The area of the Loire Valley comprises about 800 square kilometers (310 sq mi). It is referred to as the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, and artichoke, and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river. Notable for its historic towns, architecture, and wines, the valley has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic period.
The Loire Valley is the heart of France, famous for its natural beauty, magnificent châteaux and great wine. The region is rich in history and culture: Renaissance writer Rabelais was born here; Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in the Hundred Years’ War in the Loire; and, as the Cradle of the French Language, its residents speak the purest French.
The Loire Valley contains several distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations and styles.
The largest, and one of the coolest, wine regions of France also happens to produce some of the most approachable wines in the world. The wines of the Loire Valley burst with character and complexity. Each of the white wines of the regions combines citrus, stone fruit, and tropical fruit, with earthiness, and smokiness, that demonstrate the importance that soil and terroir have on wine in Loire.
Most of the wineries in Loire are family owned and operated, some have been farming their vineyards since before the French Revolution in the late 1700s, growing their produce for either the nobility or the church. Pre-Revolution one of the most humble jobs in France was that of a winemaker. After the revolution, these became prized positions. Individual winemakers may not have held historical notoriety in the region, however the wines certainly have for centuries.
The first mention of Loire wines from Touraine came in 582. But, most notably, the wine earned recognition early on in 1154 when King Henry II, Duke of Anjou and King of England served Loire wines to his Royal English court.
Shortly after the Revolution, the vine disease phylloxera hit the region, wiping out most of the historic vines. The required replanting allowed for changes in vineyards, choosing varieties that were better suited for the soils and terroir of the region, while also utilizing cleaner, greener farming methods.
Local bistro menus are filled with seafood, pork and beef, salads, fruit like sweet cherries, locally grown grains and mounds of tangy cheese. If you prefer to sip your wine on its own, no problem. The present acidity in the wines keeps them light and fresh, and the ripeness of the fruit keeps them well balanced, making these perfect wines to enjoy on their own.
Top 10 Wines from Loire Valley
1. 2007 Haut Poitou Loire Valley Red
A light-bodied blend of gamay, pinot noir and cabernet franc, it’s soft, smooth, and
juicy. Perfect with kitchen picnics of cold ham and salad or cheese and chutney sandwiches.
2. 2007 Domaine Bailly Quincy
Dry yet fruity with a warm finish. Try with goat’s cheese and red onion tartlets.
3. 2006 Domaine André Dezat Sancerre Rouge
Ripe and juicy with fine, silky tannins, it can be served chilled, a great match for langoustine with garlic mayonnaise and green salad.
4. 2007 Coteaux du Layon Carte d’Or, Baumard
With honeyed sweetness and hints of fig, this excellent example has fine fresh acidity and is perfect with soft blue cheeses.
5 2007 Fief Guerin Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu sur Lie
Surprisingly full-flavoured and with a satisfyingly long finish, it demands to be drunk well-chilled with fresh salads or fruits.
6. Langlois Crémant de Loire
Simple wine, but it’s delightfully fresh, flowery, creamy and refreshing.
7. 2007 Reserve des Vignerons Saumur Rouge
Fresh berry fruit and a smoky edge. Serve at room temperature with roast chicken or lightly chilled with pâté and French bread.
8. 2007 Domaine des Liards, Montlouis-sur-Loire
Clean, fresh, apple-crisp, yet lush, un-oaked chenin blanc. Enjoy with a plate of oysters, crab legs or grilled trout.
9. 2007 Waitrose Sancerre ‘La Franchotte’ Joseph Mellot
Citrusy with hints of nettles on the finish. Enjoyed it with cod, halibut and mushroom sauce.
10. 2006 Damien Delechenau, Touraine-Amboise, Bécarre
A pure, fresh wine with raspberry flavors. Try it alongside ham, turkey, vegetables and soups.
Loire Valley grape varieties
This is the long established signature grape for the red wines of Saumur and Touraine in the Loire Valley.The wines it produces are lighter than that of Bordeaux wines. This is due in part to the Loire Valley’s cooler climate. These wines have gained a reputation for refreshing, youthful wines that should be drunk early.
The Gamay grape is the mainstay of rosé wines of the Loire Valley produced in Anjou and Saumur. It is sometimes used in the blending of red wines. There are some wines in the region made entirely from this grape such as ‘Tourraine Gamay’.
Although a popular choice throughout the world of vintners this grape variety is not widely used in the Loire Valley. It is added to a number of reds to give them some ‘body’, plus it is used to produce some rosés.
This grape which gives us the reds of Burgundy also does well here in the Loire Valley in the light reds of Cheverny and Sancerre.
Wines with this grape are the most synonymous with the Loire Valley. With properties found in anything from the very dry to the sweetest of wines plus it is great for making sparkling wines.
Found in Vouvray, Anjou, Chinon, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Saumur and Savennieres.
These grapes are responsible for the popular and world famous Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume wines.
Grown around the extreme western part of the Loire Valley, as it proved to be the best variety to cope with winter frosts the area is susceptible to.
Used mainly as a blending grape adding richness to sparkling wines and they are sometimes used in Saumur and Anjou whites in a small percentage of the finished blend.