The Loire Valley, near Nantes in western France, is one of the most beautiful winemaking areas in Europe. A narrow, but wide region following the Loire river, it meanders from Auvergne and the Massif Central mountains to the Atlantic coast.
Vines producing wine grapes existed here as far back as the Roman invasion into the Loire Valley. Historians assert that as long ago as 380 AD reds were made in the surrounding hills and whites were fermented on the river banks.
The climate varies considerably over this wide region, with mild Atlantic weather winter and summer in the west, and cold winters and warm summers in the interior area.
In contrast to Bordeaux where 75% of the production is red, in the Loire three quarters goes to the creation of whites, with the main grapes being Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon. Most of the remaining quarter of red is produced from Cabernet Franc, with some Gamay and Pinot Noir.
Total production reaches 400 million bottles, the end product of grapes grown in clay-limestone, siliceous and chalky soils. Types range from dry whites to sweet, and rosé to fruity reds.
In the eastern part of the valley, around Pouilly and Sancerre, most of the grapes used for winemaking are Sauvignon Blanc. These go into making the delicious dry, white Pouilly-Fumé. The other bank around Sancerre produces the robust, dry eponymous white.
Further west in the province of Touraine, one finds predominantly Chenin Blanc, which forms the starting point of the fruity Montlouis. Also made here are the glorious red Loire wines, Bourgueil and Chinon, mostly from Cabernet Franc.
And on the right bank of the Loire river, close to Tours don't miss out on a lovely dry Vouvray. The product of Chenin Blanc grown in clay infested limestone and chalk, 13 million bottles are produced in the area on almost 5,000 acres.
Touraine's neighbor to the west, Anjou-Saumur, also produces a delectable white from Chenin Blanc, famed for its smooth quality. Winemakers cluster around Angers as they have since the 6th century. Famous for the Rosé d'Anjou, it's reported to have been enjoyed by King Henry II of England. But the commoner can also enjoy the oak aged whites. With fifty-five million bottles produced from land covering 22,000 acres, there's no fear of running out.
Coteaux du Layon is the widest wine area of the Anjou region lying along the Layon river where the vines are protected by the hills. Best known for a sweet wine purported to be from a recipe 15 centuries old. Harvest here is late, where the growers leave the grapes on the vines until they begin to over-ripen. Nearly 7 million bottles are produced from 4,450 acres.
Last, but certainly far from least, we finish our tour with the well-known Muscadet, which sits at the far west of the Loire Valley. Here is produced a pale white, lovely in its dry, astringent taste. Best drunk when fresh and young, by connoisseurs of any age. From its 31,000 acres of granite soil rises vines which produce grapes that fill nearly 100 million bottles, so take your time.
The Loire Valley in few words
The Loire Valley produces about the 8% of wine in France. This is an area that produces a wide range of white, red, sparkling and sweet wines. The reds are made from Cabernet Franc and can be a delightful, light summer red. The whites vary considerably in style from the mineral Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre to the everyday Sauvignon Blancs from the middle Loire and to Muscadet in the lower reaches. Chenin Blanc is an important and versatile grape producing sparkling wine (Saumur), dry and sweet wines.