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Loire


Wine By Region Right Europe Right France Right Loire Right  Anjou   Muscadet   Touraine   Upper Loire


Loire vineyard

This photo is in the public domain.

The Loire Valley, which was highly regarded across the wine world even before the Bordeaux region was, is still considered one of the world's best places to find white wine. Generally made from Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc, the firm, unique dry whites of this region offer impressive flavors and, usually, very good prices. The Chenin Blancs of Vouvray, arguably the Loire's most famous appellation, are among the most ageable in the world, with advocates claiming they can develop for more than 100 years.

The Loire Valley lies in northern France, stretching horizontally across almost all of the country and bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Many vineyards lie on the midsized Loire River, as do many of the scenic towns of the region. With so many microclimates, there are many different types of wine that can be made. Although still dry white wine makes up the majority of exports, sweet wines, dessert wines, and the occasional strong, distinctive red wine are also seen.

A few outstanding red wine appellations aside, the main attraction of the Loire is the whites. From the grape Sauvignon Blanc, the bitter but remarkably energetic and flavorful wines of Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre are popular. Chenin Blanc, however, is the most common white grape here, and in appellations like Vouvray it can be amazingly versatile and productive.

It's easy to be put off by the high number of appellations (there are 93, only about a dozen less than Burgundy), but the Loire is nowhere near as complicated an appellation as Burgundy. The rules are not as restrictive, and there are hardly any tiny, extremely distinct microclimates or terroirs like one sees in Burgundy. It's better to celebrate the Loire for its great range than to avoid it due to its complications.

The Loire is actually a small region considering its significant influence in the wine world, with only 185,000 acres of plantings in comparison to, say, the Languedoc's 700,000. However, the density of the vineyard plantings is extremely high. Quantity and quality combine in this region; despite the fact that many of the wines are mass-produced, Loire juice is generally considered reliable.

History

The Loire Valley has had a long and fruitful history. When the Romans settled the region in the 1st century, they began planting grapes. It is not known what types of grapes they planted or how successful they were. By the 5th century, wines in the Loire had become highly regarded. Though techniques were hardly advanced, the wines nonetheless showed better flavor than others in that time.

At some point during the Middle Ages, Sancerre came to be considered the finest dry white wine in the world, or at least in France. But Bordeaux really came into its own in the 1700s and 1800s due to the installation of railways all across France, and their wines were immediately deemed more robust and exciting.

In more modern days, the Loire has fallen back and is considered a place to find wine of high but not outstanding quality, a solid reserve location that still can't compare for world-class juice to Bordeaux or Burgundy. The slightly bitter, unfriendly natures of many of the wines, especially from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, means that some patience is required when drinking Loire wines. Yet with white wines becoming more affordable, this is also becoming a place to find world-class whites at good values. Compared to appellations like Sauternes, Vouvray is practically a bargain region, and many underrated wines are to be found here.

Climate and Viticulture

As the name suggests, the Loire Valley is a valley. It is enormous in size, but not that much of the area is actually under vine, meaning that the Loire's actual planted acreage is not as high as one might expect. Most of the best wine appellations, with Sancerre a notable exception, are located in the western half of the region. The western half of the western half contains the Muscadet appellation, but most of the best appellations are located closer to the middle of the appellation. Anjou, Coteaux du Layon, Chinon, Saumur, Savennières, Touraine, and Vouvray are all towards the center of the valley.

The actual climate of these appellations, however, still is very distinct, and an intimate description will be found on their specific pages. Despite a differential in climate, these wines' fresh but slightly bitter flavors are often considered homogeneous. The reason for this is not the climate, but the techniques used to produce the wines. Lengthy oaking and fermentation is frowned upon in the Loire, and as a result the wines are presented in a much more natural fashion. Considering the general trend towards oaking in places like Burgundy and California, the Loire is probably now the best place to find unoaked white wine in the world.

Grape Varieties

Two white grapes dominate the proceedings in the Loire: Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon appellations are more famous, especially Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, but many more appellations use the Chenin Blanc grape. Probably the most famous of these is Vouvray, which is known for its ageable, impressively produced Chenin. Little-known grape Mélon de Bourgogne is used to make the idiosyncratic wines of Muscadet.

Red wines are almost entirely made from Cabernet Franc, for example Chinon, but arguably Cab Franc's most well-known usage here is in rosé, for example, the outstanding blushes of the Anjou. Occasionally used red grapes are Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir.

Major Producers

The Loire has a number of major producers, however, many of the producers making the top wines in an appellation generally only make wines within that appellation. Examples are Domaine des Aubuisières in Vouvray, Patrick Baudoin in Anjou, Château des Chaintres in Saumur-Champigny, Couly-Dutheil in Chinon, Domaine de l'Ecu in Muscadet, and Alphonse Mellot in Sancerre.

A few producers have significant range, two good examples being Domaine des Baumard and Château Pierre-Bise. Neither of them, however, have holdings in the entire Loire, so in this respect the Loire Valley is very dissimilar to areas like Burgundy and much closer to smaller, more equitably divided regions like Bordeaux.

Subregions

Although categorization of the Loire is tricky, Loire wines basically fall into four (admittedly massive) categories: Anjou-Saumur, Muscadet, the Touraine area, and the Upper Loire. The complete, fully expanded list of the Loire's major appellations is below, with explanations and summaries of each region covered on the site.