The Loire, lined with picturesque limestone châteaux filled with centuries of history, intrigue, death and deceit – is also France’s longest wine region.
The Historic town of Chinon, was the seat of power for the Plantagenet kings. Home of Henry II and Elenor of Aquitane.
Standing uncaptured for almost a millennium, Samur castle was occupied and abused by German soldiers in WWII who used it for target practice. It is now being painstakingly restored. Many of the local winemakers risked their lives helping the resistance, by smuggling spies and saboteurs in sealed wine barrels.
Several hundred miles of almost continuous vineyards stretch from the Atlantic coast, inland to the mountainous valleys near the Massif Central, close to the River’s source. As you move through the dramatically changing landscape, the uniquely different terrain and microclimates neatly divide the region into many characterful grape varieties. Wine styles cover every base- red, white, rosé, sparkling, sweet and dry. Best of all, many of the bottles from here are little known outside of France, yet are of very high quality- making them great value hidden gems!
There a a vast array of different wines you can try, but I’ve listed just a few we can source for you, along with a few suggestions you can easily pick up in your local supermarket/wine merchant.
The most famous names are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Made from Sauvignon Blanc, these wines are what New Zealand’s Marlborough region models their wines on. The flinty limestone soils of the vineyards produce a characteristic herbaceous/minerally flavour. However, as with other well-known wine regions, notoriety combined with limited output increases bottle cost. Expect to pay up to £12-20 per bottle.
Tesco’s Finest* label creeps in at £11 for Pouilly-Fumé, and £12 for their Finest* Sancerre.
On a budget/looking for value?
There are many small towns neighbouring these two famous names also making good quality Sauvignon Blancs. Look for bottles of whites in the French/Loire section labelled Quincy, Reuilly, Mentou-Salon or Touraine which make similar styles, but usually for a fraction of the price.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Touraine Sauvignon Blanc really hits the spot at £7.
While South Africa may have claimed this for their signature white wine, the spiritual home of this variety is actually the central Loire Valley in Touraine. Chenin is able to reach high levels of ripeness, yet retain refreshing acidity. This makes it very versatile and excellent quality sparkling, sweet and dry wines can be produced. All have delicious, zesty flavours of green apples and lemon with an appealing touch of honey in the sweeter ones. The tiny town of Vouvray specialises in it.
The proportions of dry, sparkling and sweet wines made every year vary with the weather encountered that season. The vast majority sold in the UK are the dry (labelled ‘sec’), or off dry/medium sweet (demi-sec) versions. If it has been exceptionally warm and dry at harvest time, some memorable sweet wines can also be made from the very ripe grapes. This is usually sold in half bottles (labelled ‘Moelleux‘), and can be quite expensive- though often good value in comparison to Sauternes.
Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Demi-Sec from Marks and Spencer is a good one, at £9.99 or ‘Selected by Tesco’ Vouvray, from Tesco is a bit of alright for £5.70.
The town of Samur also makes some dry whites from Chenin Blanc, if sweetness isn’t your thing. Often these are pleasant, subtly oaked alternatives to Chardonnay.
Why not give Saumur Blanc Les Epinats, also from Marks and Spencer, a go at £10?
Keen to get the night going with a bit of a bang? How about a Crémant de Loire? Crémant is a term for a sparkling wine from other areas of France, other than Champagne. Most areas make them, and they are produced in the same ‘traditional method’ (second fermentation and a period of ageing in bottle) as Champagne. Local grapes are used, in the case of the Loire usually Chenin Blanc. The town of Samur specialises in bubbly, so it has been awarded its own appellation for sparkling wine.
Bouvet Ladubay Saumur from Majestic is excellent value, from £8.99. Or try the L’Extra par Langlois Brut Crémant de Loire, from £9.99.
The vast network of caves left behind after carving Limestone out of the hillside to build the magnificent castles of the Loire make excellent wine cellars!
Many producers in the Loire invite you to tour their vineyards, shops and cellars. If you’re very lucky, you might enjoy a tasting or two in the caves of the excellent Crémants. Sometimes free of charge!
This little known red grape variety is actually one of the parents of its more famous offspring, Cabernet Sauvignon (the other being Sauvignon Blanc). It is often a minor blending component in the wines of Bordeaux. However, in the Loire it really shines on its own. It takes well to the cooler climate of the valley, producing the delicious, fragrant wines from the towns of Chinon and Bourgeuil. Expect aromas of raspberry, redcurrant, violets and a characteristic nose of ‘pencil shavings.’
Cabernet Franc is often termed ‘the Frenchman’s wine,’ as it is popular in local bistros where it is quaffed happily by the litre. Most of it is intended to be enjoyed young, fresh and fruity. In good vintages, some serious ones can also be produced that can age a few years, developing a more complex, savoury nose. These interesting wines still retain modest prices in comparison to Bordeaux, however.
Domaine du Colombier Chinon is a favourite of mine from Sainsburys, and a bit of a bargain at £7.
This vineyard produces fine red wines from Cabernet Franc. Named ‘Clos L’Echo,’ because the imposing fortress reflects sound back onto the site.
Rosé d’Anjou or Cabernet d’Anjou are bursting with summery red fruit flavours of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and an obscure local variety called Grolleau. Rosé d’Anjou is a bit lighter, and sweeter with a sort of ‘boiled sweet’ character to it. Whereas Cabernet d’Anjou is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, and tends to be a bit chunkier, drier and more ‘serious’ in nature.
Sainsbury’s Winemakers’ Selection Rosé d’Anjou is good fun at £5.50 a bottle.
Sancerre is also known for producing a small amount of delicate, floral rosé wine from Pinot Noir. Again however, expect to pay a premium for the produce of this tiny commune.
Sancerre Rosé Les Caillotes is £13 from Sainsbury’s, ASDA has some for £10.97 or Tesco Finest* is £10.
Hope you enjoy your mystery tour, let me know ‘whodunnit’!
John is the owner and Lead Educator of Northern Wine School, based in Manchester. Guests can buy tickets to themed wine events from the website. They also offer private and corporate wine tastings in and around Greater Manchester and Cheshire. His mission is to make wine fun and accessible for all, and actively encourages everyone to ask questions and try new things. Northern Wine School is a fellow #SmallBiz100 2016.
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