Written by Taylor Cameron for Farrell Distributing 7/13/2016
At just over 1000km, the Loire river is the longest river in France. It originates in the granitic highlands of the Massif Central, travels north through Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, then banks to the west flowing through some of the most diverse wine regions in the old world before hitting the Atlantic. Many regions in France focus on a small number of varieties (think Burgundy), or a single stylistic expression (think left bank Bordeaux), or maybe only sparkling wines (Champagne). In the Loire Valley world class wines are produced in a vast array of styles from many different grape varieties. There are a few common threads that run throughout the Loire: balanced alcohol and acidity levels, limited use of new oak, and great value at all price points. Let’s take a look at the four Loire sub-regions…
The greater Nantais is the most singular of the four Loire sub-regions but by no means is it completely homogeneous. The terroir of Nantais is directly linked to the Atlantic Ocean as much of the region falls within the maritime climate. These cool and moist growing conditions are perfect for the Melon de Bourgogne grape which is the principle grape of Muscadet. Muscadet ranges from a pleasant, gulpable, non-descript white to very complex, age-worthy, mineral driven whites that can rival top whites from any region in France. While basic Muscadet makes up 90% of the region’s production, Farrell Distributing is proud to work with producers like Domaine de la Pepiere and Eric Chevalier who push the boundaries of the appellation and work with varieties that are outside of the AOC laws.
Domaine de la Pepiere “Gras Moutons” Muscadet Single vineyard planted in 1930.
Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Grown in the Muscadet region, but Pinot Noir is not permitted by AOC law. Truly a great value!
As we move east, the maritime influence begins to fade and the stylistic diversity begins to increase. The dominant varieties here are Chenin Blanc and cabernet franc but there are plantings of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Côt, and even some Sauvignon Blanc. The vast spectrum of style offered in the Loire can be shown within Anjou-Saumur by looking at a single grape variety: Chenin Blanc. To the north of the river is Savennières. These wines are 100% Chenin and are bone dry, mineral driven and incredibly high in acid. Wines from Savennières are some of the driest in France and can age, and improve, for up to a century!
Just across the river to the south in Coteaux du Layon, a dessert wine is made from Chenin Blanc that is quite sweet and very similar to Sauternes. And on top of seeing the full sweetness scale in this sub-region, we also see world class Cabernet Franc and beautiful sparkling wines. The diversity and value is unrivaled.
Chateau d’Epire Savennieres “Cuvee Speciale” Classic Chenin Blanc aged in ancient Acacia and Chestnut foudres.
Domaine Filliatreau Saumur Rouge True rock star Cab Franc. It’s almost impossible to find a better example at this price point.
We’ve now left the Maritime climate behind us and have moved to a more Continental climate, meaning colder winters and hot, short summers. The sub-soil changes completely to Tuffeau, which is the same white limestone that was used to build the local castles and incredible wine cellars. The Tuffeau also plays a major role in the complexity and quality of benchmark Loire regions like Chinon, Bourgueil and Vouvray. Chinon and Bourgueil arguably produce the best Cabernet Franc in the world. Vouvray produces a huge range of styles all from Chenin Blanc. From enamel-rippingly dry to lusciously sweet, from still to sparkling, Vouvray has plenty to offer.
Domaine Champalou Vouvray Brut Old vine Chenin Blanc produced in the methode Champenoise
Domaine Baudry Chinon Cabernet Franc grown on the alluvial shores of the Loire. Fruit forward and meant to drink young. Perfect BBQ wine.
Also known as “Central Loire,” this is the eastern most sub -region in the Loire Valley. This is Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir country. The soils, while still chalky, are more similar to those of Chablis than those of the western Loire. Fossilized sea life can be found in some vineyards dating back to an ancient inland sea that has long since disappeared. The major appellations here are Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and to a lesser extent Cheverny , Reuilly and Quincy. All of these regions are focused on light bodied, refreshing whites and reds made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir with little to no oak aging. These are perfect summer wines but can also find their way onto the table during holiday gatherings.
Daniel Chotard Sancerre This is summer in a glass. Sancerre really doesn’t get much better. Daniel is also quite the accordion player!
Domaine Reuilly Rouge Dry, light bodied pinot noir. A perfect summer red with a slight chill
While there is a Loire Valley wine for every season and occasion, summer is the perfect time to start exploring the diversity of this region. Light reds, crisp whites and sparklers with moderate alcohol and great value make for some awesome backyard drinking. Have fun exploring!!