Wine Guide Loire Valley
Wine Guide Loire Valley – Wine Region Map
The Loire is perhaps the most diverse and certainly geographically the most extensive of all France’s classic wine regions. Inevitably there is a vast difference in styles from Nantes on the Atlantic coast to the heart of the Auvergne. Much of the region is steeped in tradition but, while you won’t find the wave of new developments that is happening in the Midi for instance, there are new high-quality producers emerging in almost all appellations. A number of them are committed to either organic farming practices or indeed biodynamic viticulture. Applying these principles in this northerly climate is a far taller order than in, say, dry and sunny Provence.
Loire Valley Wines
Wine Region Map
The Pays Nantais generally means just one wine to the majority of people: Muscadet. Generic Muscadet can be pretty dire stuff, but there are a number of beacons of quality; names like Domaine de l’Ecu and Louis Métaireau. From a quality perspective the most important appellation is Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine with the best wines bottled sur lie. This means the wine spends a period of time on its lees for added richness. There are two other superior ACs, Muscadet-Côteaux de la Loire and Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu. Covering the same area is the Gros Plant AOP, producing simple, austere wines and to the south is the Fiefs Vendéens – you are most likely to encounter these on holiday in the area and the odd exciting example is emerging. Further east and stretching towards the south of Anjou and Saumur is the heart of the IGP de La Vienne, although this covers the whole of the valley; the odd fine white is appearing here. To the south is the appellation of Haut-Poitou, where there are some relatively interesting whites and reds in vineyards surrounding the town of Poitiers. Good Muscadet can be crisp, minerally and with a real green-fruited depth, not dissimilar to sound village Chablis.
Anjou and Saumur
The Anjou appellation includes red, rosé and white wines. It covers a vast area north and south of the River Loire, from the west of Angers east to beyond Saumur. The quality can range from dire to very impressive, with some stylish barrel-fermented whites from the major white variety of the region, Chenin Blanc. Reds tend to be light, but the best are ripe and juicy with the odd more serious example and can be made from Gamay, Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc and Pineau d’Aunis. The medium to sweet rosé is generally very average, but well-made examples occasionally turn up under the Cabernet d’Anjou AC. The best red now has its own AC, Anjou-Villages and some very good wines are being made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. New oak is increasingly favoured.
The great wines here, though, are the steely, intense dry whites of Savennières and the sweet botrytised wines of the Côteaux du Layon. Those from the Côteaux de l’Aubance are less impressive but there are good examples. Within the Côteaux du Layon are the ACs of Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux along with a number of communes which may append their names. These sweet wines tend to be traditional, quite restrained and very ageworthy or, increasingly, wines of immense extract and honeyed richness. Producers of the latter have become known as the sugar hunters. The best of these wines are marvellously rich and refined but some seem overblown and not entirely balanced and you have to wonder how they will age. A small amount of fine sweet Chenin Blanc is also made at Saumur and labelled as Côteaux de Saumur. The vineyards of Saumur are also a haven for sparkling wine production. As well as sparkling Saumur there is also the catch-all appellation of Crémant de Loire. The attraction in making sparkling Chenin, as opposed to still, is the option it offers in poor vintages like those of the late 1990s. Many small producers take this route and there are some sizeable merchant houses and commercial offshoots of the big Champagne houses in Saumur. Quality can be quite good. The wines are generally more green apple in character than rich and biscuity in the manner of Champagne.
The best wines from Saumur, though, are the impressive barrel-fermented still white Chenin Blancs of the Saumur AC and the rich, ripe and supple reds of Saumur-Champigny produced from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These tend to be softer and lusher in texture than the equally impressive reds from Bourgueil, Chinon and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Chinon is produced exclusively from Cabernet Franc and tends to be tighter and leaner. However, that said, there is still an alarming amount of dull, over-sulphured white and under-ripe, green-flavoured red throughout Anjou. The producer rather than the appellation is all-important.
As in Anjou there is a catch all Touraine AC that encompasses most of the region. Sauvignon Blanc is as important for whites here as Chenin and is common under the Touraine banner. In the far west of the region are the red wine appellations of Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil north of the river Loire and Chinon just to the south. The best of these wines are very good indeed and new oak is increasingly favoured. Bourgueil tends to be the fullest, while Saint-Nicolas often shows greater elegance and Chinon grown on the limestone côteaux is equally refined.
Just to the east of the city of Tours are the vineyards of Vouvray and Mountlouis. Vouvray is found on the north of the river, Montlouis just to the south. depending on the vintage conditions – dry, demi-sec and moelleux styles are all created. The latter can be some of the greatest and longest lived sweet wines in the world. Green and minerally in their youth, the dry and medium styles become increasingly rich and honeyed with age. The dry styles can be very austere when young and the searing acidity can be almost overwhelming. This can be the same with the moelleux wines – it’s just better disguised by the residual sugar. Like many of the sweet wines along the valley the dependence on liberal sulphur additions is beginning to wane and you don’t need to wait 20 years now for it to dissipate.
There are a number of lesser Touraine appellations. To the west of Tours can be found Touraine Azay-le-Rideau and to the immediate east of Vouvray and Montlouis Touraine-Amboise and Touraine-Mesland. Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon feature for the reds and Chenin Blanc for the whites. There are a few good examples. To the south of Blois are the regions of Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny. Similar reds are planted at Cheverny but the whites include Sauvignon Blanc and the unusual Romorantin. Cour-Cheverny is a white-only appellation planted to Romorantin.
To the north of Tours and the Touraine appellation are the regions of the Côteaux du Loir and its sub-region of Jasnières. The climate here is extremely marginal. The best wines – dry and late havested Chenin Blancs – are Jasnières from vines planted on south-facing aspects with a protected mesoclimate. A handful of very good wines are made.
Central Vineyards and the South
The main wines of consequence are the Sauvignon Blancs from Quincy, Reuilly, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre and Poully-Fumé. Good Pinot Noir is also made at Sancerre and to a lesser extent at Menetou-Salon. While a considerable amount of very average white wine is made from these appellations there are some seriously good wines too. Those whites that are barrel-fermented and kept on lees are capable of considerable age and bottle development.
To the south is the Auvergne. The best wines come from the Côte Roannaise, where the odd decent example of Gamay is produced. Indeed the vineyards are nearer to and have more similarity geographically with Beaujolais than the rest of the Loire. Gamay is also produced in the Côtes du Forez.