An introduction to Loire Valley wines

First of all–before talking about wine, the Loire valley is one of my favorite places in France. Also called the “Kings valley”, you can find countless splendid castles all along the river. It was the popular region where royals spent their time in both the 15th and 16th centuries.

On my girlfriend’s travel blog you can find several articles on the historical châteaux :

http://americainegirl.blogspot.fr/search?q=loire

After tasting more than 300 wines from the Loire region last February during the annual fair, I got a much better understanding overall of those appellations over the last two vintages.

The Loire valley is France’s third largest winegrowing region and a major area for white wine production. The first thing to understand is how vast the region is, therefore there is a multitude of climates, soils (terroirs) and naturally grape varieties.carte_vignoble_val_de_loire

Oceanic from Nantes to Anjou, the climate becomes more and more continental from Saumur to the further east. The soils and subsoils also vary completely from west to east. The result of these differences brings an incredible and unique diversity of wines.

There are basically 4 big winegrowing areas in the Loire valley :

– Nantes: Gros Plant and Muscadet, two well-known names in the business are produced in that area.

– Anjou and Saumur : It is a vast area and it extends over a wide range of soils. All types of wine are produced there: dry and sweet whites, sparkling, rosés, and red. Most of the best and of the well-known wines (Bourgueil, Chinon, Cabernet d’Anjou, Côteaux du Layon, Chaumes etc…) come from that area.

– Touraine: Around the town of Tours, 18 appellations produce white, rosé, sparkling and red wines.

– Centre-Loire: My favorite spot in Loire valley, you can find some very nice dry white wines in the appellations Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon and Quincy. The Sauvignon Blanc thrives in this climate and on those limestone-based soils. There are also red wines in that region but of lesser quality.

Concretely, Val de Loire is a great region for “pleasurable wines”. Don’t look for complex wines to store for years, you most likely won’t find many of them. However, there are great opportunities to find young fresh wines with a nice, fruity personality. It should also be noted that most wines are single-varietals.

– I was disappointed by red wines of recent years. A majority of them are rather light bodied, with sometimes too much acidity creating a lack of balance during the tasting. Vegetal characters are encountered quite a lot. The main varieties of the region are Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Grolleau and Pinot Noir. That being said, it didn’t help that I mainly tasted wines from 2013, 2012 and 2011, all average (not to say bad) vintages in the Loire valley. I’m looking forward to try red wines from a good year, 2009 being the last very good one in the region.

Quite frankly, I was often annoyed by the oakiness and wood character of some samples. They didn’t have enough body and structure to spend much time oak barrels which resulted quite often in dry finishes and, sometimes worse, in a dominant woody taste hiding any fruitiness. That’s not what I expect out of “pleasure” wines.

I was impressed by the number of organic wines. A lot of young vine-growers recently moved to that approach. Even though it’s said to be harder to make a good organic wine in a complicated year, some of them actually stood out to me and displayed (as often with that kind of wines) intense fruitiness and purity.

The new generation of vine-growers really took over the region and as a result I saw more organic wines and modern labels/bottles than anywhere else in France: a refreshing and dynamic region.

– The white wines really REALLY captured my interest. I found some very good ones in almost every region, but I really enjoyed the wines from the Centre-Loire area. The Sauvignon grape (also famous in Bordeaux) which is the only white variety in Centre-Loire, expresses itself extremely well in those terroirs. Yet again, don’t expect wines with a lot of flesh and body, the best of them display instead nice freshness with delicacy and very pure aromas and flavors. If you’re looking for bottles a little more sophisticated, wines from old vines offer more complex notes on the nose as well as more structure and body in the middle of the mouth (a Quincy from vines of 70 years of age was mind blowing !).

Finally, there are also some amazing sweet white wines (“liquoreux”) in the region. Made from overripe grapes picked in successive passages through the vines, the Chenin Blanc creates some terrific wines that deserve anyone’s attention.

I will go into further detail in articles to come.

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