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Loire Valley

The wines of the Loire Valley and its tributaries are as varied as the climate, soils and grape varieties of this region which was originally planted with vines by the Romans. Loire wine production today is centred on two main stretches of the river; the first in the west reaches from Nantes near the Atlantic coast through the town of Tours towards Orléans far inland to the east. This vineyard belt includes the wine-producing sub-regions of the Pays Nantais (the lower Loire), Anjou-Saumur and Touraine (the middle Loire) with a range of white, red, rosé and sparkling wine made in a variety of styles from several different grape varieties. A second viticultural area, the Upper Loire, lies to the south-east of Orléans and encompasses the towns of Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire where the river flows in a northerly direction and the climate has a rather more continental character, producing world-class dry white wines from Sauvignon Blanc grapes.

Wines of the Loire

old vines in the Muscadet appellation, western loire valleyDue to the Loire's relatively northern location and the influence of both Atlantic and continental climate types the wines of the Loire embrace a wide range of styles. The Pays Nantais is most famous for the dry white Muscadet, made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety (related to Chardonnay) with its great affinity for simple, fresh seafood dishes especially shellfish and crustaceans. The best examples carry the designation Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine sur lie which are left in barrel on the lees (dead yeast cells) until the spring following fermentation and which are bottled straight from the barrel with no prior racking. Some examples are being left on the lees for a longer period deepening still further the texture and flavour of the wine.

In Anjou the Chenin Blanc grape has traditionally been used to make sweet wines from grapes affected by noble rot (botrytis cinerea). Due to the vagaries of the weather from year to year in this region the reliance on the conditions required for this style of wine has lead to new interest in dry white wine production with harvesting by hand, a rigorous selection of grapes in the winery and subsequent oak-ageing resulting in very good quality wines irrespective of the presence of botrytis. The Coteaux du Layon, with its excellent long-lived Moulin Touchais dry white wine, Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux and Savennières have the highest profiles. Even Anjou itself is improving steadily with the dry white and formerly rather over-sugared rosé wines now far less ubiquitous. The rosé wines in particular, now made in an off-dry more perfumed style from the Cabernet Franc grape variety, and even the oak-aged reds are well worth tracking down.

The frequent wet weather around harvest time in the Loire leads to high acidity in the grapes and this has been exploited to good effect to make the sparkling wines of Saumur from Chenin Blanc. Lacking the finesse and flavours of Champagne itself Saumur Mousseux and the more refined Crémant de Loire can make a very enjoyable aperitif. In addition with the more recent trend for warmer summers, and greater attention to the details of vineyard management, the red wines made from Cabernet Franc are displaying more intense colour and flavours than in the past.

Touraine is host to the Loire's most famous red wines. Bourgeuil (including St-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil) and Chinon on the north and south banks respectively make Cabernet Franc wines with a pronounced raspberry fruit which is good drunk both young and somewhat cool. In very good vintages, however, these wines can show more depth and concentration to the extent that the best can repay cellaring for up to ten years. Touraine AOC wines can be red, made largely from the Gamay, dry white Sauvignon Blanc or rosé. The best will have the name of a village or town appended such as those of Amboise.

Further upstream the two climate types fight for dominance around Vouvray which is made in dry, off-dry, medium-sweet, sweet and sparkling styles. Which style is made depends on two factors, the weather that year and the preferences of the grower and wine-maker. Each of these styles of wine has a tremendous ability to age rivalling that of the best German wines. Situated on the opposite bank is the appellation of Montlouis-sur-Loire. Here the soils are sandier and consequently the wines are somewhat lighter with a higher proportion of grapes destined for sparkling wine production.

view of the hill town of sancerre from amongst the vinesPerhaps the most highly regarded, and certainly best known, dry white wines in the whole of the Loire region are those of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The limestone and clay soils coupled with the largely continental climate influence have the potential to produce wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape that are only rivalled by the very best wines from New Zealand's Marlborough region. The popularity of these wines has meant that historically too many examples have not reached the heights of which they are capable due both to huge expansion of the Sancerre appellation to include less favourable plots and also to a lack of care and diligence on the part of grape growers and wine-makers. However it seems that the emergence of fine New Zealand examples has acted as a spur to many producers and consequently overall standards are on the up.

Pouilly-Fumé itself is so named due to the presence of flint in the clay component of the soils, known as silex, which is said to impart a smoky, gun-flint character to the wines. At their best both white Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé exhibit intense gooseberry and passion fruit flavours with a herbaceous edge, a pronounced minerality and cut through with a rapier-like acidity. Sancerre also produces both red and rosé examples from Pinot Noir grapes. The best of these can be quite enchanting although they tend to be rather lighter and less intense than their Burgundian equivalents. The less well-known appellations of Quincy and Menetou-Salon (dry white wines) and Reuilly (dry red, white and rosé wines) offer more economically priced versions although the best of these are certainly as good, if not better, than their more famous neighbours' less exalted examples.

  1. Domaine Eric Louis, Sancerre Rosé, La Côte Blanche, 2010

    Domaine Eric Louis, Sancerre Rosé, La Côte Blanche, 2010

    La Côte Blanche is a truly delicious and earthy Pinot Noir rosé from Sancerre. Domaine Eric Louis' La Cote Blanche is a superb pink wine with a refreshing character rooted in its dryness.

    Details
    Colour Rosé Wine
    Grape Variety Pinot Noir
    Country France

    Out of stock

  2. Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2011

    Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2011

    With Sancerre just around the corner, this Pouilly-Fumé shares many of the same qualities. Crisp and refreshing with a stony minerality on the tongue and a crisp acidity to finish. Flinty lemon and apple come to mind when drinking this on a summer's day.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Sauvignon Blanc
    Country France

    Out of stock

  3. Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2013

    Les Affaubertis Eric Louis, Pouilly-Fumé, 2013

    Eric Louis' Les Affaubertis, 2013, is characterised by a lemon and apple nose and stereotypical flinty notes of gunsmoke.

    Details
    Colour White Wine
    Grape Variety Sauvignon Blanc
    Country France

    Out of stock

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