The Loire valley is a surprisingly beautiful place. It doesn’t strike you immediately though. Much like its wines, the land itself is subtle and unpretentious. It’s not a place known for staggering monuments (though it is chock-full of stunning chateaux) or dramatic geography. It’s a relatively flat stretch of land (spanning from just south of Paris westwards towards Nantes, on the Atlantic coast) with no prominent mountains, scattered forests and rolling hills throughout.
The Loire river itself dominates the landscape, with its fingers stretched out over hundreds of miles. Its banks are dotted sporadically by ancient towns and their neighbouring appellations. Driving through the valley, vineyards cover everything visible. You’ll find vines planted in places diverse as people’s backyards, and in the middle of street roundabouts.
The wines of the Loire are as varied as they come, and as completely underrated here in North America as they are exceptional. Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc predominate, with Muscadet flourishing around Nantes in the west, and Sauvignon Blanc making an appearance as the Loire fades into the Rhone around the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, just south of Orleans.
Despite its variety and massive range of styles, the Loire seems to have failed to have reached the same revered status as its other French counterparts. Grossly generalizing, the Loire does not produce wines which are as flamboyant or as pedigreed as those of Bordeaux or Burgundy, but the quality is still definitely there. North American tastes seem to fall towards robust Cabernets and red blends, as well as fairly straightforward whites. Not much appreciation is granted then to the lively wines of the Loire valley, which focuses more on balance and terroir.
It’s unfortunate, for several reasons. The simplest of which is that Loire wines are simply delicious, not being exposed to them is a complete shame. When you taste the bright and mineral whites, or the fresh and complex reds, it doesn’t take long to realize just how beautifully they can compliment modern cuisine. Wine and food pairing seems a bit arcane sometimes, but it’s a huge part of wine appreciation that a lot of people fail to take into account. Loire wines are perfectly suited to modern cuisine, especially with the appearance of Asian influences and the decline in protein as well as heavy starch-focused cooking. Muscadet pairs magically with oysters, Savannieres with salmon and fish, Chinon or Saumur Cabernet Franc with roasted wild mushrooms and red meats.
You’re not generally looking at the same sort of exaggerated price points you’ll find throughout the rest of France either. Many chateaux produce affordably priced cuvées that over deliver. This is a fact most people can certainly appreciate, especially in today’s world. Despite producing plenty of good wines, the Loire can still lay claim to producing the absolutely exceptional. Producers like Clos de La Coulee du Serrant and the unique but little known Clos D’Entre les Murs are making extraordinary wines, still at a fraction of the price commanded by their colleagues in Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Falling in love with the Loire is easy; Start with a good Muscadet or Rosé d’Anjou and work your way up through the Cabernet Francs of Chinon, Saumur, and Touraine, to the rare and complex Chenin Blancs of Savannieres and Vouvray. It’s well worth taking some time to get into. You do not want to miss out on Loire Cremant either, a perfect complement to any celebration or everyday drinking.