We recognize the Loire River with its exceptional landscapes, especially its castles and fortresses along the 800 km of the Loire Valley. The vineyards, essential elements of this unique cultural landscape, flourish from Chalonnes-sur-Loire (Maine et Loire) to Sully-sur-Loire (Loiret) and give rise to a wine list offering rich and complex wines, among the best and most remarkable in France.
But before looking at the flavours and aromas of these wonderful wines, it is important to look back to understand their origins... As with most vineyards in France, we can thank the Romans for getting things started! During their conquest of Gaul in the 1st century AD, they not only noticed that the climate and soil were favourable for vines, but also that the Loire River could be used as a convenient route for transporting goods across the Empire. Halfway between the Latin south and the Germanic north, the Loire was also in the centre of France in the Middle Ages; it was here that culture, language and royalty met. Today, the UNESCO-listed valley continues to attract crowds - and not just royalty! The "Garden of France" attracts green fingered travellers as well as gourmets who find their paradise in the heart of vineyards and flourishing gastronomic markets .
The main appellations of the Loire Valley
As a whole, the Loire is very diverse in terms of wine styles, climate, geography and geology. The vineyard is thus divided into three main wine-growing areas:
The styles of wines made in these three regions vary from light and acidic (Muscadet), sweet styles with honey aromas (Bonnezeaux), sparkling whites of Vouvray and juicy and tannic reds of Chinon and Saumur. Without forgetting the two greatest wines of the Loire: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are the product of a climate that is also variable (which is relatively continental and becomes resolutely maritime as the river approaches the Atlantic coast), as well as a soil that also varies considerably as the river approaches the countryside; the hard granite of the Côtes du Forez is remarkably different from the flint and limestone around Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, and even more so from the soft, crumbly tuffeau of Anjou.
The Nantes area
It is in the Pays Nantais that you will find the best white wines of the region. Most of the vineyards giving birth to these wines are located on the flat, south-facing banks of the Loire, Sèvre and Maine rivers. They enjoy a maritime climate with cold, wet and stormy winters and often hot, humid and windy summers. Taking its source from this climate, which is both maritime and continental, Melon de Bourgogne is the flagship grape variety of the Nantes region. It is not a particularly tasty variety, so we owe it careful care and a good vinification, so as not to run the risk of obtaining bland wines without attractive characteristics.
Other grape varieties grown in the Pays Nantais include Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris for the white wines, and Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for the reds. These grape varieties can all be used for the wines of the Coteaux d'Ancenis appellation. Folle Blanche, known by its local name "Gros Plant", is also grown here and has given rise to the name Gros Plant du Pays Nantais. Finally, let us not forget the AOP Muscadet, the largest appellation (in terms of size) of the Loire: all its wines are dry and made from Muscadet. Expect these wines to be generally inexpensive and to be enjoyed young and fresh. Lean, mineral and recognizable by its subtle aromas of pink grapefruit and white pepper, Muscadet is the ideal companion for your seafood and shellfish!
Anjou-Saumur and Touraine
The vineyards that surround the cities of Angers and Tours are set in some of the most elegant and breathtaking scenery in all of France. This is where Chenin Blanc reaches its peak, where Cabernet Franc takes centre stage and sparkling wines reign supreme!
Anjou is best known for its great Chenin Blanc appellations (sometimes with a little Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc), notably Savennières and Coteaux du Layon. The rosé made in this region is also recognisable by its sweetness. Saumur, for its part, is best known for its traditional method white and rosé sparkling wines. It also contains the Saumur-Champigny appellation, which produces beautiful Cabernet Franc reds.
In Touraine, you will find that most of the vineyards, concentrated south of the city of Tours, are planted on the slopes of the Loire and Cher rivers. Here, the soils vary from chalk, sand, gravel, clay and limestone pebbles, but the most notable type of soil is tufa, a limestone soil typical of the Loire, which, thanks to its porous character, contributes to the acidity of the zest of the Touraine grapes; it is in this sense that Touraine embodies the Loire very well. It also offers world-renowned wines, made specifically from Chenin Blanc, representing 43% of all Touraine plantations, as well as Cabernet Franc, coming far behind with 7% of the plantations. You will finally find superb sparkling wines that will surprise you with their ageing potential...
Although modest in size, the Haute-Loire is home to the region's most famous appellations: Loire-Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, with a number of lesser-known appellations such as Orléans, Valençay, Quincy and Côtes du Forez. The Sauvignon Blanc from these wine-growing areas is imitated all over the world!
If this wine-growing area differs from its neighbours and is given a special status, it is precisely because its wines and its terroir are very different from those of Touraine, Anjou and especially the Nantes region; the cool, wet, marine climate of the Muscadet vineyards contrasts sharply with the drier, almost continental conditions of Sancerre, located 325 km to the east. This is reflected in the wines and explains (in part) the difference between the elegance of Muscadet and the aromatic power of Sancerre.
In many ways, we could even say that this region has more in common with the Burgundian region of Chablis than with the rest of the Loire Valley: it also has a semi-continental climate, with large differences between day and night temperatures.
The main white grape varieties used to make Loire whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay.
The flagship red grape variety of the Loire unquestionably is Cabernet Franc. This one hides behind the reds of Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil. It is most often found in blended wines, where it adds herbaceous accents of tobacco and dark spices.