The Loire River takes its source in the central mountains of France (Massif Central) and runs over 1000 kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean. That means there is a lot of fertile land along the way, and over 185,000 acres of vineyards. The Loire Valley is the 3rd largest wine producing region in France after Bordeaux and Burgundy. There is a whole variety of wines, and over 85 appellations that are united under the banner of Wines of the Loire. Each have their own characteristics brought out by the land they grow in. With all this diversity, there is something for everyone!
The AOC concept is based on associating an area of land, with one or several grape varieties and specific winegrowing and making know-how. It is this original combination that gives the wines their characteristics which cannot be reproduced elsewhere.
As a result, the winegrower is at the service of his or her terroir, and the choice of grape variety, as well as the choice of wine-producing practices employed. They must reinforce the expression of the terroir through the wine. Each “terroir” has its own characteristics.
We can divide the Loire Valley Wines into 3 regions :
- The Upper Loire includes the Sauvignon blanc that dominates areas of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé
- The Middle Loire is dominated by Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc wines found in the regions around Touraine, Saumur, Chinon and Vouvray
- The Lower Loire that leads to the mouth of the river’s entrance to the Atlantic goes through the Muscadet region which is dominated by wines of the Melon de Bourgogne grape.
The climate of the Upper Loire areas has short, hot summers and a more continental climate than the other Loire regions. The principle enemy of winegrowers of this region is not enough sunshine for the grapes to reach maturity. Sancerre white wines are exclusively made from Sauvignon grapes. The wine is highly acidic with notes of peaches or black currents. Across the river lies the terroir of Pouilly–Fumé vineyards. The soil has more limestone thus the wine is more aromatic than its neighbor. Sancerre does produce some red wines, but Pouilly-Fumé remains loyal to white wines.
The Middle Loire makes a whole range of great wines: red, white, rosé, sweet and sparkling. The white wines are dominated by Chenin blanc grapes, that makes just as good a dry as sweet wine, just a good of a still wine as a sparkling. Well known wines include wines from Vouvray, Montlouis, and Tourraine. Red wines are produced from Cabernet Franc grapes, produced in these regions as well. But the most known are from Chinon and Saumur. They have a lighter, fruitier flavor than wines from vineyards that are further south like Bordeaux. Except for Chinon red from Cravant-les-Coteaux that is produced on limestone soil and can compare to a St. Emilion, Bordeaux.
Growing on the sandy soil of the delta around Nantes (Lower Loire), where the Loire River meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Muscadet of Western Loire is produced from Melon de Bourgogne grapes. These are grapes that ripen early. The wines that are bottled in a process called “sur lie”, or straight from the tank where fermentation has occurred. This process creates a fruity, nutty flavor very much appreciated.
There are very few large wine producing companies in the Loire Valley. Most winegrowers and merchants are family owned since many generations, keeping up the tradition of great winemaking.
Somewhere along the meandering river you will certainly find the wine to your liking.