The Loire Wine Notes — 13/11/2007
The Central Loire
At over 1000km in length the Loire is France’s longest and most important river. From its origins in the Massif Central to its confluence with the Atlantic, vines are never far away, affording it a huge diversity of wines.
Although there was wine here earlier viticulture was started here in a large way by Augustin, Benedictine and Cistercian monks in the middle ages. The area was ruled by the English for much of this time but the wine trade to England was small scale compared to Bordeaux.
After the end of the Hundred Years War, the renaissance saw a semblance of peace here, a considerable export trade in wine and the construction by powerful French politicians of the great châteaux for which the Loire is famed.
The wars of religion then the revolution left heinous scars on the banks of the Loire, with the reign of terror finding singular vehemence here. In the midst of this unrest, vines continued to flourish from one end of the Loire to the other. Vouvray and Chinon being sought after wines.
The Loire breaks down as follows, west to east:
Pays-Nantais: This coastal region is dominated by the Atlantic, which moderates the climate and brings plentiful rainfall. It is home to Muscadet.
Anjou: A staggering diversity of wines abound in this region covered by 25 ACs. Its warm climate, hillsides and moderate rain make it ideal for vines.
Touraine: Known as the garden of France due to its fertility, the region’s climate is moderate and has the world’s largest collection of castles. Home to some of the great Loire wines.
Central Vineyards also called Eastern Loire. Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. (See separate wine notes).
Information on the Wines
*Muscadet *(& Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine): The wines are light and fresh with the best being the ‘sur-lie’, wines that spend time in contact with their lees. Whilst there is some pretty dire Muscadet around, quality is generally Ok and from the best prducers and chateaux is surprisingly good.
Savennières: This area used to produce a similar mix of styles as Vouvray, also from Chenin blanc, but has now gone over almost entirely to dry wines, (these though, are often botrytis affected). There are 2 cru appellations: Coulée de Serrant and La Roche aux Moines. These wines are not really understood in the UK or internationally, but valued locally.
Côteaux de Layon: The River Layon is a tributary of the Loire with a vineyard area that is prone to noble rot. The basic appellation gives sweetish wines if the year is average, but in top years it produces good sweet wines at good prices. Côteaux de Layon Chaume is a separate AOC and rated higher.
Bonnezaux and Quarts de Chaume: Bonnezaux is potentially the richest and sweetest Loire wine, and it can be magnificent after a few years. Quarts de Chaume is lighter, finer and perhaps more expensive.
Saumur-Champigny: These red wines are from the best vineyards of Saumur. They soften quickly to be elegant and aromatic with the scent of raspberries. Most producers also make, lighter, easy drinking wines for early consumption.
Saumur Rouge: The lesser vineyards of Saumur.
Saumur Blanc: A reasonable dry and lightly aromatic wine made from Chenin.
Chinon: The least serious is a light quaffer. Most are middle weight and have a raspberry flavour not unlike Pinot Noir, but may be dominated by Cabernet green pepper taste. In good years special vineyards and old vine cuvées may really deliver; wines that are aromatic, gutsy, and capable of ageing.
Bourgueil *& *St Nicolas de Bourgueil: There tend to be two styles of wine reflecting the types of vineyard; those that are south facing sandy-clay on tufa lime are excellent, giving serious wines that age. The flatter vineyards, on sand or gravel, give fruity, simple wines. St Nicolas is lighter, the vineyards are a westward continuation of the Bourgueil, with more sand and less clay.
Vouvray: Vouvray has a mixed reputation; you have wines that are superb and range from sweet to dry to sparkling, to the simply dreadful! (Although, to be fair I haven’t had one of these for a while).
Sweet Vouvray, Moelleux and Moelleux Trie need botrytis and can be honeyed, rich, yet balanced.
Demi-Sec and Sec are always made from grapes with less botrytis. They seem fairly sweet when young and dry out with age.
Sec can seem searingly acidic, but rounds out with age and is good with shellfish.
Vouvray Mousseux is fully sparkling. It doen’t have to be brut, it can be very interesting as a demi-sec.
Vouvray Petillant, is petillant, and can be good.
Montlouis: Smaller sister appellation of Vouvray with similar wines.
Although there are a multitude of different wines, the number of vines is relatively small. Here is a summary of the most important:
Chenin Blanc: This vine can produce great wines in dry, medium and sweet styles, though it is also capable of world-class mediocrity. In Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Côteaux de Layon and Savennières, it can be sublime.
Gros Plant: Only slightly better than its name implies, it gives light, acid wines from the Pays-Nantais.
Melon de Bourgogne: The vine of Muscadet.
Cabernet Franc: Often tannic and with a green character, it is the most important red vine in the Loire. In places such as Bourgeuil and Chinon, it can give wines of richness, power and tannin that are lovely. It also makes rosé.
Cabernet Sauvignon: The classic vine of Bordeaux struggles for ripeness this far north, but it is grown and is blended with Cabernet Franc.
Gamay: Grows up and down the Loire. The wines are never as good as top or even average Beaujolais.
Cuisine of the Loire
Local produce is abundant, offering a flow of seasonal vegetables and fruit. The rivers produce a rich supply of salmon, pike, perch, and bream. Perhaps have fish with beurre blanc, which is a local recipe. Goats cheese is big business with thousands of producers subject to appellation control. Although perigord is better known for truffles, the Loire with its limestone soils is a major source too.
Loire Regional Specialities
Rillettes de Tours: Potted pork spread.
Matelote d’anguilles: Eels in red wine stew.
Ablettes gardons: Tiny fish, fried or smoked.
Anguille à la Berrichonne: Grilled eel prepared with vinegar, walnut oil and herbs.
Sandre au Beurre Blanc: Zander or pike-perch from the river in a butter, shallot, vinegar and wine sauce.
Civet de Lièvre: Hare stew
Tarte Tatin: The ubiquitous French upside-down apple tarte is supposed to originate here.
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The Loire from East to West by coach
26 October - 1 November 2013