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Chinon is generally considered to be the top red wine appellation of the Loire. Bourgueil and St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil are the main competitors, both of them within the same Touraine region, but Chinon's wines are generally considered more balanced and accessible. However, the best cuvées offer Bourgueil-like depth and complexity, and roughly the same ageability, and are much easier to drink.

Part of the appellation's charm, and a major contributor to the reason Chinons are so often exported, is the fact that it does well at combining size with quality. Only a few 5,000-acre appellations have quality this rock-solid, and the appellation's annual 500,000-case production is quite low compared to some similarly sized appellations that produce millions of cases--especially in the Loire, where vineyards are overly thick with vines.

Chinons display top technical mastery, amazing density, and flavors that run the gamut from red fruit to dark fruit to earth to meat. Prices on some of the exclusive cuvées are high, but for the most part they remain in the reasonable $15-$30 range. In short, these are very impressive wines that appeal to everyone and show that the Loire isn't just a region for white wines. Interestingly, white wines are allowed here, and Chinon Blanc can be an interesting drink, but the few bottles produced are rarely exported. The rosé is more promising, with dry, pungent red and pink fruit flavors.


Chinon has among the longest and most impressive histories of the Loire's cities. Despite being an average 15 square miles and not particularly scenic, the city was selected in the 13th century as a spot for royal estates to be built. Over the next few hundred years, it became a regional hub and major attraction for its gorgeous palaces, and remained so for at least two centuries. The massive palaces still overlook the entire town.

Henry II, the King of England who was fond of France, took a liking to the Chinon castle. The king was a fan of wine, later having a major influence in the development of the Bordeaux wine region. It is not known what part Henry played in the development of early Chinon wines, but it is likely that he helped this appellation to become prominent. For hundreds of years now it has been considered the Loire's best appellation for red wine, and it was one of the first Loire appellations to be created, in 1937.

Climate and Viticulture

The difference between Chinon and Bourgueil climatewise is negligible. In both regions, all the variables are there for perfect red wine production: rainfall, general temperature, lack of snowy or unexpectedly rainy seasons, and perfect drainage from the hilly vineyards. Chinon's vineyards lie on the banks of the Vienne river, a beautiful location and great for wine production.

The main difference between the two appellations is in the soil: while Bourgueil's soils are sand over limestone (surprising, since sandy soils don't usually make for very good wines), Chinon is limestone under gravel. The limestone is extremely old and hard, and the gravels are also solid and tightly concentrated. As a result, the wines are more balanced and complex, although many people prefer the masculine, earthy Bourgueil style.

Grape Varieties

Major Producers

Despite having over 5,000 acres of planted land, Chinon is one of the best appellations in the Loire in terms of general quality. Nevertheless, we can determine seven producers who make especially avant-garde and remarkable wines.


There are no officially designated subregions; it is a rare occurrence that an appellation this large has such high quality with no official vineyards at all. But the producer-driven Chinon system certainly seems to be working.