Often referred to as the “Garden of France,” the Loire Valley is a majestic land of vineyards, flowers and châteaux stretched along the banks of the long and windy Loire River just south of Paris.
The Loire is separated into distinct winegrowing regions that produce a full range of various wine styles that on the surface have very little to do with one another. However, all of the wines, despite their style seem to have vibrant acidity and a fresh, lively quality in common.
Working up the river from the Atlantic, the region begins with the Pays Nantais, which is known for crisp, dry wine called Muscadet, made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape.
Muscadet is an archaic name for the Melon de Bourgogne, which was brought to the Loire centuries grape from Burgundy, where it is no longer grown. After the worst winter in history (1709), known for bursting barrels in the cellar and freezing the coastal waters, the Melon was one of only two varieties to survive and has dominated the region ever since.
Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine (an area between two smaller tributaries named Sevre and Maine) is considered to be the best area for Muscadet. Some Muscadets also have the distinction of being “sur lie,” which means it was bottled straight from the fermentation vat unracked (i.e.-directly from the lees).
In the center of the Loire are the regions of Anjou, Layon, Saumur and Touraine, which mainly produce Chenin Blanc for white and Cabernet Franc for red. However, some other varietals are used as well and both areas produce red, white, rose and sparkling. The soils vary from gravel, to chalk, schist, slate, granite and volcanic earth.
Within these central Loire regions, some of the more famous AOCs are: Chinon, Bourgueil, and Vouvray in Touraine and Savennieres and Saumur-Champigny in Anjou-Samur. It is important to note that Bourgueil AOC does not produce anything but red and rose wine and Vouvray AOC can only be chenin blanc.
Finally, to the far east of the region there is the Upper Loire, which is most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, though small amounts of Pinot Noir are also made here. The two main AOCs are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Both typically use stainless steel for their Sauvignon Blanc fermentation, but Sancerre wines tend to riper fruit notes with herbal flavors, and Pouilly-Fumé has more smokey-minerally nuances, attributed to its flinty soils. Also in the Upper Loire are Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly, which all produce wines similar to Sancerre, but are lesser known.