The Wines of the Loire Valley

A Quick Guide

 

Loire Valley Wines


The Loire Valley is deservedly popular with visitors to France. The region offer a unique insight into France’s history and culture with something to interest any traveler. Beautiful countryside, stunning renaissance Châteaux and the Loire Valley wines famous the world over are just a few of the reasons why it is so popular.

The Loire Valley

The Loire Valley stretches 170 miles from Sancerre south east of Paris all the way to Nantes and beaches of the Atlantic Coast in the west. The Loire River itself is the longest in France, running 629 miles from the Massif Central in the south east of France all the way to the Atlantic Coast. UNESCO designated the Loire Valley a World Heritage Site in 2000.

Visiting the Loire Valley

The start of the Loire Valley itself is close to Paris. Easily accessible by car and high speed train. Read our article on the French Railway network for more information on the travel options available. The Loire Valley, as recognised by the UNESCO designation, starts at Sully-sur-Loire in the Loiret Department south of Paris. Not sure how they missed including Sancerre just south of there in the designation but we digress. The Loire Valley continues west from following the course of the Loire River as it wends it way to the Atlantic coast taking in Orléans, Tours, Saumur, Angers and Nantes.

For many visitors the first port of call is Orléans an important city in France’s history and home of the Joan of Arc legend. It is also a good starting point for visiting the many grand châteaux such as the world famous Chambord, Blois, Amboise and Chenonceau. Following this route will take you towards Tours, a medieval town which is centrally located in the Loire Valley. Tours is an ideal starting point for visits to the surrounding wine producing areas. That’s assuming you can get past the stunning chateaux along the way !

The Loire Valley offers a wide choice of excellent red, white, rosé and sparkling wines

You can’t visit the Loire Valley and not visit one of the stunning Chateaux of this region such as Chambord

The Loire Valley is dotted with wine growing regions extending all the way from Orléans to the Atlantic Coast

Map Markers Credit :N.Mollet, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Loire Valley Wines


The Loire Valley wine region is extensive. It starts close to the Atlantic Coast near Nantes and the Muscadet region and continues all the way to Sancerre south east of Orléans and south of Paris. Along the way are the well known wine production areas of Anjou, Chinon, Saumur and Vouvray.  The area includes 87 appellations under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure(VDQS) and Vin de Pays systems.

The wines of the region are known for moderate alcohol, a fresh taste, low levels of “oakiness” so that the grape varietals are allowed to shine through. They make great wines to pair with your summer picnic ! Although there are many famous white wines produced from the Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the region is also notable for Chinon red wines produced from the Cabernet Franc grapes. Still better for that holiday celebration the region is second only to Champagne in the production of sparkling wines known as Crémant produced using the méthode traditionelle. Oh and last but definitely not least dessert wines and one of my favorites the rosés !

The high speed TGV network can take you from Paris to Tours in the heart of the Loire Valley in just over an hour

The Wine Regions of the Loire Valley

There are five distinct wine producing areas in the Loire Valley as one follows the path of the Loire River from the Atlantic Coast through the Loire Valley region.

Pays Nantais

This is an area around Nantes near the Atlantic coast in the most westerly part of the Loire Valley. Vineyards here specialise in crisp, white, often fruity wines typically made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. This is not the strongest flavoured grape variety and wines produced from it are generally described as light to medium bodied. In some cases the grapes are left on the vine (sur lie) for longer to allow stronger tastes to develop. The best known Loire Valley wines of this regions are Muscadet and Muscadet Sèvre et Main.

Muscadet is a pale colored wine, light bodied but with a crisp and fruity taste and usually gets paired with seafood, oysters perhaps and lighter meals. Ideal for a picnic in the rolling fresh countryside. You can keep it cool in a running stream! It’s certainly one of the most popular wines in the regions with a production volume of nearly 6m gallons a year. That’s a lot of oysters. That said it’s not the most popular wine in the region. That prize goes to Muscadet Sèvre et Main. This is named after the two rivers that cross the vineyards: the Petite Maine and the Sèvre Nantaise. It might not be the most full bodied white but you can’t dispute it’s popularity. Recent figures suggest that about 12m gallons of it are produced each year which is a lot of wine !

Anjou

Anjou is the name of the wine growing district centred around the city of Angers in the western part of the Loire Valley, east of the Pays Nantais region and the city of Nantes. Interesting fact – historically it was the Duchy of Anjou and as such was at one time ruled by King Henry II of England. This may account for the suggestion that Loire Valley wines like those of Anjou were more highly regarded in England than the better known (now) Bordeaux and Rhone Valley wines.

Anjou produces a range of red, white and rosé wines in a range of styles to suit most tastes – dry, sweet, still and sparkling. The Anjou AOC is perhaps not the best known but certain wines have gained wide popularity. The area has a reputation for producing some of the best Loire Valley wines such as the sweet Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon both made from the Chenin Blanc. That said if you go into your local wine merchant the Anjou wine you are most likely to find is a Rosé D’Anjou often in a tall and distinctive bottle.  The locally produced Rosé de Loire tends to be a bit drier to the taste.

The Loire Valley is well known for it’s white wine but also offers a range of red, rosé and sparkling wines.

The Anjou AOC includes a range of red and white wines but is perhaps best known for the rosé wines

“A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world”

Louis Pasteur

Saumur

As the Loire wends it way south east away from Angers the next major center of wine production is Saumur. The city is dominated by the imposing Château de Saumur which stands high above the town. The use of tuffeau limestone as a construction material gives the city a very distinctive look and also underlies the vineyards which surround Saumur. The area is dotted with limestone tunnels and caves, ideal locations for the production of a sparkling wine.  The area around Saumur is the third largest sparkling wine appellation in France. The largest being the Champagne region (no surprise there) and the Crémant d’Alsace appellation. The region also differs in making most sparkling wines with the Chenin Blanc grape rather the Chardonnay grape typical of Champagne.

The Saumur region is actually one of the eight regions in France approved to make a Crémant sparkling wine made using the méthode traditionelle used in Champagne production. Not surprisingly one of the most popular wines from this area is Crémant de Loire which is mostly made from Chenin Blanc but you can can also get Rosé Cremant which is  often made with a dash of Cabernet Franc.

Other popular wines from this area include the earthy but medium bodied Saumur reds made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon . Saumur whites are typically made with a Chenin Blanc as the main grape varietal giving them a medium body and a fresh and fruity taste.

The Loire River flows through the important wine region of Saumur

Touraine

If you are going to visit one part of the Loire Valley it’s probably going to be here. The former province of Touraine, now the Indre et Loire departement is home to some of the most beautiful chateaux in France such as Chambord, Amboise and Chenonceau which you absolutely have to see if you’re in this area. At the same time it is home to wines known the world over such as Chinon, Vouvray and Touraine. The region is known as the “Garden of France” for the Chateaux , the gardens that surround them and many “lesser” stately homes and of course the tradition of wine production.

There are a number of key wine producing areas within Touraine.  Vouvray in the north of the region to the east of Tours is the largest white wine appellation in the region. The most popular white wine is the Vouvray AOC made from the Chenin Blanc grape. Although there are dry (sec) and sweeter (moelleux) Vouvray wines, the classic Vouvray is the semi-dry (demi-sec) which is just labelled as Vouvray. One interesting fact about Vouvray production. Nearly half of it is sparkling Vouvray. You can see non-fizzy Vouvray at most good wine merchants who carry French wines – it’s a big “brand” in wine terms. Have you ever seen any ? I’ve seen it in French supermarché but have never seen it in the UK or USA. I’ve read that something like 90% of sparkling Vouvray production stays in France.  So mark that as something to try if you visit Vouvray !

The Touraine AOC  is mostly produced from vineyards to the south of Tours. There is quite a range of grape varieties grown in this area. It includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and some Chardonnay for the whites, Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec for the reds. The Gamay red wines are notable for being bottled quite quite early and the Touraine region in the past has competed with the Beaujolais Nouveau producers for those early fruity reds. These days Touraine produces a wide range of white, red, rosé and sparkling wine.

To the west of Tours the focus is more on red wines produced using Cabernet Franc. Chinon is the best known wine from this area south of the Loire. Although there is some production of rosé and white wine (Chenin Blanc) most of the area’s production is red wine. To the north of the river and bordering Saumur Bourgueil is another important AOC for red and rosé wines. Cabernet Franc is the primary grape here although producers can blend in up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. This blend and the local terroir (soil) give it a more earthy taste than the lighter fruitier Chinon wines south of the Loire.

Image Credit:La Chiquita, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Château de Chinon on the banks of the Vienne River overlooks a town steeped in history and one of the main red wine production areas of the region

The Touraine region includes a number of popular red and white wines such as Chinon and Vouvray

Map Markers Credit :N.Mollet, CC BY-SA 4.0

Centre-Loire

This area to the south of Paris and geographically pretty much the center of France is best known as the home of the Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. While those are not the only wines produced in this area they are certainly the best known. The area is the original home of the Sauvignon Blanc grape with the growing of Pinot Noir supposedly a legacy of when this area was under the influence of the Dukes of Burgundy.  Red wines produced in this region share a common grape with the wines of Burgundy but hey have their own body and taste.

Sancerre on the left side of the Loire as it head north toward Orléans was originally better known for the production of red wine from Pinot Noir. The disease Phylloxera ravaged vineyards in the 19th century which led to the increased use of Sauvignon Blanc as this was seen to be more resistant to disease. Since then wine production has become dominated by the white Sancerre wines in the region although smaller quantities of red and rosé wines are still produced in Sancerre.

South of the Sancerre and on the other bank of the Loire is the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire home of Pouilly-Fumé which is another Sauvignon Blanc but one with a distinctive taste and bouquet, or smell. This is often described as gunflint or just smokey – hence the name Pouilly-Fumé.  This AOC is dedicated to the production of white wines.

The town of Sancerre overlooks the local region and the many vineyards

The end of the Loire Valley wine trail is home to two of the best known white wines from the region – Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé

Map Markers Credit :N.Mollet, CC BY-SA 4.0

Conclusions….


It’s tough choosing a personal favorite from the Loire Valley. The reds may not have the gravitas of the wines of the Rhone Valley but a lot of the time I just want a wine that’s not serious – one I want to share with friends.  So I think of Loire Valley wines when I’m meeting friends, eating outside or watching the sunset from the poolside of a holiday Gîte.

Possible choices ? Whites – so many to choose from – Tourain and Vouvray are great places to start or Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé if you’re dressed to impress. Reds – Chinon and Bourgueil are a very good choice.  And don’t forget the rosés – Rose d’Anjou is the perfect BBQ wine !

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