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Loire

The wines from the Loire Valley are sadly overlooked and neglected. This is probably because their attraction lies in their lightness, elegance and balance rather than on sheer power, concentration and extraction. Many wine lovers who think (or who are told to think) that unless a wine is a massive blockbuster it is not worth drinking are missing out on truly enjoyable and sometimes incredible winetasting experiences.

In a region where the world¹s most beautiful châteaux stand next to troglodyte cave dwellings, it should come as no surprise that the Loire Valley is home to an amazing variety of appellations that produce wines of all styles and colors. The whites range from light, crisp Muscadets to intriguing, complex Savennières and the reds from pale, fruity Anjou Gamay to inky, purple/black Chinon. The Loire is also home to specialty wines as diverse as sparkling Saumur or rich, honeyed Côteaux du Layon dessert wines. The common denominator of all of these wines is their ability to entice the drinker with their finesse and elegance.

These are wines that grow on you. Their easy approachability and their ability to be enjoyed young do not mean that they are not serious wines. True, they will never rival the Grand Crus of Bordeaux or Burgundy, but compare the prices. They offer an interesting change in flavor, body and balance from similarly priced wines made in regions such as Languedoc Roussillon where the climate is much warmer resulting in heavier and rounder wines. The attractive fruitiness of Loire wines when they are young often belies the fact that many of them (in particular the dessert wines but also some Chinon, Vouvray or Sancerre) can age for a surprisingly long time.

We would like to briefly introduce you to the Loire Valley and its many different wines. Hopefully you will gain a better understanding of the area and share our enthusiasm for these underappreciated wines. With our sampler cases, you can learn about them the best way: by trying them.

History

As in most other winemaking regions of France, the vine came with the conquering Roman troups. Pliny mentions vineyards along the Loire River. Following the Romans, the influence of Augustine and Benedictine monks was crucial in the development of the different wine regions. The reputation of Loire Valley wines grew throughout the Middle Ages. When Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, became King of England, the royalty of France and England served Loire wines at court. The tradition continued for the next several hundred years.

Wine production was stimulated even more by a special export tax status given to the States of Brittany by François I in 1532. The wines, called ³wines for the sea² mainly went to the Netherlands. The Dutch taste resulted in the production of light white wines that continued through the 19th century. The French Revolution devastated the landscape, especially towards Nantes and Anjou, the scene of fierce fighting. By that time, production was geared towards simple table wine, made for the laborers of the Industrial Revolution. When rail transportation improved and spread, cheap wines from the Midi replaced those of the Loire, and wineries were forced to change their strategy or go out of business. Just as the wines were getting better, phylloxera arrived and wiped out the vineyards. Once that crisis was under management, towards the beginning of the 20th Century, the quest to produce quality wines could continue.

Geography

The Loire is the largest river system in France covering over 1,200 kilometres on its course from its source in south central France to its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. Over the first half of its course, the river runs roughly south to north. It takes a turn to the left near Orléans to flow westward to the ocean. The Loire begins its life in the volcanic mountains of the Massif Central, it flows through rolling farmland towards the green pastures of Touraine and Anjou before widening and flowing across the flat plains of the Nantes countryside. The nickname Jardin de la France or the Garden of France beautifully describes the luxuriant green countryside.

It is the river that makes it possible to grow grapes so far north and the majority of the vineyards are found along its southern banks and on the banks of its tributaries. The wines from the Loire Valley bear the stamp of man more than those of the other regions of France; this is because the vines grow at the limit of their habitat. Any further north and the grapes could not ripen. As it is, vineyard sites must be carefully chosen in order to ensure proper ripening.

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Regions: Nantes; Anjou; Saumur; Touraine; Centre

To make things easier, the vineyards of the Loire can be broken down into 4 major regions, starting from the western end of the Loire, at the Atlantic Ocean, and working our way inland are the wines from Nantes, Anjou - Saumur, Touraine, and the Center. Just as the landscape is varied, so are the soil types and climates along the way.

Nantes is home to one of the Loire¹s better-known wines, Muscadet. The climate here is maritime, the land is flat and the soil is stony with silica. Muscadet is made with the Muscadet or Melon de Bourgogne grape, which originally came from Burgundy (where it is no longer grown). Melon¹s big break came during a horrendous frost that took place back in 1709. It was the only vine that survived and the farmers, not wanting to take that risk again, began planting primarily Melon. Muscadet is generally a light, crisp, uncomplicated white wine perfect with seafood. One often sees the phrase ³sur lies² attached to Muscadet. What does that mean? Well, it means that the wine has been aged on its lees which is the sediment formed by the dead yeast cells after fermentation. While that might not sound very appetizing, the process gives the wines more body, great freshness and an ever-so-slight spritz. These are perfect summer wines, which is when we will offer one.

Anjou-Saumur has the largest number of appellations; not many of them are very well known here. Covering Anjou, Anjou Villages, Savennières, Coteaux du Layon, Saumur, Saumur Champigny, and Crémant de Loire to name a few, the styles vary from light fruity whites, ruby colored reds, perfumed rosés, delicate sparklers, to unctuous dessert wines. The climate is temperate, the land hilly, and the soils varied with a lot of granite, gneiss and schist. The main grape varieties are Chenin Blanc for the whites and Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay for the reds. The region has been concentrating on its red wines and now makes some admirable Anjou Villages, the best of which are from Brissac. These wines represent some great discoveries and the prices are still very attractive. Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume are among France¹s greatest sweet wines. Compared to Sauternes, these wines are incredibly cheap. Our Saumur Champigny is an explosion of fruit on the nose.

Touraine is situated where the Cher, Indre and Vienne Rivers merge with the Loire. This area is home to some well known Loire appellations such as Chinon, Vouvray, Bourgeuil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgeuil, and some that are less familiar like Touraine and Montlouis. The climate here is the warmest of the four regions which allows red grapes to do better here than elsewhere. The land is hilly and the soils are chalky. The main grapes are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites and Cabernet Franc and Gamay for the reds. It is here, in Vouvray, that the Chenin shows why it is considered by wine experts to be one of the world¹s greatest grapes. The wines range from bone dry to deliciously sweet and are not to be missed. The reds of Chinon, Bourgeuil, and Saint Nicolas were not highly considered until fairly recently. The image of light, thin wines is giving way to a wave of full bodied, complex wines worthy of aging. The Touraine appellation is a treasure trove of good value reds and whites.

The Center can boast of the Loire¹s most sought after wines, namely Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The climate is temperate and the terrain hilly (in some places very steep); the soils are calcareous and in some areas siliceous. The two villages that give their names to the wines look at each other across the river: Sancerre atop its hill and Pouilly on the edge of the Loire. Both produce wines from the white Sauvignon Blanc grape, with Sancerre producing a red from Pinot Noir as well. Pouilly Fumé tends to be fuller, and longer lasting than Sancerre, which is racier and known for its crisp fruit. Red Sancerre can be a surprising wine, but care should be taken in choosing, as many are thin. Menetou Salon, Reuilly, Quincy and Coteaux Giennois are some of the lesser-known appellations. As it has become harder and harder to find enough good Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, we turned to these up-and-coming areas and discovered some surprising wines at a fraction of the cost of their more famous neighbors. Until fairly recently, the wines from the Loire were a dull lot for the most part. Thousands of gallons of thin, insipid wines were pushed onto the market and frankly, consumers soon abandoned Loire wines for New World or Pays d¹Oc wines. But the wonderful terroir of the Loire are making a comeback with young producers who are well trained and eager to restore the region its past level of fame. After all, Chinon has been a favorite in France since Rabelais in the 15th Century. The poet Ronsard also praised the finesse of Loire whites in addition to writing the most galant poems of 16th century French literature.

The Loire remains the third largest wine producing region of France; great wines exist there and they are still moderately priced. We have put together a selection of some of the best for you. We hope that you enjoy discovering (or rediscovering) the wines of the Loire Valley with us.

Sub Regions in Loire

  • Chinon
  • Côtes-de-Grand-Lieu
  • Sancerre
  • Saumur
  • Touraine
  • Vouvray

View wines from the Loire Valley