The Loire Valley
The valley of the lower reaches of the mighty Loire River is a veritable garden of wines.
Loire, a lush green valley, was at one time, playground to courtiers, French nobility, kings ad queens.
Many aristocrats built chateaux to entertain their friends and concubines. Many of these lavishly built chateaux are today museums, and/or hotels or alternately wineries.
Although Loire is France’s largest river, it cannot be used for navigation. It is shallow and there are too many islands in it. This lovely region produces a wide range of wines – red, rose, white, dry, off dry, sweet, and sparkling.
Some go well with simple fare, others are just for quaffing, yet others are worth of gastronomic meals and a few lend themselves beautifully to desserts.
The personality and character of Loire wines change with geology, and geography.
Nowhere is the saying “wine is liquid geography” as true as here.
The river runs through the chalky hills of the Paris basin and “old rocks” of the Massif Armoricain.(Massif is a topographical feature of a mountain mass generally formed of rocks more rigid and older than those surrounding it. Massifs range in size from a few, to hundreds of square kilometres), Loire has four distinct sub-regions: Touraine, Saumur, Anjou and Sancerre.
It is amazing how a substantial variety and styles in Touraine, Saumur, and Anjou derive from two grape varieties – chenin Blanc and cabernet franc.
The chenin blanc is known as pineau d’Anjou.
In Sancerre, sauvignon blanc reigns supreme, but one must not forget the delicious muscadet wines grown close to the Atlantic Ocean. Chardonnay is found everywhere, and there is a substantial acreage of gamay, malbec, and pinot noir.
Touraine is home to appellations Vouvray, Montlouis, Chinon, Bourgeuil, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, Coteaux du Loire and Jasnieres.
Wines range from dry to off-dry, rose and light reds, and the soil yellow tuffeau to argillaceous chalk.
Saumur has long been noted for its sparkling wines produced by the methode champenoise, but sold at less than half the cost of champagne. Saumur sparkling wines are light, soft, fruity, and fun to enjoy. They don’t cellar well, so drink them within a year or two of vintage.
Veuve Amiot brand is particularly famous and recommended.
Anjou here the terroir consists mainly of cretaceous chalk, clay, and schist. The best reds come from cabernet franc, roses cabernet sauvignon, gamay and cot.
The wines of Savennieres, Coteaux de l’Aubance, Coteaux de Layon, Bonnezaux, Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux de la Loire are particularly appreciated by connoisseurs.
Bonnezaux and Quart de Chaume enjoy elevated status for their sweet wines made from chanin blanc and which trend to be perfumy, and long-lived.
Muscadet is found just below, in gardens east of the city of Nantes. Chenin blanc and cabernet franc are replaced by muscadet and other grapes. Here Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, Muscadet de Coteaux de la Loire, and Muscadet Cotes de Grand Lieu stand out.
Here the granitic soil yields outstanding dry wines that go best with steamed mussels or light seafood.
Muscadet sur Lie is another unique specialty since the wine is kept on its lees for at least six months, but most winemakers keep it for one year, and then bottled. Sur lie wines must be consumed shortly after bottling and possess a yeasty aroma akin to freshly baked bread.
Sancerre contains 2500 hectares of vineyards planted to sauvignon blanc and pinot noir (25 per cent). This sub-region has three soil types; stony limestone with little soil, flinty (silex), and clay limestone (argilocalcaire), each of which gives a different taste to the wine.
Most Sancerre is made in stainless steel tanks, but a few top class are barrel fermented and barrel aged briefly. Sancerre wines display a typical sauvignon blanc grassiness, gooseberry and grapefruit aromas.
Red and rose Sancerre made from pinot noir are light and fruity, but must be enjoyed shortly after bottling, and ideally with food.
Loire wines represent excellent value, are versatile and deserve the attention than they receive.