The Loire Valley is composed of multiple wine regions lining the riverbanks of the Loire river from its mouth at the Atlantic to its headwaters in central France. From west to east, these regions: the Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, and the Central Vineyards vary by their styles of wine, grape variety climate, and geology. The regions share a cool climate and northerly latitude similar to Seattle, though maritime influences are felt strongly in Muscadet close to the Atlantic coast while Sancerre in the Central Vineyards experiences a continental climate with four distinct seasons. From the Middle Ages until the 17th century, the Loire Valley was the center of political power and an economic and cultural hub for France resulting in wide renown for its wines.
The Pays Nantais region in the west surrounds the city of Nantes. The vineyards are dedicated to Melon de Bourgogne, a grape that makes tart, minerally wines that are bone dry and often aged sur lie or “on the lees.” The primary appellation here is Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, though three other appellations sharing the name Muscadet also produce similarly styled wines. Basic Muscadet can be neutral, but some examples exhibit levels of concentration that have likened comparisons to Chablis and have led to new subzones that recognize the best terroirs of this region. Muscadet is the perfect accompaniment to the fresh seafood of the region: oysters on the half-shell, chilled crab claws, and beurre blanc, the white butter sauce that originated in this region.
Anjou-Saumur is a region that exists as two distinct wine regions, sharing only their focus on Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc and a similarly mild climate. The differences are primarily attributed to the stark difference in their soils: dark unyielding schist in Anjou compared to soft cool limestone in Saumur, locally referred to as tuffeau. Anjou specializes in off-dry rosé wines made primarily of Cabernet, along with Chenin Blanc made in a variety of styles from dry to lusciously sweet. Savennières makes powerful, dry Chenin Blanc, dominated by taught acidity and dense mineral tones. Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux typify the sweet style of Chenin Blanc, enriched with spice and honey aromas from the influence of noble rot. Saumur uses the same two grapes but focuses on sparkling wine labeled as Crémant de Loire, along with dry styles of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, some of which are the most sought-after cult wines in all of France.
The Touraine vineyards flanking the city of Tours also highlight Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown on similar white tuffeau soils. The climate here is less influenced by the Atlantic. Chinon and Bourgueil are appellations that focus on Cabernet Franc ranging in style from fresh and fruity to tannic and age-worthy. Green herbal tones are complemented by graphite minerality and juicy raspberry, with oak used judiciously to add structure. Vouvray is one of the most notable regions for Chenin Blanc in the Touraine, producing styles that range from bone dry to lusciously sweet. This contrasts with Savennières, another Chenin Blanc appellation, which is often just as high in acidity but is bone dry in style and often shows oxidative, bruised fruit notes.
The Central Vineyards anchor the eastern extreme of the Loire River but are so named because of their location in the center of France. Sauvignon Blanc is the star here, making a succulent, refreshing wine in Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé that in some cases can receive an extra dimension from aging in oak. A small amount of Pinot Noir is also grown to produce rosé and red wine in Sancerre. The soils here include Kimmeridgian clays like those found in Chablis, but also include a mix of flint and stony soils that all together give the wines a bright acidity and distinctive mineral quality, perfect for the many goat’s milk cheeses produced in the area.