I consider the Loire Valley to be one of the most alluring and prolific wine regions in France. Situated 2 hours south of Paris and stretching to the Atlantic, the Loire Valley is an impressive 300 square miles. The Loire, often called the “The Garden of France,” is charming with its rolling hills, vineyards and more than a thousand chateaux. It would be difficult to highlight all the regions at one go, so please do not be offended if I leave out your favorite sub-region.
Starting from the east is the famous region of Sancerre where Sauvignon Blanc is not just supreme but adored as one of the best examples of that varietal. Sancerre is made up of 14 communes and includes 4000 acres. The many soil types produce lean and lively Sauvignon Blancs that are unique and highly sought after. Sancerre also produces some great quality rosé and red wines made from Pinot Noir. East of Sancerre are the lesser known appellations of Menetou-Salon and Quincy, which produce softer-style Sauvignon Blanc (not as steely as Sancerre) and at lower prices.
Central Loire can be split into three provinces, Anjou, Saumur and Touraine. This area offers the broadest selection of grapes including Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cot (Malbec) and Grolleau. They also use a labeling system to indicate the dryness/sweetness level of the wine: sec, dry; demi-sec, semisweet; moelleux, sweet and the rare pourriture noble (botrytis).
Anjou is most associated with outstanding quality sweet wine, though it also produces whites, rosé, reds and sparkling wines.
The appellation of Saumur, with its chalky/limestone soil produces wonderful light and fruity red wines with a rich earthiness, especially wines from Saumur Champigny which yields outstanding reds.
Touraine is best known for dry whites made from Sauvignon Blanc, but also Chenin Blanc is used for sparkling wine. Wines from this area are also a great value if you are looking for something different for a summer white. Another exceptional red wine producing region of the Loire is Chinon located east of Saumur on the left bank of the Loire River. Made from mostly Cabernet Franc grapes, reds from Chinon are elegant, supple and with a distinct violet aromas.
Near the Atlantic, the western part of the Loire Valley with its cooler climate is home to Muscadet wines. The most well-known being Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. The grape in this delicious fresh white is Melon de Bourgogne, which was brought over from Burgundy in the late 17th century. Muscadets are delicately dry with aromas of white flowers and light citrus. Fantastic with oysters!
I hope you agree that the Loire Valley has a lot to offer for the adventurous wine drinker. Bring one to your next dinner party or seafood extravaganza.
Recommended Loire Valley wines currently in stock:
Chateau De La Chesnaie 2007 Muscadet Sèvre Et Maine Sur Lie ($15)
Domaine Lecomte 2007 Quincy ($20)
Domaine du Grand Bouqueteau 2006 Chinon (Cabernet Franc) ($19.50)
Philippe Raimbault 2007 Sancerre ($34)
Contributor: Gina Gregory, Sommelier & Manager, Portalis Wines