We recognize the Loire by 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 birth to a wine list offering rich and complex wines, among the best and most remarkable in France.
But before taking an interest in the flavours and aromas of these wonderful wines, it is important to look back in time to understand their origin... As for 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 serve as a convenient route for transporting goods throughout the Empire. Halfway between the Latin South and the Germanic North, the Loire was also in the centre of France during the Middle Ages; it was here that culture, language and royalty met. Today, the UNESCO classified valley continues to attract crowds - and not just royalty! The "Garden of France" attracts travellers with a green thumb 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 diversified in terms of wine styles, climate, geography and geology. It is thus divided into three main wine-growing areas:
The styles of wines produced in these three regions vary from light and acidulous styles (Muscadet), sweet styles with honey aromas (Bonnezeaux), sparkling whites of Vouvray and juicy reds and tannins of Chinon and Saumur. Not to mention 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 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 from the soft friable tuffeau of Anjou.
The Nantes region
It is in the Pays Nantais that you will find the best white wines in the region. Most of the vineyards that produce 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 maritime and continental climate, the Melon de Bourgogne is the flagship grape variety of the Pays Nantais. It is not a particularly tasty variety, so we owe it careful care and good vinification, so as not to run the risk of obtaining bland wines without attractive characteristics.
Other grape varieties grown in the Nantes region include Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris for white wines, as well as Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc for reds. These grape varieties can all be used for the wines of the Coteaux d'Ancenis appellation. Folle Blanche, known locally as "Gros Plant", is also grown there and gave birth to the appellation Gros Plant du Pays Nantais. Finally, let us not forget the Muscadet PDO, the largest appellation (in terms of size) in the Loire: all its wines are dry and made from Muscadet. Expect these wines to be generally cheap and to be tasted young and fresh. Lean, mineral and recognizable by its subtle aromas of pink grapefruit and white pepper, Muscadet is the ideal companion to your seafood and shellfish!
Anjou-Saumur and Touraine
The vineyards surrounding the cities of Angers and Tours are located in some of the most elegant and breathtaking landscapes in France. It is here that Chenin Blanc reaches its peak, 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 recognizable by its sweetness. Saumur, on the other hand, is best known for its traditional white and rosé sparkling wines. It also contains the appellation of Saumur-Champigny, which produces beautiful Cabernet Franc reds.
In Touraine, you will notice 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 between chalk, sand, gravel, clay and limestone pebbles, but the most notable soil type is tuffeau, a limestone soil specific to the Loire, which, thanks to its porous character, contributes to the acidity of the zest of Touraine grapes; it is in this sense that Touraine embodies the Loire very well. It also offers you 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 plantations. You will finally find superb sparkling wines that will surprise you with their ageing potential...
Although modest in size, La 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 granted a special status, it is precisely because its wines and its terroir are very different from those of Touraine, Anjou, and especially the Pays Nantais; the fresh and humid marine climate of the Muscadet vineyard contrasts sharply with the drier and 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 respects, we could even say that this region shares more in common with the Burgundy region of Chablis than with the rest of the Loire Valley: there is also a semi-continental climate, with great differences between day and night temperatures.
The main white grape varieties used to produce the whites of the Loire are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay.
The main red grape variety of the Loire one is undeniably Cabernet Franc. This one is hidden behind the reds of Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil. It is most often found in mixed wines, where it adds herbaceous accents of tobacco and dark spices.