French Loire Valley Wines

French Loire Valley Wines

In comparison to the rest of French, the Loire has a cool climate. The area is capable of producing a wide range of wines, from light, dry, and crisp whites, to rosé, medium-bodied reds, and luscious dessert wines. It is also a region where extremely good sparkling wines are made. It was not until the mid 1940s that the Loire's wines began to gain a reputation outside their local markets but since then, the region's white wines, in particular, have featured on many restaurant wine lists.

The Loire is the longest river in French and provides an entry to four main wine areas which lie between the Atlantic and the centre of French. Around Nantes (Muscadet country), the influence of the sea is evident, while inland, the so-called central vineyards, including Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, have a continental climate. Anjou-Saumur and Touraine lie between these two extremes. The vast size of the region means that there are many different soil types, but chalk and clay are the most prominent.

The most important grape varieties are Muscadet, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc for white wines, and Cabernet Franc for red wines, with a little Pinot Noir grown in and around Sancerrre. Muscadet, is a dry, fresh and crisp white wine, and a seafood wine 'par excellence'. The term 'sur lie', usually associated with better-quality Muscadet, indicates that the wine has spent time maturing on the lees and is bottled directly, to give added concentration and a faint prickle of carbon dioxide.

In Anjou-Saumur, mostly dry or medium sweet white wines are produced from the Chenin Blanc grape. As well as having a bearing on the wines, the local chalk soil (known as 'Tufa') is evident in the extraordinary buildings typical of the area, where the white stone has a striking effect.

Many of the sweet wines come from the sheltered area around the river Layon, a tributary of the Loire and are affected by noble rot. They are some of the hidden gems of the wine world and, like many of the white wines made from the Chenin Blanc, can age amazingly well.

The best red wines of the Loire are made from the Cabernet Franc grape, in the subdistrict of Touraine. Generally medium-bodied, these delicious and elegant wines are made to drink young, but can also surprise with mid-term cellaring. Chinon, Bourgueil, Saint Nicholas de Bourgueil and Saumur Champigny are four appellations to look out for. Frustratingly, there's some variation with the quality of wines from Vouvray and Montlouis but the best white wines are magnificent expressions of the Chenin Blanc grape.

Sancerre wine takes its name from the hilltop town of the area. The district's wines are arguably the world's most famous appellation connected to the tangy, piquant wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. Across the river Loire and just a few miles away, is Pouilly Sur Loire, home to Pouilly-Fumé, where the white wines are produced from Sauvignon. Tending to be a little sterner, they are very good with food. Due to its proximity to the top end of Burgundy, the red wines of the central vineyards are made from the Pinot Noir grape. Look out too, for the wines of Quincy, Reuilly, and Menetou Salon.

"Many of the white wines of the Loire Valley age remarkably well, changing in character from the mineral, flintlike flavors of youth to an almost honey-and-apricot textured complexity. Even 50-60 year old wines can be in perfect shape!"

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