If you asked ten people to name a wine from the Loire Valley in France, it’s quite likely that you’d get ten white wine responses, and perhaps seven or eight of those would be ‘Sauvignon Blanc’. It’s true that Loire’s wine production is predominantly made up of four varieties – Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Cabernet Franc. And most are produced as single varietal wines. But there’s a wealth of variety of wine styles within France’s third biggest producing region, and some world class quality in each category of red, white, rosé, sparkling and sweet. This blog is here to uncover the where, why and how on these lesser known styles.
Climatically, the Loire is about as diverse as a single wine region can be. The eponymous river is the longest in the country and its banks play host to a number of different landscapes, soil types and microclimates, providing a perfectly suited environment somewhere within its boundaries for red, white, rosé and sparkling wine, dry to sweet. And Loire’s producers exploit this wealth, evident in the vast array of wine style across the region’s wine portfolio.
This wide range of styles lends itself to one of the most engaging aspects of wine buying – discovery. You could spend a lifetime ambling through the different wines of Loire, regularly surprising yourself at wines that you never knew existed, and styles that you never thought you’d enjoy. There is one character though that joins the dots of this complex wine landscape, and that is a mineral elegance, the modern approach to wine and a departure in style from the big, heavy-hitting and high-point-scoring wines that are starting to become ‘old news’.
Let’s zoom in and start that journey of discovery…
Muscadet is one of the better-known white wines of the region, and the employer of the most widely planted white grape variety – Melon de Bourgogne. Its most important appellation is Muscadet-Sevre-et-Maine, which is the area most under vine in Loire. Its white wines get lots of character from its proximity to the Atlantic ocean, often displaying a salinity in the wine that matches up perfectly with, surprise surprise, seafood. And you’ll often see the words ‘sur lie’ on the label, which means that the wine has spent time on the lees (yeast cells) to add to the complexity of flavour.
Anjou and Saumurois
A bit further inland, around the town of Angers, is Anjou, a region that really displays the variety that Loire can offer. Its microclimates range from Mediterranean through to continental in sites furthest from the river. Soils vary hugely too, from limestone, to slate, to loam. Needless to say, this geological and climatic range allows for the production of various grape varieties and wine styles. Very slightly off-dry Rosé d’Anjou, mostly made from Grolleau, isn’t too uncommon here, but red AOC Anjou is a light and crisp red wine that continues to fly under the radar, but is well worth looking for.
Savennieres quite simply has the potential to produce truly world class Chenin Blanc. And it does, continuously. Lemon barley, honey, mineral notes and excellent acidity that balances with the intense fruit character. Some of its vineyards are set dramatically on the steep banks of the Loire, where the steepness exposes the vines to all of the weather, but protects them from the thunder storms. Ideal.
And then there’s Saumur. It produces slightly more red than white, mainly Cabernet Franc on the red, and Chenin Blanc on the white. Lots of the white grape production will go into Crémant de Loire or sparkling Saumur, incredibly good value sparkling wines. But the red from this sub region is well worth the mention as it is so often overlooked. Saumur-Champigny, in particular, shows how fine Cabernet Franc can and should be with its solid black fruit and herbal profile, but with a mineral streak that gives it a certain elegance.
Within this sub region is Chinon, a great place to start if you’re looking for an example of how well Loire can produce red wine. Its production is around 85% red wine, and almost all of that is Cabernet Franc. Its environment is ideally suited for this underrated variety. Chinon also has the ability to produce this variety in a light and elegant style from the sandy plains, and a robust and powerful form from the chalky slopes. Both great in their own right.
Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil is very much set up in the same way as Chinon, also favouring Cab Franc almost exclusively, and making a range of styles within. It has maybe a little more exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the river, which cools the area in the summer, but keeps it slightly warmer in the winter.
Touraine itself is another sub region with a huge variety of soil types, allowing for a number of different grape varieties to flourish. Gamay and Cabernet Franc flourish, and even Malbec too, known here as ‘Cot’. Sauvignon Blanc dominates white wine production, making mouth-watering, citrus-led wines.
A few kilometres east on the right bank of the river is Vouvray. Its Chenin Blanc vineyards all lie on south-facing slopes getting extra exposure to the sun. Soils vary here from loam-over-silicate bedrock, to chalk-over-limestone, but all sites are able to give their world-famous white wines mineral notes and expressiveness. Four expressions to be exact: dry, off-dry, sweet and sparkling.
You can also find wines in the Loire with incredible ageing potential. The northernmost sub region, Coteaux du Loir, boasts intense and bone dry Chenin Blanc grown on its limestone-rich, south-facing slopes that will age and develop in bottle for decades on a good vintage.
At Virgin Wines we’ve built a small range with the objective of showing off the diversity that you can find in Loire, and not at the cost of quality. We’re really proud of it and want to encourage our customers to start one of the world’s most exciting wine journeys, so you can find that range right here with a little sweetener of a discount. Enjoy!