The Loire Valley

Jun 2, 2023by Andrew Lowry

by Madison Lowry

The Loire Valley is idyllic French countryside — commonly called the "Garden of France." It's dotted with grand castles built during the French Renaissance and filled with storybook villages replete with quaint boulangeries that send smells of croissants and baguettes for miles and miles; this is a region of France you have to experience for yourself. Located 150 miles southwest of Paris, you can get to Tours, the center of the Loire Valley, in just under 2 hours by bullet train, or around 3 hours by car.

Oh, and did we forget to mention that Loire Valley wines are absolutely amazing and absolutely affordable?! The Loire produces top-quality, budget-friendly wines made mostly from Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne. Sommeliers far and wide are flooding the region to find the next diamond in the rough to bring back to the States. Wine drinkers young and old love Loire Valley wines, and demand is skyrocketing so prices may not stay low for long. So hurry!

Top Appellations of the Loire (from East to West)

  1. Sancerre
    • Dry whites from Sauvignon Blanc, the said origin of the grape, and the finest expression in the world
  2. Pouilly-Fume
    • Dry whites from Sauvignon Blanc in a slightly fuller style than Sancerre
  3. Ménétou-Salon
    • Dry whites from Sauvignon Blanc, similar to Sancerre, but at a lower price
    • Rosé and reds made from Pinot Noir(!)
  4. Vouvray
    • From bone dry to lusciously sweet still and sparkling whites from Chenin Blanc
  5. Montlouis
    • From bone dry to lusciously sweet still and sparkling whites from Chenin Blanc at a lower price point than Vouvray, possibly lighter in body too
  6. Chinon
    • Dry reds from Cabernet Franc, and rosé too
  7. Bourgueil
    • Dry reds from Cabernet Franc typically in a slightly heavier, more tannic presentation than Chinon
    • and rosé 
  8. Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil
    • Dry reds from Cabernet Franc and some rosé similar to Bourgueil (obviously?)
  9. Saumur
    • Dry and sweet still whites from Chenin Blanc 
    • Dry and sweet sparkling wine sold as 'Saumur Mousseux' and 'Cremant de la Loire' made in the méthode champenoise, or, Champagne method.
    • Dry reds from Cabernet Franc sold as 'Saumur Rouge'
    • Semisweet rosé called 'Cabernet de Saumur'
  10. Saumur-Champigny
    • Only dry reds from predominantly Cabernet Franc with some Cabernet Sauvignon allowed
  11. Anjou
    • Rosé, red, and sparkling from Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, respectively
    • Whites from Chenin Blanc and some Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc sold as 'Anjou Blanc'
    • Gamay and Cabernet Franc make 'Rosé d' Anjou' and 'Cabernet d' Anjou', respectively
  12. Bonnezeaux
    • Famous for sweet white wine made from Chenin Blanc
  13. Quarts de Chaume
    • Famous for sweet white wine made from Chenin Blanc
  14. Savennières
    • Dry whites from Chenin Blanc, idiosyncratic and complex — the finest of France
  15. Muscadet
    • Dry whites made from Melon de Bourgogne, light and simple
  16. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine
    • Dry whites made from Melon de Bourgogne in a fuller body style

There are a whopping 69 total appellations in the Loire; these are just the top 16 in our opinion.

Still and Sparkling Sugar Levels

The Loire Valley makes STILL wines from bone dry to very very sweet so they use this scale to denote the sweetness of the wine: sec (dry, less than 4 g/L of residual sugar); sec-tendre (off-dry, ~8 g/L of residual sugar); demi-sec (semisweet, 4-12 g/L of residual sugar); moëlleux (sweet, 12 to 45 g/L of residual sugar); doux (very sweet, 45+ g/L of residual sugar.)

For SPARKLING wines, they use these terms: Brut Nature (Brut Zero) (0-3 g/L of residual sugar); Extra Brut (0-6 g/L of residual sugar); Brut (0-12 g/L of residual sugar); Extra Dry (Extra Sec) (12-17 g/L of residual sugar); Dry (Sec, Seco) (17-32 g/L of residual sugar); Demi (Semi) (32-50 g/L of residual sugar); Doux (Sweet, Dulce) (50+ g/L of residual sugar).

Some Loire History

Ever heard of Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years' War between England and France? Yeah, that happened in the Loire Valley. If you need a refresher (we did), a 13-year-old girl (Joan) shaved her head and dressed in men's clothing so she could fight against the English in the battle of Orléans. Badass. Then at 19, she was burned at the stake by King Charles VII, the same king she helped crown. What a POS that dude was. She was accused of witchcraft all because she was more famous and more liked than him. Joan of Arc was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1920.

What does Cabernet Franc from the Loire taste like?

Cabernet Franc is one of our favorite, if not our favorite, red wine out there. And they are getting better and better as the Loire Valley is warming up.

When tasting a wine made from predominantly Cabernet Franc, you will most likely get a green bell pepper-like vegetal note (this is the varietal fingerprint of the grape). What we love most about Cabernet Franc is the juicy red fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry and the dark fruit flavors of blackberry. Most of the top-quality wines of Cabernet Franc will boast notes of licorice and violets and almost always have a chalky, wet stone aspect to them similar to the Chenin Blancs and Sauvignon Blancs.

All these flavors will be enveloped inside a light to medium and even full-bodied wine with high, bracing acidity that is getting less towards ripe fruit with climate change. The light and medium-bodied wines tend to be the fruit bombs and our favorite to drink lightly chilled on a spring/summer day.

What does Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire taste like?

The Loire Valley is home to Sauvignon Blanc — this is where the grape originated, just like Chenin Blanc.

More tangy and minerally than Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand, which all have a definitive herby element to them like fresh-cut grass. The best grapes come from silex, flint, and limestone-rich soils which, somehow or another, create racy, tangy, mineral-driven wines with a medium to light, refreshing body.

Typical flavors include apricot and pears, lime and grapefruit, a little grass, but not much, and notes of a gunflint on the nose. Then there is this word, 'minerality' that everyone loves to use to describe a definitive earthy thing that one definitely gets in wines like Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre and Chardonnay from Chablis. Minerality smells/tastes like pavement after a fresh downpour and it's actually quite nice. Weird, we know.

What does Chenin Blanc from the Loire taste like?

The Loire Valley is home to Chenin Blanc — this is where the grape originated, just like Sauvignon Blanc. 

Chenin Blanc will be medium to heavy in body with high acidity and can be made in a tight or round style (a tight wine would be clean and crisp and just quick to fall off the tongue and down your throat whereas a round, full wine just fills up your palate with ripe fruit notes and little tannin or astringency).

Typical tasting notes include peach, quince, yellow apple, lychee, lanolin oil (like a wool-smelling substance), melon, white flowers, and hints of licorice. 

These wines will also have great minerality, derivative of limestone soils.

The End

We kept it shorter this week; just giving you the down-and-dirty. Please let us know if you have any questions by commenting below or DMing us on social media @lowrywineco

Cheers!

Madi and Andy

PS See below for the best producers in the area, according to Rajat Parr, one of the best, if not, the best sommelier in the world.

Recommended Producers (From Sommelier's Atlas of Taste)

Domaine Vacheron - Sancerre
Domaine Vincent Pinard - Sancerre
Francois Cotat - Chavignol
Pascal Cotat -  Chavignol
Gerard Boulay - Chavignol
Didier Dagueneau - Pouilly-Fume
Francois Chidaine - Montlouis and Vouvray 
Jacky Blot - Montlouis and Vouvray
La Grange Tiphaine - Montlouis
Domaine Huet - Vouvray
Domaine Du Clos Naudin (Philippe Foreau) - Vouvray
Domain de La Chevalerie - Bourgueil
Catherine and Pierre Breton - Bourgueil
Domaine du Bel Air - Bourgueil
Bernard Baudry - Chinon
Domaine Les Roches (Jerome Lenoir) - Chinon 
Charles Joguet - Chinon
Domaine Alliet - Chinon 
Antoine Sanzay -  Saumur
Clos Rougeard - Saumur-Champigny
Arnaud Lambert - Saumur
Domaine Guiberteau - Saumur
Domaine du Collier (Antoine Foucault) - Saumur and Saumur Champigny
Chateau Yvonne - Saumur
Thierry Germain (Domaine des Roches Neuves) - Saumur
Thibaud Boudignon - Anjou
Richard Leroy - Anjou/Savennieres
Stephane Bernaudeau - Anjou/Savennieres
Mark Angeli - Anjou
Benoit Corault - Anjou/Savenierres
Domaine Aux Moines - Savennieres

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