Not the Seine.
Not the Rhone.
But the Loire.
It almost spans the country. In all, it travels some 1000 kilometres, starting not far inland from the Med, close to where we think of as the South of France before meandering all the way up the map and taking a left to exit into the Atlantic below Brittany.
It drains almost a fifth of France’s land area.
Beautiful as it is throughout its length, for the purpose of this article we are only looking at the top half …. the throne-y, wine-y, chateau-y bit.
Wine appreciators are aware of four main districts. Starting at the ocean in the West we pass up river through Region Nantaise, Anjou/Saumur, Touraine and Centre Loire.
The middle two were the playgrounds of the royal families for many centuries. Their chateaux and castles are still the source of many oohs and ahs from millions of visitors.
Who hasn’t gasped at them, from the delicate to the magnificent: Chenonceau, Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau, Langeias, Cheverny, Blois, Amboise, Chaumont, Villandry and Rivau … almost one for every day of the year.
The attendant vines possibly descended from Roman times, were once the most important in France. They supplied wines to the local nobility and the nobility in Paris. The port of Nantes shipped around Europe. Alas, for the Loire in the 18th century Bordeaux began to dominate and their wines became the flavor of the era.
Today the Loire wines beg your attention
In this country, Loire wines are not as famous as Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy. Not yet.
Who better to update our knowledge than Benoit Roumet, Director of Vins de Centre-Loire and Franck Moreau, Master Sommelier of the mighty Merivale Group. They called us into town the other day to present the latest from this region, and place us in front of some sparkling, white, red and sweet wines we are very happy to recommend.
AOC Crémant de Loire NV – (Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay)
A lively little bubbly. Made in the traditional method from two whites and a red. Just like champagne really. Delicate, clear, white fruits with a touch of sparkling sherbet. Pretty and soft with just a tingle of refreshing acids.
AOC Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine (Melon de Bourgogne) 2015
Some say the ultimate shellfish accompaniment. We’ll not argue. Golden fruited soft and mild with a gentle finish. This vintage was a bit warmer so more lemon than the usual lime.
IGP Val de Loire (Sauvignon Blanc) 2016
This was a surprise. Aggressive, wild, earthy with tropical fruits. Almost like a Kiwi. Full of flavor but with a nice crisp finish.
AOC Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) 2016
A lovely wine. Gentle restrained floral notes with a tiny touch of earthiness. A mouthful of clean, bright blossoms with a smooth texture. A white to savour on its own or with a simple chicken dish.
AOC Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon Blanc) 2016
Some say the SBs of the right bank are more lusty and minerally than those of Sancerre directly opposite on the left. Not always. This one is correct, pure and clean. Light soft fruit characters swirl around gentle cleansing acids.
AOC Anjou (Chenin Blanc) 2017
Now, this is different. Limey with an almost lolly syrupiness.
A sturdy mouthful, full of lemon jubes. “Classic waxy,” says Franck. A swoosh of citrussy freshness to finish.
AOC Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) 2016
This is a stunner. Chalky white blossoms. A fresh and bright wine sitting begging in the glass. Welcoming lifted sweet fruit flavours without sugar sweetness. Bright crisp acids to wave goodbye. Another sip? Sure.
AOC Savennières-Roche aux Moines (Chenin Blanc) 2015
Same grape, another area some 100km downstream. Golden colour rising ripe fruit with herby notes. Weighty, ‘grainy’ deep, a solid mouthful. A touch oxidative. Has he picked later? Used old oak? We are told this is more typical of its maker Nicolas Joly than of the district.
Now two reds and a sweetie
AOC Sancerre (Pinot Noir) 2014
A soft strawberry nose but on a further swirl some dark fruits show up. Not a thick red, but sturdy enough. In fact, it is a bit harsh and lacks pure fruit. A bit green with quite sharp tannins. Pinot Noir is a fairly recent planting in Sancerre.
AOC Saumur (Cabernet Franc) 2015
A very different grape with a much longer history on the Loire. This is bright and lively with sappy ripe and cheerful red fruits. Dark and sharpish fruit characters. Leafy with a brush of tannins. “Funky fun” observes Benoit. He takes another sip and passes on a quote from an old winemaker he met when he was starting out himself.
“The best wine is when the first glass calls the second one.”
AOC Bonnezeaux (Chenin Blanc) 2013
A real sweetie to wind up proceedings. Late picked. Intense pale gold. Rich and very ripe fruits. Definitely sauterne-y. Nicely sweet without syrupiness. Mid-weight with a soft exit. A nice balance of fruit and acidity like dry peach nectar.
Thanks Benoit. Thanks Franck
A very refreshing and elegant lineup. Understanding is so simple when you have a glass in front of you glinting with the wine the expert in front of you is describing.
Sipping with eyes closed you can sense the slow progress of a placid river past castles with fairytale dreams in them.