Kingdom of the Vine
Rich in history and known as the Garden of France, the Loire River Valley is home to the longest river in France – the Loire – coming in at 629 miles in length. The valley itself has forty-two gorgeous chateaus (the central region was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000) and produces a variety of wines made from numerous grapes – however, most wines seen in our market are made from Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, or Cabernet Franc.
The Pay Nantais is found at the mouth of the Loire, where it meets the Atlantic. The wines produced here are most commonly made from the melon de Bourgogne grape. This grape was originally planted by the Dutch to be used for their spirit distillation; relatively neutral - melon de Bourgogne has become the grape for wines labeled Muscadet Sèvre et Main; they are aged on their lees to increase the complexity on the palate, fruit leans to tart, pithy citrus and green apple, there is a subtle salinity that pairs perfectly with oysters and sunshine. Producers to look for are Domaine Michel Brégeon, Eric Chevalier, and Pierre Luneau-Papin.
Anjou and Touraine are the next two regions in respective order - we begin to see Chenin Blanc. A grape with piercing acidity and a fruit set that takes on notes of ripe orchard fruit, it finds immense variety within Anjou and Touraine. Savennières bottlings from Anjou, often austere in youth, can age well, rewarding the patient with honeyed notes and complex minerality. Look for Domaine aux Moines, Domaine du Closel, and Château d’Épire. In Touraine, the Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, can show complex notes of late-season orchard fruit, perhaps even slightly bruised, with autumn leaf minerality, and perhaps saffron and ginger from botrytis (botrytis being a fungus that essentially removes the water from grapes, concentrating the flavors and is usually highly prized). Domaine Huet is a must to seek out and ages phenomenally well; Domaine Francois Chidaine and Domaine Vincent Careme are both exceptional producers. Sweeter dessert wine versions of Chenin can be found throughout both these regions, the fruit set takes on sun-ripened peach and other tree fruits, and the high acidity of the Chenin Blanc keeps the balance of the wine in check. Look for Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume as regions to explore – especially with the upcoming summer fruits!
Sauvignon Blanc, although found in the previous two regions, comes into its own in the Central Vineyards from the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. A great spring and summer wine - classically crisp, pungent with citrus, fresh-cut grass, herbs, rocky notes, and vibrant acidity. The soils of these regions and cooler climates help impart the refreshing nature of these wines. Producers to look for are Domaine Vacheron, Pascal Jolivet, and Francois Crochet.
Head back down the river to Touraine and Cabernet Franc shines in the wines from Chinon. Bright, assertive raspberry and red cherry, with notes of green tobacco, earth, bright acidity, and balanced tannins – this is a red wine for the warmer months and lends itself well to grilled alfresco dinners. Château de Coulaine, Charles Joguet, and Catherine & Pierre Breton are producers to seek out classic examples.
There are many more regions and grapes to explore, we didn’t even venture into sparkling – the Loire is only second to Champagne in terms of sparkling wine production. The Loire offers a region rich in the history of kings and queens – treat yourself to an investigation of Château de Chenonceau (once home to Catherine de Medici) and pour yourself a glass or two of wine from the Loire – it will be an afternoon well spent! Please ask Mariano to source any of the wines noted!