The Loire Valley
A quick study guide
The Loire Valley in France’s central western middle is a vast wine region that follows the Loire River from near Orleans where famed Sauvignon vineyards of towns like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume sit to Muscadet’s salty Atlantic sea coast where old vine Melon de Bourgogne grapes thrive, along with classic Cabernet Franc areas like Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, Anjou and Chinon as well as the Loire darling Chenin Blanc that has homes in areas like Vouvray, Savennières and Montlouis. Though the Loire is much much more, it’s maybe the birth place of Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe the first place to take biodynamics seriously, it also has almost every style of wine, from sparkling to sweet, oxidized to ultra fresh, from delicate light whites to heavy reds there is something for everyone and now it is the hot spot for natural wines. This vast cool climate region has an amazing array of soils from clay and limestone to granite schist to sandy loam, and even can lay claim to the lost Cru of Beaujolais in the remote Cote Roannaise where 100 year old Gamay vines live!
The Loire’s Nicolas Joly is credited with making Rudolph Steiner’s Biodynamics mainstream and his long lived Chenins from Savennières are legendary, while the late Didier Dagueneau made Sauvignon Blanc one of the world’s greatest wines, and who also followed an organic path, and now a whole new generation is taking to the next level, so don’t let the Loire’s ancient history make you think this region is old news, it certainly is not and the excitement here is growing with each new vintage.
The are many grapes growing in the Loire Valley and while I can give you a basic list there is more than most can identify, but with the AOC system there is a sense of order and place, so here it goes with a few reminder tips attached to the varietal. Melon de Bourgogne, the dry white grape of Muscadet, Pinot Gris, usually with a touch of skin contact making it almost a Vin Gris (Rose like), Pinot Noir, usually found in Touraine, but also way out west, Chenin Blanc, Chinon, Savennières, Suamur, Vouvray, Montlouis, Bonnezeaux, Anjou, Jasnieres and Quarts de Chaume, where it is most common as late harvest sweet wine, Pineau d’Aunis, a light and spicy red found mostly in Touraine, Chardonnay, a grape that only plans a bit part in the Loire, usually in sparkling and with a minor role in Cheverny, Mablec, known as Côt by the natives, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, mostly used in the blends of Anjou with Franc and in Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, found in Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Quincy, Touraine, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon with the Silex soil influenced mineral driven Sancerres being the cat’s meow, and last but not least the main red grape of the region, Cabernet Franc, which has a cult following worldwide with wines by Clos Rougeard being an almost unicorn wine from the Foucault brothers of Saumur-Champigny, though sadly we just lost Charly (Foucault) this last year, but with Olga Raffault and Charles Joguet of Chinon not far behind along with biodynamic Bourgueil hero Breton as well.
Without question there is a lot happening in the Loire Valley and there is no doubt you can find classics and cutting edge stuff here, there is some ultra cool amphorae raised wine now making headlines from Domaine de l’Ecu’s new owner Fred Niger in Muscadet Serve-et-Maine, plus you can’t skip the value priced Cremant de Loire bubbles, made from any of the combination of grapes, these sparkling wine, both Brut and Brut Rose are great everyday treats. Importers are many, but the guys that put the Loire on the map in the U.S include Kermit Lynch with Joguet, Breton, Revardy, Chotard and Thierry Germain, along with Rosenthal, Olga Raffault and Beaune Imports, Clos Rougeard, Nicolas Joly and Francois Chidane are guys you want to check out, plus Martine’s Wines has Domaine de la Bergerie, one of the great value producers in the Loire, and small importers like The Source, Charles Neal and Joly Vin have some awesome producers in their books.
Wines to look for
Domaine de la Bergerie (Anjou & Cremant)
Domaine de l’Ecu (Muscadet and Amphorae Pinot Noir)
Domaine Serol (Cote Roannaise Gamay)
Clos Rougeard (Saumur-Champigny)
Francois Chidane (Montlouis)
Domaine Huet (Vouvray)
Patrick Coulbois (Pouilly-Fume)
Dagueneau (Fume de Pouilly)
Olga Rauffault (Chinon)
Charles Joquet (Chinon)
Pascal or Francois Cotat (Sancerre)
Domaine Jousset (Montlouis)
Nicolas Joly (Savenieres)
Domaine de Reuilly (Reuilly)
Château du Hureau (Saumur-Champigny)
Adele Rouze (Quincy)
Etienne Daulny (Sancerre)