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Most of us know France as being one of the premier wine growing countries in the world. Between world-renown appellations such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Rhone Valley, it’s easy to forget that there are dozens of other amazingly flavorful and beautiful wine regions elsewhere. One of those is France’s Loire Valley Wine Region.
It’s here that the second largest concentration of sparkling-wine producing vines in France lay under the crisp North-central sun, yielding Crémant produced using the traditional method.
In addition to Crémant, the Loire Valley is also well known for its Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. Both of these grape varieties are crafted as varietal wines and as blends.
Let’s dive into a few amazing facts about the Loire Valley that will inspire you to visit and taste the wines that exemplify the Terroir from which they came so beautiful…
There Are Over 87 Sub-appellations Within the Loire Valley
It’s a pretty big place, and each sub-appellation is unique in its own right and produces different styles of wine that resemble its terroir. The Loire is essentially divided into 4 different regional territories — Pays Nantais, Anjou, Touraine and Centre.
Within each of these 4 regions, a much larger number of sub-appellations exists.
Below, we’ll highlight some of the major and most beautiful wine production regions throughout the Loire:
Touraine, which also encompasses the sub-sub-appellation of Vouvray AC, is perhaps best known for its Chenin Blanc production. Chenin Blanc in Touraine is known to locals as Pineau Blanc de la Loire. Sauvignon Blanc is also produced here and sometimes blended. The region has been an official AOC since 1939 and also produces a variety of red wines (especially Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Gamay within its first year) , known to be grippingly tannic. Rosé wines are also produced.
This is one of the neatest regions to discuss when it comes to white wine. Why? Well, Vouvray is laser-focused on producing Chenin Blanc. But it’s not just the focus on the Blanc’ that makes it worth discussing. It’s the traditionally high-acidity that’s present in most Vouvray wines. In some cases, Chenin Blanc from Vouvray has been known to age as long as 100 years. The acidity is so conducive to aging that this special white variety can outlive us in the bottle.
Muscadet on the Western end of the Loire Valley plays host to 3 main regional sub-appellations that play host to the Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Initially described as Muscadet as early as 1939, wines produced from this grape were said to have had a musky aroma and or flavor associated with them, though many modern wine experts dispute this tone.
Wines from the Muscadet region of the Loire are made of varying qualities. Muscadet AOC is the most general designation for wines from the region, and are typically the most basic.
The 3 main regions of Muscadet are:
- Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine
- Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire
- Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu
If you’re scouting wine from this region, premium producers label their wines with their vineyard or village designation. It’s best to look for wines labeled based on their specific village, as opposed to the entirety of the AOC. This ensures that you’re buying higher quality, more focused wines from the region.
Located Southeast of Orléans, Sancerre is a well known Loire Valley appellation. It’s positioned across from the other noteworthy appellation of Pouilly-Fumé on the left bank of the Loire River.
Sancerre is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc production, with about 20% of the Loire’s Pinot Noir coming from the region as well.
My personal favorite from the Loire, Pouilly-Fumé wines are some of the most sought after dry white wines in the world. Since France tends to label their wines after their regions, more so than grape variety, Pouilly-Fumé is actually Sauvignon Blanc that only compares to its regional rival, Sancerre, just across the Loire River. It’s traditionally dry, and exhibits citrus, mineral and tree fruit tones in additional to a gun-smoke aromatic nuance (Hence: Pouilly-Fumé).
Although Anjou wines are best described as wines produced not far from the city of Angers, due to its proximinty to Saumur the appellations tend to be described as one. Anjou is probably best known as being one of the most diverse sub-appellations in the Loire given that its lack of a laser-focus on a particular grape variety might be their most noteworthy quality. Anjou dabbles in everything. From dry Chenin Blanc, to botrytis-infused sweet wine and rosé, Ajou serves as a broad example of the potential styles of wine that exist throughout the Loire Valley.
Located literally in the heart of the Loire, Chinon is adequetely placed along the banks of the River Vienne, with the majority of its vine plantings situation along steep, terraced vineyards. A tad bit of an anomaly, the best known wines from this region are red. Cabernet Franc to be exact. Chinon is home to a number of vineyards that produce Cabernet Franc in earnest along rocky, terraced plottings, in addition to Cabernet Sauvignon. Their Rosé wines are produced with Cabernet Franc and up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Chenin Blanc white wine is also produced in Chinon.
There are many, many more sub-appellations within the Loire that are worth discussing, and I’m sure I’ll get some flack from some other wine nerds about not including some more important area. Point is, we wanted to highlight some of the more acclaimed regions to make this brief guide easier to digest. Have a question about somewhere else in the Loire? Please feel free to ask us in the comments, no sub-app is off limits.
The Loire Valley Region is Best Known for its Fruity-style White Wine
As we’ve already mentioned, grape varieties and style of production vary widely across the Loire Valley. However, it’s perhaps the fruity-styled Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc that have caught the attention of the global wine consumer.
Regardless of whether you’re sampling a sweet, botrytis derived dessert wine, or a classically produced dry Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, there’s no doubt that the dominant aroma and flavor on your tongue will be comprised of citrus, tree and or stone and tropical fruit. It’s this distinct fruity flavor and aroma that attracts hundreds of thousands of wine consumers vintage after vintage.
Loire Valley Wine Quality is Regulated by France
So you know it’s good. Not unlike other famed appellations such as Alsace, Bordeaux, Beaujolais and Bourgogne (Burgundy), the Loire Valley adheres to the regulatory standards enforced by France’s Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC for short) enacted by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité (INAO for short).
While the AOC designation carries the most weight in terms of quality in the Loire Valley, wines may also be labeled as Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure (VDQS) and Vin de pays indicating slightly less restricted regional and Terroir-related production practices.
The Loire Valley is Well Known for its Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc production throughout the Loire holds no higher regard than that which is produced within Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Pouilly-Fumé is not only known for its citrus and tree fruit flavors in their Sauv’s, but it’s also known for its characteristic fog that occurs in the mornings over Spring, Summer and Fall plantings.
Chenin Blanc Production is Also Fantastic
The Loire Valley is well known for producing premium quality Chenin Blanc. Some of the best in the world — although new world regions within South Africa are becoming very competitive.
While there are a number of sub-appellations that produce Chenin Blanc in the Loir, it’s probably both Touraine and Vouvray AC that are the most noteworthy currently.
In Touraine, Chenin Blanc is traditionally medium-bodied, un-oaked and off-dry. Fruit flavors vary, but expect predominant tones of tree, citrus and tropic fruit touches with some herbal tones.
Heading Northeast slightly, we land in Vouvray. It’s here where Chenin Blanc styles are even more varied. Premium quality dry, medium and even sweet Chenin Blanc is produced throughout the entire appellation.
Crémant Production in the Loire Valley Makes it France’s #2 Sparkling Wine Producing Region
While everyone’s busy gloating on their favorite, Prosecco, Champagne or even Cava, the savvy U.S. wine consumers may be dabbling in Crémant, perhaps one of the Loire’s most underappreciated sparkling white wines.
There’s a good chance you can find a nice quality Crémant not far from your home for under 20 bucks.
Premium Crémant is no doubt produced from the dominant white grape variety of the Loire — Chenin Blanc. Though smaller concentrations along the lines of Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay may be used. Sauvignon Blanc is a rarely, if ever incorporated in Crémant blends.
Premium Crémant from the Loire exhibits autolytic (lee-based flavors and texture), as a result of the traditional method of sparkling wine production. In addition to the Chenin Blanc flavors we discussed above, you can expect honeyed characteristics and a softer, higher viscosity creamy texture in many Crémant wines.
The Loire River is the Longest River in France
The Loire River, which runs through much of the heart of the Loire Valley and offers the wines of the region a uniquely flavored minerality, stretches for more than 629 miles. While it may be the longest river in France, it’s only the 171st longest river in the world.
The Loire is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Yeah, so you weren’t sold on the Loire Valley yet? Maybe UNESCO can help you out.
Given the unique architectural heritage associated with the Loire Valley over the centuries, in conjunction with the location of the Loire River and its interconnectivity with the surrounding human culture and landscape, the region between two hillsides that border the river between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2000.
The Loire Valley Holds Over 100 Castles Across its Landscape
Aside from the beautiful and quaint villages, sprawling vine acreage and healthy landscape, the Loire Valley also hosts upwards of 100 castles. A large portion of these “Chateaux” are located within the Touraine district of the Loire.
Both Clos Lucé and Ussé hold special historical significance given that the former happens to be the Chateaux where Leonardo de Vinci lived out the last 3 years of his life. Usse is said to be the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty.
Other famous Chateaux’s include Châteaux d’Amboise, de Villandry, Chateau de Chambord and Chenonceau.
The Loire’s Cool Climate is Key to the Success of its Wine
Given the unique relatively Northerly location of the Loire Valley, in addition to the substance and vitality afforded by the Loire River, the climate throughout the region is conducive to producing beautifully refined and concentrated Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and regional plots of Chardonnay.
The climate in the region, in conjunction to its soil composition, allows grapes the ability to ripen slowly, uniformly and efficiently, thus enhancing the ultimate flavor and aromatic concentration of wines produced throughout the region.