The Loire Valley is the 3rd largest wine region in France, and has been named after the river of the same name, which flows through the region. The river Loire flows southwest of Paris, from the Massif Central in the middle of France further west, eventually reaching the Atlantic. The Loire Valley is known for its mild climate and kings and queens have for centuries made pilgrimages from Paris and erected magnificent castles along the river. It is not easy to understand that this is one of France’s great wine regions. The vineyards are not visible from the road and if, however, you quit the main roads and go down along the paths that follow the river, vineyards will appear all the way from Nevers to Nantes, offering a stunning colour palette of different wines. Reds, whites or sparkling, easy, fresh, fruity wines without much pretension offered alongside the great “crus” which undoubtedly are comparable to the best in both Bordeaux and Burgundy.
The Loire river has already floated half of its total length when you meet up with the first wine appellations Pouilly and Sancerre. Further west we find Quincy, Berry and Reuilly not to be confused with Rully located in Burgundy. The river continues its way through the Touraine and Anjou and meet along the way the well-known appellations sucha as Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueuil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Further west we encounter Layon with its white sweet wines, ideal for aperitif. Far out to the west, almost in Nantes, we will finally find the Muscadet with its dry white wines that goes well with oysters and other shellfish. Grapevines have been in the Loire since 5500 years back, but there is no actual evidence that wine was cultivated before the Roman times. The Loire wines have historically been appreciated in England, to where a large percentage of the production was exported. When the Englishmen subsequently received interest in Bordeaux, the Dutch took over and developed both the production of the white wine in Anjou and around Nantes, and traded for over 300 years, until the late 1600s, when France took over completely after that Holland ended up in war with France. All grape varieties in France have been used in the Loire Valley, more or less successfully. Today there is some 20 varieties of grapes left, however never mentioned on the bottle label.
Sauvignon is used for the production of Sancerre and Pouilly (also chasselas to the latter). Further west, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc dominates and the Muscadet grape takes over in the far west, close to Nantes. Cabernet Franc is used for the red wines of Chinon and Bourgueil. The Loire valley is generally divided into four geographical units, Nantes region, Anjou and Saumur, Touraine and the central Loire. Besides these four units, there are also two regional appellations:
- Crémant The Loire AOP which is the sparkling wine of the Loire and comes from Anjou, Saumur and Touraine.
- The Loire valley rosés AOP which come from Anjou and Touraine.
But now back to the four geographical units:
- Nantes region: this mainly includes four appellations of Muscadet; AOP Muscadet, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire AOP, Muscadet Sevres-et-Maine AOP, Muscadet Côtes de Grand-Lieu AOP.
- Anjou and Saumur: 17 appellations, 13 in Anjou and 4 in Saumur. In Anjou, 35% are rosés, 31% reds, 18% white wine, the rest of the production is sparkling wine. Mainly Chenin and Sauvignon are used for the white wines, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. Not least, the sweet white Coteaux-de-Layon AOP are among the best in its style. In Saumur, which is a smaller area than Anjou, four different appellations AOP are produced. Red, white and even sparkling wine is produced here.
- Touraine: includes the region around the city of Tours, more specifically the area around the river from Saumur to Orléans. This is wherethe famous Loire castles are located. All kind of wines are produced here. The reds are made with Gamay like in Beaujolais. The difference is that also Cabernet Sauvignon is blended like in Bordeaux and Pinot Noir like in Burgundy. There are 18 different appellations here of which Touraine, Bourgeuil, Saint-Nicolas-de Bourgeuil, Chinon and Vouvray are the most famous.
- Central Loire: groups multiple scattered areas from Vendôme and Orleans to the East. The most famous appellations are Pouilly-Fumé (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuisse in Burgundy), Reuilly and Quincy.