The Loire Valley is without a doubt the most diverse wine region in France, both in terms of grape varieties and types of wine. Come with us as we journey down France’s longest river.
Lovers of Loire wines tend to forget the geography lessons of their early days and so, for many, the Loire ends with Sancerre. The river’s source is actually at Mont Gerbier de Jonc (in the Ardèche), which is in reality much closer to Montélimar than Nevers… Strictly speaking, Loire wines cover a large area of France, from wines Auvergne (in Roanne and Clermont-Ferrand) to the hills of the Muscadet surrounding Nantes. It is true, however, that the most important part is that which lies between Tours and Nantes, passing through Saumur.
Auvergne and Limagne, marginal areas
Few wine enthusiasts know of these isolated appellations on the slopes of the Massif Central. On the banks of the Loire, just to the East of Auvergne, the appellation Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise are located on mainly granitic soils, where Gamay reigns supreme, yet produces very different wines from those of the Beaujolais; more ‘serious’ wines, with nice depth.
To the West, around Clermont-Ferrand, the Côtes d’Auvergne are split between Gamay and Pinot Noir on terroirs of marl, limestone and volcanic soils. This appellation has five crus: Chateaugay, Madargues and Chanturgue to the north of Clermont-Ferrand and Boudes and Corent to the south. Gamay, the most interesting grape here, gives characterful wines that are slightly more tannic than those found in the Beaujolais.
Centre-Loire, around Sancerre
Continuing along the river, shortly after passing through Nevers, you arrive in a region that is much more vastly covered in vines. Most vineyards – certainly the most important – surround a pretty little village overlooking the Loire, Sancerre. It is made up of four contiguous appellations: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Pouilly-sur-Loire et Coteaux du Giennois. While Pouilly-sur-Loire is characterised by just one grape variety, Chasselas (also found in Savoy on the banks of Lake Geneva and in Switzerland known as Fendant), the other four appellations produce red and white wines with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir respectively.
In terms of white wines, here Sauvignon finds its best expression, on condition that you focus on winemakers who harvest when the grapes are fully ripe, thus avoiding herbaceous aromas that can occur with under-ripe Sauvignon. Most of the finest cuvées come from Sancerre (with several very well-known producers including Gérard Boulay, Alphonse Mellot, the Cotat and Vacheron families), as well as Pouilly-Fumé (such as Alexandre Bain and Dagueneau), Menetou-Salon and Coteaux du Giennois. Pinot Noir, particularly in Sancerre, can reach excellent levels of quality, with cuvées that are lighter, more immediately fruity and often more accessible in their youth than in Burgundy.
Further to the West, there are three lesser-known appellations: Châteaumeillant – which produces light and fruity reds mainly from Gamay and ‘grey’ wines, very similar to a light rosé -, Reuilly and Quincy, two neighbouring appellations which produce white wines with Sauvignon and red wines with Pinot Noir. Reuilly, like Châteaumeillant, allows small amounts of Pinot Gris in its rosé and red wines.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine Vacheron (Sancerre), Domaine Alphonse Mellot (Sancerre), Domaine Fouassier (Sancerre), Domaine Gérard Boulay (Sancerre), Domaine François Cotat (Sancerre), Domaine Dagueneau (Pouilly-Fumé et Sancerre), Domaine Michel Redde et Fils (Pouilly-Fumé), Domaine Jonathan Didier Pabiot (Puilly-Fumé), Domaine Alexandre Bain (Pouilly-Fumé), Domaine Les Poëte (Reuilly et Quincy), Domaine Henri Pellé (Menetou-Salon).
This region is made up of two regions, Orléans on the right bank of the Loire and Orléans-Cléry on the left bank. Interestingly, 70-90% of wines in the Orléans appellation are produced with Pinot Meunier, a grape usually used in Champagne, particularly the Marne valley. White wines are also produced (Chardonnay and Pinot Gris) and rosé (Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir). The Orléans-Clery appellation links the apellations of the Touraine and Saumurois regions, as the wines produced there are made solely with Cabernet Franc. Wines are from these appellations are simple and fruity, to be enjoyed young with simple foods.
Touraine is the Loire’s principal winemaking region, with no fewer than 12 appellations which produce all sorts of wines: white, red, rosé, sweet and sparkling! According to the appellations, the main grape varieties here are Cabernet Franc (with small amounts of Côt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis in the Vendômois and Pinot Meunier in Touraine-Noble Joué), and Chenin (but also some Sauvignon and Romorantin in Cour-Cheverny). Touraine is thus a region of many facets.
To the north-west are the two adjoining appellations Cheverny and Cours-Cheverny which differ greatly despite their similar names. In Cheverny, the red wines are produced from Pinot Noir and Gamay, whereas the white wines are mostly composed of Sauvignon, with some Chardonnay and Chenin. Cours-Cheverny is exclusively made up of white wines from a local variety, Romorantin. Further to the west, in the direction of Tours, are the different appellations of Touraine, with Touraine, Touraine-Chenonceaux, Touraine-Oisly, Touraine-Amboise, Touraine-Mesland, Touraine-Noble Joué and Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau. Generally speaking, white wines from these appellations are produced from Sauvignon (except from Chenin in Amboise, Mesland and Azay-le-Rideau) and red wines produced from a majority of Cabernet Franc or Côt, with Gamay in Mesland.
Further to the west lie several very well-known regions, two for their white wines produced with Chenin to the east of Tours, Vouvray and Montlouis, and three to the west of the city, known for the Cabernet Franc reds, Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine Bonnigal-Bodet (Touraine and Touraine-Amboise), Domaine Les Poëte (Quincy and Reuilly), Domaine La Grange Tiphaine (Touraine and Touraine-Amboise), Clos du Tue-Bœuf (Touraine and Cheverny).
Vouvray and Montlouis face each other on different sides of the Loire, Montlouis on the left bank and Vouvray on the right bank. The two produce the same types of white wines from Chenin: dry, semi-dry, sweet and sparkling. Vouvray is five times bigger than and boasts terroirs varying from clay-limestone to clay and flint. Montlouis has long since remained in the shadows of its rival but in the past 15 years, a new generation of winemakers has ‘boosted’ the appellation, while Vouvray has rested on its laurels of the past to a certain extent. The two appellations produce excellent Chenin at still reasonable prices. Whereas Montlouis wines are exciting for their remarkable vibrancy, the Vouvray production has a strong character, with distinct terroirs.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine Vincent Carême (Vouvray), Domaine du Clos Naudin (Vouvray), Domaine Huet (Vouvray), Domaine Sébastien Brunet (Vouvray), Domaine de La Taille aux Loups (Montlouis and Vouvray), Domaine François Chidaine (Vouvray and Montlouis).
Similarly, the red appellations to the west of Tours face each other on opposite banks of the Loire, with Chinon on the left bank and Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil on the right bank. Cabernet Franc reigns supreme here, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Chinon is much larger, with a wide range of varied terroirs. In Bourgueil (and Saint-Nicolas), the finest cuvées are produced on slopes of tophaceous rocks. Whatever the appellation, the red wines are excellent, with good price-quality ratio and great aging potential. The best hillside cuvées are dense and deep, whereas wines from the alluvial, gravel terraces are generally lighter and more immediately fruity and should be drunk young.
To the north and north-east of Tours, it’s worth noting a small area along the Loire which comprises of three appellations, from east to west: Coteaux du Vendômois, Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. In terms of white wines, these appellations only vinify Chenin and in red, Pineau d’Aunis, with a little Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir in Vendômois whereas Coteaux du Loir allows Gamay and Côt. The whites are genereally characterised by a nice mineral tension and the best can amply reward aging. Pineau d’Aunis gives characterful wines with an interesting peppery profile.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine Bernard Baudry (Chinon), Domaine Charles Joguet (Chinon), Domaine Philippe Alliet (Chinon), Domaine Nicolas Grosbois (Chinon), Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton (Bourgueil), Domaine de La Butte (Bourgueil), Domaine Yannick Amirault (Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil), Domaine de Bellivière (Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir).
Our penultimate stop along the Loire, Anjou is equally rich, with many characterful and varied wines. First, we come to the Saumurois area, also known as “Anjou blanc” as opposed to “Anjou noir” to the west, in reference to the dominant soils, with chalk and schist respectively.
Saumur includes two large appellations: Saumur-Champigny (exclusively red wines) and Saumur (red and white wines as well as sparkling wines), to which we can add Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame, a hierarchization of a cru within the Saumur appellation. Generally speaking, the terroir here is rich in limestone, which greatly influences the character of the wines, with very crystalline profiles, fine tannins, lots of freshness on the palate and a mineral salinity in whites and red alike (whereas, for instance, Chinon reds are generally more ample and slightly ‘bigger’). As is the case in Chinon and Bourgueil, the best red cuvées in Saumur-Champigny and Saumur can be aged for a long time, at least ten years, or even longer in the best vintages. The mythic Clos Rougeard, one of France’s most sought-after wines, is produced here.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine des Roches Neuves (Saumur-Champigny and Saumur), Château Yvonne (Saumur), Château de Villeneuve (Saumur-Champigny and Saumur), Domaine René-Noël Legrand (Saumur-Champigny and Saumur), Domaine Guiberteau (Saumur).
To the west and south of Angers, almost exclusively on the left back of the Loire, are several appellations of Anjou noir. Red and white wines are produced, as well as a large proportion of sweet wines. The Anjou appellation, which produces dry white Chenin and reds where the dominant variety is Cabernet Franc, with a large proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon (some cuvées are even 100% Cabernet Sauvignon). In terms of red wines, the Anjou appellation also has two lesser appellations, Anjou-Villages and Anjou-Village-Brissac. Anjou reds have crunchy fruit, good tension and are often lighter than Saumur-Champigny or Chinon, for instance, and thus don’t have as long aging ability. The right bank of the Loire has one excellent quality appellation, Savennières (wiht two hierarchies, Savennières Roche-aux-Moines and Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant, a monopole of the famed domain of the same name). This terroir is exclusively home to Chenin, distinctly marked by its schist terroir, often less accessible in their youth than other Anjou whites (or Vouvray or Saumur).
To the south of Angers, within the generic Anjou appellation, are several sweet and dessert wine appellations such as Coteaux de l’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume. Some (rare) very talented producers make superb sweet wines with perfectly balanced levels of sugar by the natural acidity of Chenin.
Domains found on iDealwine: Domaine de La Soucherie (Anjou and Coteaux du Layon), Clos de Nell (Anjou), Château de Fesles (Bonnezeaux), Domaine Patrick Baudouin (Anjou, Quarts de Chaume), Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (Savennières-Coulée-de-Serrant, Savennières-Roche-aux-Moines), Domaine Éric Morgat (Savennières), Domaine du Closel (Savennières), Domaine Thibaud Boudignon (Anjou et Savennières)
We’re getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean – and that means oysters! It’s time to top up your cellar with good Muscadet, which go perfectly with the salinity of shellfish. Muscadet has suffered – and continues to suffer – from its reputation as a cheap, highly acidic wine, but in the past 20 years, a generation of producers have taken matters into their own hands and are producing great quality wines which often surprise consumers with preconceptions about the region’s wines. Muscadet is also in the process of establishing a hierarchy of crus, including Gorges, Clisson, Monnières-Saint-Fiacre and La Haye-Fouassière. Some cuvées even have good ageing ability and after ten years can start showing notes of white Burgundy. On the whole, these are lovely white wines that have kept reasonable prices despite a leap in quality.