When I was a child, my parents told me about the kings and queens who once lived in the castles and chateaux along the Loire River.
Now, when I think of the valley that stretches alongside its 630-mile river, flavors of peach, melon and gunflint from elegant, long-lived Sancerres or the exquisite honeyed notes of a Vouvray linger in my thoughts.
The Loire is the longest river in France, its valley comprises the country’s third largest AOC, its second largest region for sparkling wine and its No.1 white wine region. The Loire Valley, referred to as the “garden of France,” shares a commonality of a cool, northern climate with a minimalist approach to a straightforward style of natural winemaking.
PHOTO: “Remy Pannier Vouvray”: Rémy Pannier produces wines from 20 Loire appellations. This delightful Vouvray (100% Chenin Blanc) owns up to its sweet side with some edgy minerality. (Palm Bay Imports for SW&S)
Understanding the Loire Valley Wines
Running east to west, the Loire Valley’s most renowned wine growing regions are devoted to producing specific varietals. The wines can be divided into three basic areas. The most western portion of the valley is Muscadet, near the Atlantic Ocean. Moving east and inland is Savennières and Anjou, where the leading white is Chenin Blanc, with nearby Saumur, producers of the Loire’s top sparklers. Inch further east and you reach the Cabernet Franc country of Bourgueil to the north and Chinon to the south.
A bit more easterly is Vouvray, which is synonymous with Chenin Blancs that possess “gossamer wings,” gloriously bone dry acacia finesse and fruity-floral notable qualities that come forth from calcareous clay and silex soils.
To the far east, about 300 miles from Muscadet, is Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, where the reigning white is Sauvignon Blanc: often herbal and smoky and a bit uninhibited: in many ways, the standard bearer for the world’s style of this sassy grape.
Sancerre’s vineyards slope through chalky and flinty hillsides while in Pouilly-sur-Loire, limestone is more prevalent.
We tasted Red Sancerre, a beautiful exhibit of cherry and striking minerals and acidity, made primarily from Pinot Noir.
Photo “Brietstein”: David Breitstein of “Duke of Bourbon” finds some palatable picks for the stellar wine selection at his Canoga Park store.
Bourgueil and Chinon
In Touraine, fairy tale castles and draw-bridged chateaux are part of the picturesque scenery. In between the eastern Loire’s hot summers and extremely cold winters and the milder western part of the Loire, Touraine enjoys the best of both climates.
This is the Loire’s red wine country and cabernet franc is pretty much the exclusive player.
Chinon is often considered softer than Bourgeuil, but both command much respect in the Loire, and lean far from the reputation as a blending grape! Both can exhibit bursts of red raspberries, with exhilarating texture and bright acidity. The best description I’ve heard for these wines’ minerality is “pebbles washed clean by pure spring water.”
Both wines available through 1-877-MEGAWINE