Visiting The Loire's Wineries

The following wine regions and appellations are listed as the traveler would come across them starting at the Atlantic Ocean and going up the Loire River.  For a list of wineries in each region, simply click on the name of that region.

Based around the town of Nantes, the region consists of four districts: Muscadet, Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet de Sévre-et-Maine (the largest, containing 85% of the vineyards) and Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu, the newest appellation.  After a devastating frost in 1709, in which the region's vineyards were decimated, the region's wine-makers made it a predominantly white wine region, anchored by the frost-resistant Melon Musqué de Bourgogne, later renamed Muscadet.  Wines are typically bottled in a process called sur lie, or straight from the tank where fermentation has occurred.  This process creates a flavor that is more lively and fresher.  This process also tends to retain oxygen, creating a slightly effervescent sensation.  Under ideal conditions, Muscadet wines have a light, tangy flavor that is ideally mated with foods coming out of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Centered on the town of Angers, Anjou is infamous for its wide variety of styles, producing dry, medium-dry, and sweet white wines; sparkling wines, rosés, and red wines, all of which may be available at any given producers winery. Only about 20% of the area's production is made into white wine, with the majority being rosés.  The traditional Rosé d'Anjou is declining in productivity, but the more refined and longer-lasting Cabernet d'Anjou is easily accessible. Reds from this area are made from Cabernet Franc and Gamay, creating wines that are lighter and crisper in flavor.  For the wine traveler, it is recommended that you take at least two days to cover this appellation, due to its size.

Located just west of Angers on the north bank of the Loire, Savennieres is one of the most esteemed appellations in the Loire Valley, with their wines being served to the likes of Louis XIV (the Sun King) and Napoleon.  One of the smallest appellations, it only has 75 hectares under vine, most of which produce Chenin Blanc that are made into a very dry style.  The quality of Savennieres, though, is extremely high resulting in prices set at a premium.  The wines tend to be extremely fragrant, with soft fruit and a hint of spice.  Savennieres with aging potential reveal more honey as time goes by and even become sweeter.

There are actually three different appellations surrounding the town of Saumur: Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, and Saumur Mousseux.  One of the most important wines from this region is a sparking wine made in Saumur Mousseux from Chenin Blanc (although increasing amounts of Chardonnay are being used).  A good destination for red wine lovers, Saumur Rouge tends to have more success than the Blanc does, as the soil is similar to those in Chinon and Bourgueil and it produces a refreshing, light fruity wine.  These wines are usually made from Cabernet France, with the best coming from Saumur-Champigny.  Although Saumur does make some rosé, they tend to be drier with less panache than you generally find in surrounding areas.  One interesting aspect of Saumur is that quarrying over the past centuries has left Saumur with extensive caves that work for cellaring their wines and can frequently be visited.

Chinon is probably the best-known red wine region in the Loire Valley, often producing Cabernet Franc that can go head-to-head with Bordeaux' St-Emilion. The Chinon region is bordered on the north by the Loire River and stretches south, where it straddles the Vienne River.  With approximately 1800 hectares (4500 acres) under vine, Chinon produces two distinct styles of red wine.  Those coming from Cravant-les-Coteaux (just east of Chinon) tend to be fuller and longer lasting due to the limestone slopes they grow on.  Most vineyards are on the sand and gravel typically found closer to or on the flood plains of the Loire and Vienne, where they tend to produce red wines that are lighter.  Regardless of the body, Chinon wines have the potential of producing wines with incredible noses that front a wonderful balance of fruit and acidity.  The best Chinons can be aged, but this generally isn't necessary, adding nothing to the wines that weren't already there.  In addition to the reds, Chinon does produce some rosé and Chenin Blanc, but both take a distant back seat to the reds.

The appellations of Bourgueil and St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil (1200 hectares of vineyards) are centered on the town of Bourgueil on the north bank of the Loire.  Like Chinon, this region makes its reputation on the Cabernet Franc.  Wines from Bourgueil are medium-bodied wines and have a more intense nose and more tannin than found in Chinon.  As a result, these wines have more aging potential (usually up to five years).  The wines of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, meanwhile, are generally lighter and should be drunk while still young.  These regions produce a small volume of rosé and no white wine.  Relatively unknown outside of France, these wines are very popular in Parisian bistros.

Located east of Tours on the northern banks of the Loire River, Vouvray is the destination to seek if you enjoy sweeter wines.   100% of its wines are made from the Chenin Blanc into still (typically made sweet) and sparkling wines (typically made dry). In order to keep the balance between sweetness and acidity, Vouvrays are bottled early to capture as much of the naturally acidity as possible. In bad vintages, producers limit themselves to dry wines (an excellent match for rich cuisine served with heavy sauces) and sparkling wines.  In good vintages, the wines tend to be much like a very sweet golden nectar.  Top Vouvrays can age for upwards of a century under ideal conditions while basic Vouvrays are a more simple sweet wine with decent acidity and should be drunk while still young as there is little to no aging potential or staying power.  The grape harvest in Vouvray stretches well into November to maximize their sweet wines.

Split off from the Vouvray appellation in 1937, Montlouis still bears a remarkable similarity to its more famous neighbor across the Loire.  Like Vouvray, Montlouis makes their wines with Chenin Blanc.  These wines usually have less body, but they develop more quickly.  In Montlouis, you can find still wines made into bone dry, Demi-Sec, and medium-sweet (moelleux) and sparkling wines that are the traditional Brut style as well as Pétillant (a lightly sparkling style).

Definitely the most famous wine from the Upper Loire, Sancerre is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc, creating a racy, deliciously pungent wine with an herbaceous bouquet with gooseberry or blackcurrant flavors backed with a refreshing acidity.  That being said, with fourteen official communes and at least that many terroirs, there can be a distinct variety of flavors in Sancerre wines.  These whites tend to be lighter than those across the river in Pouilly-Fumé do and should be drunk early.  Sancerre does make legitimate reds and rosés from Pinot Noir, but these wines are more reliant on the conditions of the vintage than the whites (they are definitely worth trying, though). To a degree, Sancerre has been a victim of its own success as some winemakers are capitalizing on the name's demand and not necessarily making a wine to match.

Located across the Loire from Sancerre, this wine region is based around the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire.  The wines share a distinct similarity to their cousins across the river and are usually fuller, perfumed, and firmer with more mineral qualities due to the limestone soils the vineyards are on.  The best wines of Pouilly-Fumé are usually made from vineyards located north of Pouilly on the slopes above the Loire.  Unlike Sancerre, only whites are produced here, and they tend to need more time to mature than the Sancerre (better wines can last a decade or more).

Just west of Sancerre, the wine area of Menetou-Salon produces wines that are very similar in style and quality to those of Sancerre, but usually at a better price. With about 60% of their vineyards are dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc (which tends to be more refreshing as those from Sancerre).  The area also grows Pinot Noir that is made into a red and a rosé (these wines have a bit more body and intensity than their Sancerre counterparts and should both consumed while still young)


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