The red and white wines of the Loire Valley may not be as famous as some of the other wine regions of France but that is not to say there is not some great wine in the region. The region may be better known for its grand châteaux, but really, who doesn’t want to sip wine while dreaming of royalty!?
With some excellent sparkling and white wines in the area, the Loire Valley wines grew in reputation because of their close proximity to French royalty and nobility.
The area is the second-largest concentration of sparkling-wine producing vines in France after the Champagne region. However, only sparkling wines from Champagne are allowed to be called champagne, and so the Loire Valley sparkling wines are called crémants.
There are other famous French white wines from this area as well, like the Muscadet and the Pouilly Fumé.
Having French royalty like François I and Catherine de Medici nearby (as well as British royals like Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots who spent time here), meant that their courtiers and followers all got used to drinking wines from the Loire Valley, and effectively marketed the wines to other nobles and royals around France and Europe.
Indeed, it was King François I in 1539 who encouraged the sales of Loire Valley wines to the UK. Later in 1577, a judgment of the Parliament of Paris forced wine merchants to stock up wines from nearby, making the Loire Valley which is just 80km (50miles) from Paris, ideal as a place for developing vineyards.
As such, the wines grown in areas around the cities of Blois and Orleans became very popular with the rich clientele in Paris.
Wine-making in the Loire dates back to the 1st century. At one time, Loire valley wines were considered the best in the world, coveted by aristocrats all over Europe in the middle ages. The château-building boom was in full form, and with it the prestige of the Loire valley wines.
Most of the wines in this area are white wines with the main ingredients being the Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc grapes, but there are some red wines here who include a lot of the Cabernet franc grape.
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Classifications: How to pick a bottle
As with the other French wine regions, a good bottle of wine from the Loire Valley will have the following appellations (in decreasing order of importance):
- AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée
- AOP – Appellation d’Origine Protégée
- VDQS – Vin Délimité de Qualité Superieure
- Vin de Pays – Wine of France
There are is only 1 Grand Cru and 1 Premier Cru wine in the area. Both are sweet Anjou wines as discussed below. You can read more about French wine labeling here.
What grapes are used?
The white wines and crémants in the Loire valley are produced with the chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc and melon de bourgogne grapes. The red wines in the area, on the other hand, use a majority cabernet franc grapes.
What do the wines taste like?
The Loire valley white wines are usually quite fresh and light, with fruit tones that make them easy to drink.
The Loire Valley reds are made from cabernet franc which is a medium-skinned grape and, as a result, presents medium tannins in wines. In general, red wines from this area will be lower in tannins than a Bordeaux, for example, which is high in tannins.
The red wines are medium-bodied and have a fruity aroma with sweet spices. The wines are usually young, rather than vintages held on for several years.
What dishes pair well with wines from the Loire?
The Loire valley wines can easily be served with almost any dish, from pastas to salads and risottos.
A particular French recommendation is to pair them with rillettes from the city of Tours, one of the local specialties in the area. It is a type of French charcuterie meat shredded then slow-cooked and preserved in fat.
In addition, Loire valley wines easily go with many cheeses, but a particular favorite are the goat cheeses like the valencay. You can read more about French cheese and wine pairings here.
Individual wine appellations and food pairings are discussed further below.
Appellations & Famous Loire Valley Wines
The Loire Valley is most well-known for its crémants, which is a light white sparking wine, that is made in a process very similar to champagne. Other popular wines include the sancerre and pouilly fumé wines. You can read more about these wines below.
1. Crémant de Loire
Type: Sparkling wine
As I mentioned before, the Crémant de Loire is very popular around the world, with the Loire region being the second-largest sparkling wine producer in France after the Champagne region.
The production process for crémants is nearly identical to champagnes, with variations between each château’s production master. Although crémants don’t have the same prestige as champagne, they also don’t have the same price tag.
In terms of taste, the crémants vary from dry to sweet, in the same manner that champagnes do with:
- brut – dry
- demi-sec – medium in terms of sweetness
- rosé – pink
In France, sparkling wines and champagnes are not just reserved for New Year, but are actually imbibed as apéritifs before dinner, or as part of an apéro get-together. So if your budget doesn’t allow for champagne tastes, try a crémant.
Buy a Crémant de Loire here.
2. Pouilly Fumé
Pouilly Fumé, which is often confused with Burgundy’s Pouilly Fuissé, is made from sauvignon blanc grape compared to Fuissé which is made from the chardonnay grape. It has a very fresh dry taste, compared to the Fuissé’s floral nutty taste.
It tends to marry well with seafood like salmon, tuna or shrimp.
Buy a Pouilly Fumé from the Loire Valley here.
Type: White, some red and rosés
Most of the wines in this area are white wines made primarily from the sauvignon blanc grape, but there are some light reds made from the pinot noir grape.
Sancerre white wines tend to be dry and acidic, with flavors of peach and citrus, going well with salads, goat cheeses, and seafood like oysters.
The rosés tend to have raspberry and strawberry flavors while the sancerre reds tend to be high in tannins with floral tones.
Buy a Sancerre here.
Type: Mostly reds
The Chinon AOC along the banks of the River Vienne mostly produces red wines with the cabernet franc as its primary grape. The wines have a fruity aroma with sweet spices. They tend to go well with red meats, poultry, and light cheeses.
A famous white wine from this area of the Loire Valley is the Chenin Blanc which is also produced in Chinon.
Buy a Chinon here.
Type: White wine
The Muscadet is a white dry wine made from a unique grape variety called the melon from Burgundy. These grapes at times have a pink hue and so there are times that a Muscadet rosé is produced instead of white wine.
The 3 main regions of Muscadet are:
- Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine
- Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire
- Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu
Muscadet is a dry wine with floral and fruity tones. This wine is said to go particularly well with seafood.
Buy a Muscadet from the Loire Valley here.
Type: Sweet wine
There is only one Grand Cru in the region called Quarts-de-Chaume and one Premier Cru called Coteau-du-Layon-chaume. Both are sweet wines with sugar added before fermentation. The wines are usually paired with desserts, but can also be paired with appetizers like foie gras, or blue cheeses.
Buy an Anjou from the Loire Valley here.
Should you chill your bottle?
Yes, the white wines, cremants, and rosés from this region are usually served chilled. The red wines as well can be cooled lightly in an ice bucket (avoid the fridge), to be served at slightly below room temperature.
Prices: Are the wines expensive?
Loire valley wines are very reasonably priced, compared to other French wines.
Unlike Bordeaux and Burgundy wines grand crus which reach stratospheric prices due to vintages being kept for years, if not decades, the Loire valley has only only a couple of grand and premier cru wines, and will max out at a few hundred dollars in price.
Loire Valley wine route
The Loire valley is only 2-3 hours from Paris, and is dotted with wonderful châteaux and vineyards that are well worth the visit.
Located in the center of France, the Loire wine region consists of the area along the Loire River from the city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast to Amboise, Tours, Blois, and Orléans in the middle of the country.
The area is broken down into:
- Lower Loire: On the coast of France, near the city of Nantes. (Called: Pays Nantais meaning “Nantes Country”).
- Middle Loire: The vineyards in Anjou and Saumur near the city of Angers and Tours.
- Centre Loire: The vineyards of Sancerre near the city of Orléans (next to Burgundy)
- Upper Loire: Around Auvergne in central France
If you are taking a day trip from Paris, the easiest vineyards to visit are around Tours and Orleans which are around 2.5 hours drive from Paris. You can read more about driving in France, or alternatively take a tour.
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So are more of Pouilly Fumé or a Sancerre? Or will you be going for a Crémant? If you enjoyed that article, you may want to read more about wine and cheese pairings here. As always, remember to drink responsibly! A bientôt!