The Wines Of The Loire
The Loire Valley is not only one of the four most important wine regions of France, but one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the country, with its long stretches of ambling rivers, and picturesque chateaux, which attract visitors from across the globe.
About The Loire Valley
It is mainly a white wine producing area, which suits its relatively northern location in France, but produces one of the broadest ranges of wine styles of any major region in the country. The river Loire meanders through over 1000km of land, with vineyards at almost every turn, yet the breadth and length of the region, means that soils, topography and microclimates vary dramatically. Unlike some of the other main French wine regions, there is no specific ‘Loire style’, and it is probably the most diverse in terms of the types of wines produced, and the varieties from which they are made.
In terms of volume, the Loire is one of the largest wine producing regions in France, with around two thirds of Bordeaux’s total production. Almost 90% of the production is white, but again within this styles vary radically. The Loire is probably most famous for 2 French classic whites, Muscadet and Sancerre, which are produced at opposite ends of the region; nestled in between are the wines of Anjou and Touraine, including Vouvray, and some of the greatest sweet wines of France made from the Chenin grape. Sparkling wines from the Chenin are a very important part of the mix, as are Rose d’Anjou and lightish reds from Chinon and Bourgueuil complete the varied offering that this scenic and beautiful region has to offer.
The Loire Region And Its History
The history of the Loire Valley goes way back, and dates back to the 1st century, when the Romans marched north and conquered the northern region of Gaul, planting grapes on their way. During Medieval times, the Loire reigned supreme, more important, in terms of wine production than Bordeaux at that stage – largely due to the proximity to Paris and the Royal court. The renown of Loire wines continued to grow during Renaissance times, and through to the 16th century, as aristocrats flocked to the region, and the idyllic and now historic chateaux of the Loire were built. The most iconic is maybe Chateau de Chenonceau, with its beautiful arching gallery over the undulating river.
Loire wines, in all their guises have always enjoyed strong popularity in Paris, as the closest wine region to the capital – in previous centuries, they were the wines, which were easiest to get to the city, whereas Bordeaux and Burgundy wines were far further away. From the days of Louis XIV onwards, the French court used to escape Paris by going to one of the many chateaux along the banks of the Loire, and developed a liking for the wines of the region. Today the fashion for Loire wines in Paris continues, still partly due to the proximity of the area.
The climate is typical of northern France, and continental in style, but with unique microclimates within different sub regions. The weather is fiercely cold in winter, especially in the Muscadet area close to the Atlantic, with spring frosts very common; this is one of the wine producing regions, which is most prone to vintage and also volume variation, depending on the vagaries of the weather. Yet the summers are warm, and often balmy, with some regions in the centre enjoying extended sunshine and warm autumns, which enable the development of ‘noble rot’ and the production of delightful and long lived dessert wines.
The region naturally divides into three: to the west, the Pays Nantais, home of Muscadet; in the centre, the areas of Anjou, Saumur and Touraine, where the Chenin Blanc grape dominates; and to the east, the upper Loire, with the world famous appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. There are 87 different ACs; the categorisation Vin de pays du Jardin de la France, covers wines from throughout the region.
The Loire is the second largest region of France, after Languedoc–Roussillon in terms of vins de pays production, and also produces a high quantity of dry sparkling wine, mainly from the Chenin Blanc grape, the most generic of which is labelled Cremant de Loire. Whilst the Chenin Blanc grape reigns supreme in terms of white wines, there are an increasing number of vins de pays from the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The Different Loire Wine Areas
Discover the different wine areas in the Loire Valley:
The Upper Loire – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and beyond
The regions of the Upper Loire are separated by a considerable distance from the neighbouring region of Touraine, and are at the eastern end of the Loire Valley, over 300km from the western region of Muscadet. This area produces totally different styles of wine, from different grape varieties, grown on a totally different type of soil.
The Upper Loire is the home of the world famous regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, and the well-known areas of Menetou-Salon, Quincy, and Reuilly. Everything here differs from other Loire areas. The weather is drier, and hotter, as the region is located more centrally, and slightly south, so without the Atlantic influence, and more prone to inland heat. One of the greatest variations is the soil; limestone is prevalent, but there is a strong presence of ‘silex’ or flint, in the vineyards, which give the wines their characteristic flinty, or smokey edge. The soil type also benefits the vines, in this continental climate, holding the heat of the daytime sun, and helping to ripen the grapes.
The majority of the wines produced in this region are white, from the Sauvignon blanc grape, with a small production of Rose and red, made from neighbouring Burgundy’s grape, Pinot Noir – so this area produces wines from grapes totally different to every other region in the Loire.