The Loire

This the longest of the rivers of France sources in the Cevennes and pours out into the sea at St Nazaire into the Bay of Biscay.

In its 629 miles, it also passes through several wine regions from Sancerre in the east to Muscadet in the west and also manages to pass a reputed 1000 asst Chateau up to and including the magnificent Chambord near Blois.

On this trip I concentrated on the middle section, including Vouvray Bourgueil and Chinon in the Touraine appelation and under the Anjou-Saumur Coteaux du Layon Saumur itself and a special interest in Savennieres, a small but important area near Angers.

I visited Muscadet a few years ago on an extended trip in Brittany and Sancerre on the way back north from Burgundy a few years earlier than that.

This is a northerly wine producing area on a latitude similar to Champagne, so relies a lot more on good summers than regions to the south and in bad years, it shows even with the improved wine making techniques available today.

Very few of us who drink wine will have escaped the mouth puckering acidic wines that come out of this region in bad vintages and for years it really put me off even trying them, such was the poor quality in so many years, such can be the variation in the end product in these variable years that you could on occasions think you were drinking a different wine.

The dry wine goes with fish so they say and it does. Muscadet has been a success and the area of planted grapes has doubled in thirty odd years, they are traditionally bottled “sur lie” – straight from the barrel, unracked, giving the wine a flavour from the lees, not unlike the process in Champagne.

If Muscadet has one thing going for it on top of the wine itself, it’s that it is cheap.  Anyone who has been to a French supermarket will see the prices for themselves, as low as £1.50, although I would recommend spending a little more to get a better product.

Too many people come back across the channel laden with wines they boast cost next to nothing.  Sadly, in many cases they taste of next to nothing and worse. I brought back a few bottles of supermarket Muscadet in the around £3 bracket and they were fine so well worth a punt as they say.

The general rule of thumb with all Loire wines, with the usual notable exceptions, is they are to be drunk young, under three years is a good rule of thumb.  The British have a unique take on wine in that cellaring improves everything.  It doesn’t.

Wines evolve with time, sometimes improving, but rarely for the majority, the French themselves will drink top Bordeaux’s a lot earlier than we would deem fit to do so and other nations the same.  Only we believe that wines will improve, they change and the product that is considered the finished article when it’s bottled is just that.

Anjou – Saumur uses Chenin Blanc for off dry whites and Cabernet Franc for reds.  The reds can be as good as Chinon but not generally.  The Coteaux du Layon south of Angers on the river of the same name produces along with the more northerly Coteaux de l’Auballe sweet luscious wines from Chenin and for those who like this style they are bargains.

Savenniers is a small appelation just west of Angers overlooking the Loire and is one of the prettiest villages and most scenic on the Loire – well worth a visit, wine tasting or not.  It is also home to a small group of growers who make long lasting wines from Chenin that are a class above almost all in the whole region.

I made this my treat to bring home and made my purchase at Roche aux Moines run by Madame Laroche and her daughter who make you very welcome to the lovely Chateau.

These wines last – I tried them up to twenty years old and they still had not turned to something else and were very drinkable, but what was interesting here and at the neighboring property run by Nicolas Joly was not just the high alcohol – in some years for a white wine up to 15%  and at that level I found it dominated the wine itself – but the change in styles dictated by the weather.

Laureau is another to seek out.

Travelling east, Vouvray comes up, a name well known in the UK mainly for its sea of sparkling wines that are mostly awful as are a lot of the other styles from here.

Nonetheless, it also produces a range of wines from dry to nobly sweet and semi and full sparkling all in the one area and as usual, amongst the dross are some superb growers arguably the best in the Loire.

The names of Huet, Francois Chidaine,Domaine des Aubisieres and others are to be sought out – they produce the best of Chenin.  The dry and off dry wines from these top producers are superb and they last as in Savenniers.

They produce wines from one grape in all the styles – only in Germany where the reisling producers do the same is it possible but here it’s a lot cheaper and amongst these top growers in good years, they stand alongside the best of white wine from almost anywhere.

These are some of the best wines, at a price not matched. Jasniers, a small region slightly north, is a revival area doing similar things and is to be watched.  Like the Rhone and its reds, this area was one of the top wines in France years ago, fetched very high prices and then fell from favour.

Chinon and Bourgueil represent the best of the Loire reds from Cabernet Franc.

What has to be repeated is that the vintage makes the difference here.  Good Chinon from the likes of Alliet and Baudry is a match in those good years for Bordeaux and in its good forms, when available, is a personal favorite but is not easily found, sadly.

Bourgueil also has some very good producers but is normally represented by some pretty mundane wine when seen here.  Ripe fruit is essential with these reds and a cheap supermarket offering won’t do much for you – you would be better to spend your money elsewhere.

Into the Central Loire and you’re in Sauvignon country.

It dominates the area and whilst popular in Britain, most is quite frankly rubbish but we keep buying it so someone likes it and of course it can be good and for many when of the higher quality, it represents a style of Sauvignon that is refreshing easy to drink and cheap -again,that you do not get with those from NZ, say, but the style is completely different and you pays your money ——–.

When it comes to Pouilly and Sancerre, we are again dealing with big, well known names worldwide.

Basically, Pouilly-Fume is grown on the right bank of the Loire as it comes up from south and Sancerre on the left.  This is Sauvignon again and there is not a lot of difference between them at all the levels, the weather as usual plays a big role in the quality and in bad vintages they taste very acidic and smell of wet wool, avoid.

Chateau de Tracy and others produce a superior wine but this is not an area I have had a lot of joy above the average although as with most of the Loire regions, some very good rose is made, often in those lesser years.

The Loire, as a region, is nearly all centred on the river – all the major towns, most of the villages worth visiting and the scenery.  Outside the river corridor, only small areas are worth putting yourself out for to visit.

Anyone who has travelled down from the north will have gone through endless farmland that resembles a giant version of our fens, all the way to the river.  This great river is the attraction and everything clings to it.

This link gives a good view of a small but very good producer.

For James:

1 comment for “The Loire

  1. October 16, 2012 at 22:07

    Very interesting as usual, thank you.

Comments are closed.