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A guide to Loire Valley wine

An overview of Loire Valley Wine

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Loire valley wine regions

The Loire Valley wine region is split into several areas, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations and styles

  • Pays Nantais
  • Anjou
  • Saumur
  • Touraine
  • Central-Loire

The Loire includes the wine regions situated along the Loire River from the Muscadet region near the city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé just southeast of the city of Orléans in north central France. In between are the regions of Anjou, Saumur, Bourgueil, Chinon, and Vouvray.

Loire valley wine in detail

PAYS NANTAIS

The Pays Nantais, on the Atlantic coast of Brittany, near the city of Nantes is best known for Muscadel produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. It is the largest white wine appellation in France.

Some  producers , Domaine de l'Ecu,  Vignerons du Pallet, Guilbaud Frères and Le Fief Guerin have started using using oak and dramatically reducing yields to increase complexity of Muscadet.

Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu is a more floral style of wine from the west of the region while Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire is lighter

Some recommended producers: Domaine de l’Écu, Pierre Luneau-Papin, the Vignerons du Pallet, Guilbaud Frères and Le Fief Guerin.

PAYS NANTAIS APPELLATIONS

  • Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire
  • Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu
  • Muscadet Sevre et Maine
  • Coteaux d’Ancenis
  • Muscadet

ANJOU

Anjou, the name of the region around the city of Angers produces many of the Loire Valley’s best sweet wines Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, all made from the Chenin Blanc grape. It also produces the very sweet Rosé d'Anjou (excessively so in most cases), Savennières, a dry style Chenin Blanc, the red Anjou (made fromCabernet Franc ) as well as the off-dry Rosé d'Anjou.

ANJOU APPELLATIONS

  • Anjou
  • Anjou Coteaux de la Loire
  • Anjou Mousseux
  • Anjou Villages
  • Anjou Villages Brissac
  • Cabernet d’Anjou
  • Bonnezeaux
  • Coteaux de l'Aubance
  • Coteaux du Layon
  • Coteaux du Layon Villages
  • Coteaux du Loir
  • Crémant de Loire (Anjou)
  • Jasnières
  • Savennières
  • Sweet Wines of Anjou
  • Quarts de Chaume
  • Rosé d’Anjou
  • Rosé de Loire

SAUMUR

Saumur is a large area of sparking wine production and also Saumur-Champigny, one of the Loire Valley's best known Cabernet Franc based red wines.

SAUMUR APPELLATIONS

  • Cabernet de Saumur
  • Coteaux de Saumur
  • Saumur
  • Saumur Blanc
  • Saumur Brut
  • Samur Brut Rose
  • Saumur-Champigny
  • Crémant de Loire (Saumur)

TOURAINE

Touraine includes many famous appellations, including  Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc and Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgeuil, made from Cabernet Franc. The Touraine appellation also produces Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec (locally known as côt) based wines.

White versions in the area can be made from any or all of four grape varieties (Sauvignon Blanc is the most common), Reds and rosés may be a blend of Gamay (the most common), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Côt (Malbec), Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris and two local vine varieties Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau. There is also Touraine Primeur which can be compared to Beaujolais Nouveau.

The districts of Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau and Mesland amongst others are allowed to name their wines under the Touraine appellation and there is Cheverny and Valençay, two small areas which are seperate to the appellation Touraine, with the former producing good Sauvignon Blanc based wines.

Some recommended producers: Philippe Alliet, Yannick Amirault, Bernard Baudry, Pierre-Jacques Druet, Charles Joguet, Henry Marionnet, Olga and Jean-Maurice Raffault.

Vouvray wines are labelled sec (dry), sec tendre (off dry) and demi-sec (medium dry). Quality-conscious producers include Jacky Blot at Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, Domaine Delétang, Foreau of Clos Naudin, Fouquet of Domaine des Aubuisières and Domaine Huet of Le Haut Lieu in Vouvray.

TOURAINE APPELLATIONS

  • Bourgueil
  • Chinon
  • Crémant de Loire (Touraine)
  • Montlouis-sur-Loire
  • St Nicolas de Bourgueil
  • Touraine
  • Touraine Cot
  • Touraine Amboise
  • Touraine Azay-le Rideau
  • Touraine Mesland
  • Touraine Mousseux
  • Touraine Noble Joué
  • Vouvray

CENTRAL-LOIRE

Central-Loire is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and of Sancerre as well as Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly. The region also produces reds and rosé from Pinot Noirin Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, and Chateaumeillant.

CENTRAL-LOIRE APPELLATIONS

  • Menetou-Salon
  • Pouilly-Fumé
  • Quincy
  • Reuilly
  • Sancerre
  • Chateaumeillant
  • Coteaux du Giennois

Loire valley grapes and wine styles

The Loire region is dominated by four major grape varieties—Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc.

There is no such thing as a heavy or high alcohol Loire wine, so the region's wines are very different to say the Rhône valley or Languedoc-Roussillon which often have more of a robust style.

Whilst the majority of production in the Loire is white wine from the Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc and Melon de Bourgogne grapes, there are red wines made (especially around the Chinon region) from Cabernet franc. In addition rosé, sparkling and dessert wines are also produced. With Crémant production throughout the Loire, it is the second largest sparkling wine producer in France after the Champagne region.

Because the region is relatively Northerly the grapes sometimes struggle to ripen, particularly in poor summer so Loire wines have relatively high acidity.

LOIRE SAUVIGNON BLANC

Sancerre

The most famous area for Sauvignon blanc in Sancerre, the spiritual homeland of the grape, but across the river is Pouilly-Fumé, whose wines are also renowned and tend to be richer in style due to the clay in the soil. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are relatively restrained, most being matured in oak, compared to say new Zealand varieties which are more likely to be produced in stainless steel barrels (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc typically showing tropical fruit notes and aromas whilst Loire varieties which tend to be lighter in style, more mineral in tone with higher acidity).

Pouilly-Fumé

Sancerre whites are known for their purity, exuberance and brightness, going well with food and also as an apéritif. The best Sancerre's and Pouilly-Fumé's have a good balance of minerality Fruit and acidity with the latter probably needing more ageing to bring out their best. The best examples are fresh with citrus and meadow aromas, a palate showing grapefruit and gooseberry with acidity and minerality in check but evident.

Sancerre's best communes include Bué, Ménétréol and Chavignol.

Recommended producers: Château de Tracy, Domaine Henri Bourgeois, Domaine Masson-Blondelet, Domaine Michel Redde, Domaine Vacheron, Henri Bourgeois, François Cotat, Lucien Crochet, Gitton, Joseph Mellot, Henry Pellé, Vincent Pinard.

Reuilly, Quincy, Menetou-Salon are districts to the west of Sancerre with a similar style to both Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé but arguably of consistantly higher quality and lower prices.

Recommended producers: Claude Lafond, Jean-Michel Sorbe, Pierre Clément, Gérard Boulay, Henri Bourgeois, François Cotat, Lucien Crochet, Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Gitton, Alphonse Mellot, Henry Pellé, Vincent Pinard, Château de Tracy, Domaine Vacheron.

LOIRE CHENIN BLANC

The Loire Valley's Chenin Blanc wines are well known and respected but show significant differences in style depending on the characteristics of the vintage.

Vouvray

Vouvray, in the central part of Touraine and Anjou, to the west are the two key regions for Chenin Blanc production in addition to Coteaux du Layon, Saumur and Savennières. 

Dessert wines and demi-sec or medium-sweet come from the Coteaux du Layon appellation with noble rot (botrytis) based wines come from Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume in Coteaux du Layon.

Appellations as Coteaux de l'Aubance, Coteaux du Layon and, especially, the particularly well-favoured enclaves Chaume, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux within it, can produce great sweet white wines. Some ultra-sweet Sélection de Grains Nobles wines are also made.

Savennières is Anjou's small but famous dry white Chenin Blanc appellation. Nicolas Joly at Coulée de Serrant is one of France's biggest promoters of biodynamism and the appellation's best-known producer. 

Some favourite producers: Domaine de Bablut, Domaine des Baumard, Pascal Cailleau, Château de Chamboureau, Philippe Delesvaux, Château de Fesles, Domaine des Forges, Christian Papin at Domaine de Haute Perche, Claude Papin at Château Pierre-Bise and Vincent Ogereau.

Savennières

The dry wines of the Savennières area producers wine which are arguably the purest expression of Chenin Blanc having in general very high minerality and initial austerity needing cellaring to bring out the best. It has three appellations—Savennières, Savennières Roches-aux-Moines, and Coulée de Serrant on the north bank of the Loire.

In Saumur, the same méthode traditionelle as Champagne is used for making its Saumur and Crémant de Loire. The method may be the same but Chenin Blanc grapes which dominate Crémant de Loire has a very different profile to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir used in Champagne. Bouvet-Ladubay (Taittinger), Gratien & Meyer (Alfred Gratien) and Langlois-Château (Bollinger) are notable Crémant producers.

Saumur is also known for  the red wine Saumur-Champigny, using Cabernet Franc,  a fragrant, smooth wine. Filliatreau, Foucault Frères and Ch de Hureau are some of the better producers.

LOIRE MELON DE BOURGOYNE

The Melon de Bourgogne grape, originally from Burgundy but no longer grown, dominates the Muscadet vineyards in the South and West of the Loire, producing crisp, fruity wines which are a perfect partner with sea food dishes due to their lemon and grapefruit flavours.  A richer style, occasionally aged in oak, with spicy vanilla characteristics is also produced which is suitable for cellaring.The best wines are described as having “steely minerality and freshness, concentration without being heavy and having too much ripe fruit".

muscadet sevre et maine

Recommended appellations include Muscadet, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu.

The most commonly known Muscadet's comes from the region of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine with the wines bottled sur lie being kept on its lees (the yeast cells left after fermentation) producing a light tingling on the tongue with added crispness.

Recommended  producers:  Domaine de l’Ecu, Domaine Gadais Père et Fils, Domaine Landron, Domaine Luneau-Papin, Sauvion.

LOIRE CABERNET FRANC

Chinon

The medieval town of Chinon, south of Tours, is the centre of the Loire's Cabernet Franc production with vineyards planted on the slopes above the river Vienne making a unique micro climate. To the north, the vineyards border Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, to the west, they border Saumur-Champigny. 

Cabernet Franc ripens earlier than the related grape Cabernet Sauvignon which is useful since the Loire is cooler than say Bordeaux meaning that the harvest can ripen sufficiently.

The wines have strong aromas  of spice and violets with raspberry and black currant fruit with firm (silky) tannins.

There are four appellations producing Cabernet Franc in the Loire 

  • Saumur-Champigny  - a lighter style with berry and blackcurrant dominating the palate.
  • Bourgueil - Produces wines very similar in style to Saint-Nicolas-de- Bourgueil with plenty of tannins and so requires ageing to bring out their best but the best have spicy and berry notes
  • Saint-Nicolas-de- Bourgueil- the smallest of the four appellations
  • Chinon - the largest of the appellations. Chinon’s wines whilst having high tannins and acidity have a distinctive smoothness.

Notable Chinon producers:

Couly-Dutheil and Domaine Charles Joguet particularly recommended.

  • Philippe Alliet                  
  • Bernard Baudry                                    
  • Château de Coulaine                              
  • Couly-Dutheil (for specific cuvées only)
  • Domaine Charles Joguet (for specific cuvées only)
  • Domaine de Noiré                            
  • Philippe Pichard, Domaine de la Chapelle    
  • Wilfred Rousse                                     
  • Domaine de la Semellerie                       
  • Bruno Sourdais
  • Domaine des Roches Neuves
  • Domaine Yannick Amirault.

Plus also (second tier):

  • Vincent Bellivier                                   
  • Pierre & Bertrand Couly                          
  • Domaine Dozon                                    
  • Fabrice Gasnier                                   
  • Nicolas Grosbois                                    
  • Alain & Jérôme Lenoir, Caves Les Roches  
  • Domaine de la Noblaie                           
  • Domaine Des Pallus                              
  • Domaine de la Roche-Honneur              
  • Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault              
  • Pierre Sourdais        

Loire Valley Vintages

  • 2014 - A good year though low yields, particularly for the Cabernet Franc based reds. Some excellent whites made from Melon de Bourgogne, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
  • 2013 - Vines in Vouvray and Montlouis were destroyed by hail in June. Apart from the troubles in this area, it was a good vintage with good acidity for white wines. However low temperatures in August and September meant many reds were left a little lean/green.
  • 2012 - A great year for Muscadet and good for Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. A poor start to year meant delayed flowering for Cabernet Franc and growers left the vines for longer to ripen the fruit but rains late in the year affected quality. 
  • 2011 - A bad year on the whole with Muscadet and Touraine suffering rot and fungus. Chenin Blanc based wines had a much better year, with Anjou and Coteaux du Layon producing decent wines.
  • 2010 - A good year for Muscadet and excellent for Sauvignon Blanc based wines. Rain in September caused some rot in the Cabernet Franc based reds but a good end to the month allowed the grapes to ripen fully., Chenin Blancs were best in Cotreux du Layon.
  • 2009 - A great vintage with super quality Muscadet and Touraine Sauvignon Blanc. Yields were slightly reduced in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé due to hail in Quincy, Reuilly and Coteaux du Giennois. Cabernet Franc reds were fully ripe and good quality.