Running east-west through the very centre of France, lie the extensive vineyards of the Loire Valley meandering along the country’s longest river. A region of fairy-tale castles and chateaux, lush green, undulating countryside, and a rich history evidence by cultural monuments and attractive market towns. The ideals of the Renaissance and of the Age of Enlightenment were born here. It’s the most diverse wine region in France and offers opportunities for endless exploration.
The vineyards extend for hundreds of kilometres and are spread over several sub-regions. In the very centre of France, the easternmost Loire vineyards are known as ‘Loire Centre’ and feature Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Menetou Salon. Moving west, is Tourraine with names like Vouvray, Montlouis and Valencay, and also home of top red appellations Chinon, Bourgeuil. Next comes the major region of Anjou-Saumur, home to excellent Cremants, luscious sweet wines like Coteaux du Layon and Bonnezeaux. And finally the westernmost province Pays Atlantique, bordering the ocean, where Muscadet rules the roost.
In line with its diversity of regions, a wide variety of grapes are grown. The 2 dominant whites are Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. Chenin is extremely versatile and can produce top quality dry, medium-dry AND sweet wines. Others are Melon de Bourgogne, Muscadet’s own, Chasselas and the rare Romarantin. Dominant reds are Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, followed by Gamay (known locally as Cot). There are some lovely rose made from these three black grapes. And Cremants (traditional method sparkling) abound.
The Loire Valley vineyard area is a mosaic of different climates, soils and geographical features – all of which contribute to the diversity of the Valley’s wines. The closer to the Atlantic ocean the more Maritime the climate is, and the further inland the more Continental. The Loire river and its many tributaries have a significant moderating effect on the vineyards, and create a large range of microclimates. There is considerable geological diversity with a wide range of different soil types – metamorphic rock, slate, sandstone, tuffeau, limestone, sand and siliceous clay all feature!