The Loire Valley is famous for its castles, formidable witnesses to the history of France. The Loire river from which the region takes its name, is the longest river in France, flowing for a whopping 1,000km. And alongside the castles that often sit on the banks of this mighty river you will find the region’s second claim to fame – some of the most important vineyards of France.
The longest vineyard in France
Wine has been produced in this area for around 2000 years. With more than 55,000 hectares of vineyards and some 800 kilometres of wine routes, the Loire Valley is France’s longest vineyard. It’s the third largest wine region in France (Bordeaux and Languedoc-Roussillon are bigger). And more than 300 million bottles of wine are produced from Loire Valley grapes each year.
There’s much diversity to the soil and climate in the Loire Valley. Even the tides of the River Loire can influence the terroir. There’s no equivalent word in the English language for terroir, it refers to the natural environment in which wine is produced. There are five types of vineyard along the river, and each have their own characteristics. The vineyards of Nantes have an oceanic climate. But as you cross country to the vineyards of Anjou, Saumur and Touraine the climate feels more continental with the warmest summer distinguishing the wines of Centre-Loire. The diversity of the terroir is reflected in the wines that are produced here. Red, white, rosé and effervescent crémants – both white and rosé.
Cabernet franc, chenin, sauvignon…
More than 20 types of grapes grow in the Loire. Cabernet Franc established in the 11th century is the most popular red grape grown. There’s also Chenin, a regional variety which until the 16th century was known as Plant of Anjou. And of course there is sauvignon. “The River Loire flows across France, and the soil has differences in all of the wine growing regions along its banks. So, because of the diversity of the soil types in the Loire Valley, grape varieties form a very big family. Each time, they adapt to the soil and to the terroir on which they are planted, and are usually vinified separately” says wine expert Laurent Yung at Sommailier.com, a French Wine Club in the USA.
There are plenty of star wines in the region. Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, grown in the town of the same name, and produced with Cabernet franc, is known for its aromas of red fruits, raspberry, cherry and blackberry. The Chenin-based Vouvray wines, produced in Touraine, recognisable by their brilliant golden colour, are made in both still and sparkling form. Then there’s Chinon, produced between Saumur and Tours, and Muscadet sur lie, the star of the vineyards of Nantes.
Wine, cuisine and castles
When King Francis built the Chateau of Chambord 16th century, he also introduced Romorantin vines from Burgundy to the vineyards. To this day the grapes still grow at Chambord. Chenonceau, the legendary castle which sits across the River Loire, gave its name to Touraine-Chenonceaux wines, lively whites and intense reds with aromas of black fruits. In Azay-le-Rideau sip Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau wines, either the fresh whites with citrus notes or pale rosés. And in Amboise enjoy the Touraine-Amboise wines. Some castles even produce their own wines, such as Rivau, Brézé and Brissac.
“The cuisine of the area is delicate and distinguished” says Laurent. “And wine plays a big part both in the cooking and the enjoyment of food. There’s a perfect Loire Valley wine for fish and seafood, for veg dishes cheese and meat, and for dessert.”
More than 1000 vineyards are open to the public where you can tour cellars, vineyards, enjoy wine tasting and meet the producers.
If all this whetted your appetite to learn more about French wine check out SomMailier’s French wine club in the US. Every three months, they send 3, 6, or 12 bottles (free shipping) of boutique French wines direct to your door. Carefully selected by wine experts in France along with detailed information about each wine and food pairing ideas, what better way to discover authentic French wine. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also have a wine club gift option for that special wine lover in your life!
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