does “sur lie” mean? And why do it?
Name two red grapes grown here.
What is another name for the grape Côt?
What style of wine is Quarts de Chaume best known for?
Aged on lees (dead yeast cells). It adds body and complexity
Cabernet Franc, Malbec (Côt), Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis