Loire wines: A primer

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire (Wikipedia Commons)

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire (Wikipedia Commons)

Even if you don’t know much about French wine, you’ve probably heard of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne.

The Loire? Not so much.

But that’s a shame, because the wines of the Loire Valley, a beautiful river lined in parts with elegant, historic chateaux, are memorable in their own right. If you’re in the group we talked about last week, preferring wines of subtlety, complexity and balance in favor of big and powerful blockbusters, the Loire is definitely the place for you.

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We’re celebrating the Loire this month, all the wines of the Loire. White, pink or red, dry, moelleux or sweet, Chenin Blanc or Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir or Pineau d’Aunis or the Melon of Muscadet.

Where are those places? What are those grapes? How do you pronounce “Loire”? (“L’wahr.” not “Loyer.”)

For a quick overview, I’m grateful to WineLovers Forum participant Tim York, a British wine lover who lives in France, who provided the following quick primer. No need for me to reinvent the wheel here; the rest is from Tim. Thanks, Tim!

Because of the size of the Loire valley and its tributaries, I think it might be useful to revive a brief note which I posted a few years ago.

Most people here probably know that, as a wine region, the Loire valley is far from homogeneous. It can be more accurately described as four distinct regions.

Moving from east to west there is the “Centre,” where for whites Sauvignon blanc is king and for reds Pinot Noir.

Then there is “Touraine,” where Chenin blanc predominates for whites and Cabernet franc for reds with some different grape varieties, e.g. Romorantin, Côt (Malbec), Gamay, SB…., and combinations thereof appearing mostly in some of its eastern appellations like Cour-Cheverny, Touraine-Amboise….

Anjou-Saumur,” uses mainly Cabernet franc, Chenin and Gamay like Touraine but the whites in particular have their own style.

Finally the “Pays Nantais,” close to the Loire’s estuary, is most famous for Muscadet produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape.

The distance from Nantes to Cosne-sur-Loire (near Sancerre) is about 440 km by road and further by the river because of its long loop north though Orléans with the climate become progressively more continental as one moves further from the Atlantic near Nantes. Here is a crude map of the Loire valley’s principal appellations.

The two most similar of these regions are “Touraine” and “Anjou-Saumur” and to many Loire lovers they represent the heartland for Loire wines. In Touraine, famous appellations are Vouvray, Montlouis and Jasnières (white) and Chinon, Bourgueil and St.Nicolas Bourgueil (red) and, in Anjou-Saumur, Savennières, Coteaux du Layon and their micro-appellations like Coulée de Serrant (white) together with Saumur-Champigny (red). I hazard a guess that at least as much red is produced as white in Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, although it can be argued that more of the whites from Chenin are truly world class than the reds from Cabernet franc. Even in the “Pays Nantais”, reds are produced, e.g. Coteaux d’Ancenis from Gamay, while in the “Centre”, main SB appellations being Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Pouilly-sur-Loire, Menetou-Salon….., some producers are getting increasingly ambitious with Pinot Noir reds and some Pinot Noir based rosé is truly celestial.

Even further upstream than the “Centre” towards the river’s source in the Auvergne, good wine is grown at Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule from mainly Chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir, and in the Côte Roannaise and Côtes -du-Forez mainly from Gamay. For some reason people don’t seem to think of these as Loire wines.

Thanks again to Tim York for the brief Loire primer above. Now, having read all this, are you suddenly feeling a craving for Loire wines? Pull a cork and fill a glass and come on in to our WineLovers Discussion Group’s Wine Focus, where we’re covering all the wines of the Loire this month.

To join in, simply click over to the WineLovers Discussion Group – you can quickly and easily log in via Facebook if you use it – and use this link to read and participate in the conversation “Wine Focus for June: The Loire!”


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Today’s Tasting Report

Domaine des Corbillières 2014 Touraine Rosé ($15.99)

Domaine des Corbillières 2014 Touraine RoséHere’s a tart and food-friendly Loire rosé made from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Pineau d’Aunis. It’s a clear, pale salmon color, light pink with an orange hue. Gentle red berries and fresh green herbs, faintly reminiscent of basil leaves, make for an inviting aroma. Crisp and dry, a touch of strawberry meets a squirt of lemon on the palate, tart and refreshing, 13% alcohol. Very good with food. U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, NYC. (June 3, 2015)

FOOD MATCH: For food pairing, think of it as a crisp, tart white wine and take it just about anywhere an acidic white would go: seafood and fish, lighter chicken dishes, summer salads. It was fine with a dinner salad with a vinaigrette (generous with the oil, light with the lemon) and thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

WHEN TO DRINK: In general, rosé wines are most delicious when fresh, best drunk up the year after the vintage. There’s no need to dump older pinks; though. A year or two stored in a cool place might not help it, but it won’t hurt it, either.

VALUE: I’d like its value a bit more in the lower teens (Wine-Searcher.com lista a $14 average U.S. retail price), but I’m not actively wailing about this price point.

WEB LINKS The winery website is available in French and English. Here’s a fact sheet on the Touraine Rosé.

The importer’s site also offers lots of great info on the fact sheet at this link.

Compare prices and find vendors for Domaine des Corbillières 2014 Touraine Rosé on Wine-Searcher.com.


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