Last fall, under the guidance of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau, I discovered the beauty of Loire Valley wines. Due to the vastness of the Loire it was helpful to focus on specific grape varietals and the regions found within this beautiful valley located in the heart of France. Our trip concentrated on wines made from Chenin Blanc (white) and Cabernet Franc (red) grapes grown in Anjou-Saumur (Savennières) and Touraine (Vouvray and Chinon). The Loire’s dry and sparkling wines display freshness, lean acidity, and balance, and the sweet wines are remarkably elegant and smooth. The Cabernet Franc fluctuates with flavors of cedar, red berry, bell pepper, and herbs. Wines from the Loire are suited for every occasion and a wide variety of cuisines.
Fittingly called “the Garden of France” the Loire Valley overflows with an abundance of flavors. Loire is France’s largest white wine region, the top producers of white AOC wines (appellation d’origine controlee), and the second largest area for sparkling wine. It is France’s third largest winemaking region, with 69 appellations and four distinct wine growing areas, each one representing its own characteristics, appellations, and style.
The Loire River is the longest river in France, traveling more than 600 miles through stunning terrain and a variety of climates and microclimates. It extends from the center of the country to the Atlantic Ocean crossing many key cities, including Nantes, Angers, Saumur, and Tours. Outside the cities, the river valley is scattered with vineyards, forests, fields, and fortresses.
Wine making in the Loire goes back over 2,000 years. The Romans first planted vines, but it wasn’t until the 5th century that wine production really took off. During the Middle Ages viticulture became recognized when land ownership was opened up to the middle class and the river was used for transporting. A key factor in the development of Loire wine production was the lust for wine with the presence of royalty in their castles, and monks in abbeys.
During the 19th century, the phylloxera epidemic wiped out many vineyards in France and the Loire was not spared. With new energy and research, Loire producers replanted vineyards. There was a slight revival in the mid 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that Loire began to regain its popularity. Today, with green practices and modern technology, wines from Loire can easily stand up to Burgundy and Bordeaux, the other top wine regions in France.
Most Loire wines are made from a single grape variety resulting in wines of authenticity true to their natural terroir. The main white grapes are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadet, and the main reds are Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. They are offered in every imaginable style: still, sparkling, dry, semi-dry, rosé, and sweet. These spectrums of colors, textures, and flavors are what make Loire wines so incredibly interesting. Loire wines are diverse, very affordable, and the finest food friendly wines. They are easily found in Paris and all over the world.
NOTABLE LOIRE VALLEY WINERIES
One of greatest producers (since 1851) of sparkling wine made in the traditional method using Chenin Blanc blended with small amounts of Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc for rosé. A visit to the winery is enhanced by the options to tour their prehistoric wine caves on vintage bicycles and spend time at its art gallery and theatre.
Chateau La Soucherie
Set in the heart of Anjou with beautiful views and a great bed and breakfast. Producers of one of the best Savennieres and winning gold medals for their Anjou Blanc. Modern accommodations, a perfect place to stay the night in one of four winery guest rooms.
One of the largest wineries in Loire, with an ancient chateau perched high on a hill overlooking the river. The vineyards are planted through several key areas in the Vouvray appellation. Old world meets new with a state-of-the-art gravity cellar. Superb sparkling wines, mostly white, but the Rose Cremant de Loire from 90 percent Cabernet Franc with a touch of Chenin is exceptional.
Domaine de La Bergerie
Owned by the Guegniard family, producing wine for eight generations. They offer estate grown Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grolleau (a red grape local to Loire). There are a wide array of Anjou wines. In the heart of the domaine, Anne Guegniard and her husband David Guitton bring modern wine making to the table at their restaurant, La Table de la Bergerie.
Located in Coteaux-du-layon, one of the main grape growing areas in Anjou. Four generations of winemaking; today father and son produce a long list of noteworthy wines. Chenin Blanc dominates the vineyards with some Cabernet Franc, and other local grapes. The Rose-de-Loire, and Cremant-de-Loire are outstanding.
Domaine Patrick Baudouin
Patrick Beaudouin is a renaissance man, extremely passionate about organic enology. He left a career in Paris to rebuild a small winery that was started by his great-grandparents. His grapes thrive on vineyards planted on hillsides with beautiful views. His Anjou-blanc and Savennieres wines show the truest expression of their terroir.
A family affair since 1885, where a great deal of history is available to visitors, as well as an onsite wine school. This winery produces many highly acclaimed wines. The Cremant-de-Loire sparkling is made in underground wine caves with over two years maturation on fine lees (sediments).
A CULTURAL HISTORIC LANDSCAPE
The Loire Valley is the closest wine region to Paris—just one hour by fast train or a two-hour drive. The area is filled with ancient cities, picturesque villages, cathedrals, monasteries, and storybook chateaux (including Château d’Ussé, inspiration for Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty”); there’s something for everyone.
Drive, bike, or walk the “scenic vineyard trail.” Discover the viticulture and gastronomy of the area. Shop at farmers’ markets filled with seasonal specialties (button mushrooms, asparagus, cheeses, charcuterie, and more), and pair them with local wine.
A popular way to tour Loire is by bicycle, stopping at wineries, world-class Michelin-starred restaurants, and rustic cafes. You can also see the sites on a gabarre (a flat bottomed wooden boat), absorbing the architectural heritage of places soaked in history—while sipping wine.
The Loire Valley is home to some of the best Renaissance architecture in France, making the region a major draw for history buffs. Many historical figures (including Richard the Lionheart, Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci) spent time here, and the region has inspired authors and poets for centuries. For more information go to loirevalleywine.com.
OTHER RECOMMENDED WINERIES
Domaine des Champs Fleuris
AD Domaine Jean Maurice Raffault
Domaine Marc Bredif
THINGS TO DO