The Lure of the Loire

470

The Loire Valley in France may not be quite as famous as its grape-growing neighbors Bordeaux, Champagne, and Burgundy, but that doesn’t mean its wines are any less revered around the world.

The Loire Valley is the westernmost wine region in France and it encompasses the banks spanning the entire 300 miles of the Loire River, the longest river in the country. Although the Loire Valley is only half as large as Bordeaux in terms of acreage under vine, the sheer expanse of the vineyards commands that there will be vastly different terroirs and subsequently diverse wine styles produced in this territory.

Of the four distinct regions that comprise the Loire Valley, the Pays Nantais is the furthest west, located at the mouth of the Loire River where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Due to its close proximity to the sea, this area contends with a brisk maritime climate, making it the perfect chilly environment for light, crisp, white wines. The location itself and the wines that originate there are both commonly referred to as Muscadet, attributing to the well-known appellations of the territory. It is worth noting, though, that the location is technically called Pays Nantais and the wines that bear the Muscadet designations are single varietals made from an indigenous grape called Melon de Bourgogne. This grape is a hearty variety that is capable of developing when aged to create a fuller-bodied, more complex white wine.

Heading upriver toward the east, the next definitive region situated in the Loire Valley is Anjou-Saumur. Here viticultural offerings are a bit more diverse than in Pays Nantais. Red, white, rose and sparkling wines in a wide range of styles from at least half a dozen grape varieties are produced. Sweet dessert wines and dry white wines crafted from Chenin Blanc grapes are specialties of this area and are considered to be among the world’s finest when compared to their counterparts from other domains.

Further east of Anjou-Saumur is another locality in the central Loire Valley called Touraine. Within this area, there is a notable stylistic departure between the wines of the western portion and the more easterly sections. While the famous wine region, Vouvray, dominates the west with its stellar Chenin Blanc wines, the star of the east is Sauvignon Blanc. Similarly, red wines in the west are mostly based on the Cabernet Franc grape whereas the red grapes of choice in the east are predominantly Gamay and Pinot Noir. This is reflective of the changing climate as the valley winds its way inland away from the moderating influences of the ocean.

Continuing upriver, the easternmost region in the Loire Valley is aptly referred to as the Upper Loire. The somewhat adverse growing conditions here limit the available grape varieties to two of the most robust, Sauvignon Blanc for the white wines and Pinot Noir for the reds. Not to be underestimated, though, one of the most distinguished and acclaimed wine regions in the world is situated in the Upper Loire. Sancerre, renowned for its preeminent Sauvignon Blancs, cites the difficult terrain of this area as one of the factors in its wild success.

So, to really embrace all the Loire Valley has to offer, savor numerous wines from each of the specific regions and taste your way through the diverse selections and styles of wine this top-notch area showcases!