Loire Valley Wines
This article about Loire Valley wines comes from the Larousse Encyclopedia of Wine.
It is a good primer for those who are on our Loire Valley tours in late August and early
September. We will be staying in the Touraine area, and the appellations there
include Chinon, Touraine, Vouvray, Touraine-Amboise, Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau,
Cheverny, and Cour-Cheverny, among others.
The valley of the Loire is the most widespread of France’s vineyard areas, producing
dozens of wines with as many different characters. While it is possible to talk of the
Loire as making light wines that demonstrate elegance and freshness but rarely
power, any single descriptive phrase is sorely inadequate. There are dry, medium-dry
and sweet white wines, dry and sweet roses, reds that can be light and fresh or deep
and intense, and a variety of sparkling wines. One of the main factors in the taste of
the Loire’s wines is the very variable northern climate. A cool year can produce
acidic, short-lived wines; a warm summer and autumn can make rich, long-lasting
ones. The other great variable is the grape variety. Many are grown, both traditional
ones and more recently imported varieties from other regions of France.
History of Loire Wines
It is believed that even in Gaulish, and certainly in Roman, times there were vines in
the Loire region. It is more definitely known that St. Martin, who founded his abbey at
Tours in AD372, caused the great propagation of the vine to take place- especially in
the regions we now know as Anjou and Touraine.
The high point of Loire wines in history was the Renaissance, when the princely
chateaux were built, each with its vineyard, and French gastronomy began to blossom
amid the wealth and abundance of the Loire Valley. Vine growing existed along with
market gardening and all kinds of fruits were cultivated. Paris was (and is) a major
market for the Loire wines, but export trade also took place through the cities of
Nantes and Angers, who were major importers of spices.
Grape varieties and wine styles
Loire wines draw upon a range of local grape varieties and upon those of Bordeaux
and Burgundy. Gamay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are found in the scattered
vineyards at the top end of the river, pointing to the proximity of Beaujolais and
Burgundy. Further north, Sauvignon Blanc becomes dominant. This variety is
indigenous to the Loire, as it is to Bordeaux. Burgundy contributes Pinot Noir to the
Upper Loire vineyards, a reminder that Sancerre and Pouilly were once in the Duchy.
Touraine and Anjou have the dominant Loire white variety, Chenin Blanc- a native
vine that is the starting point for a range of wine styles. Red grapes in the Central
Loire include Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, from Bordeaux.
Using these grapes, winemakers produce a spectrum of styles. The same producer
may make red and white, still and sparkling wine. White wine production still
enormously overshadows red. On average, red and rose wines together might total
10 million cases a year; whites around 15 million.