LOIRE VALLEY – THE REGION

Loire Valley / Sancerre and Vouvray vineyards

The first vines were planted in the Loire region in the first century, back in the Roman times. After the Roman Empire collapsed in the 7th century, bishops and monks carried on developing the vineyards for several centuries. In the Middle Ages, Loire Valley wines were famous in England’s court and among French upper classes. Deemed as the “French Garden”, there are today several marvellous Châteaux all along the Loire River, which are beautiful venues for tourists.

In the 19th Century, French authorities developed the national railroad network: it was easier to get Bordeaux wines in Paris, and then Loire Valley wines became cheaper. In addition, the Philloxera Crisis ravaged the whole vineyard in the 1880’s. 120 years later, UNESCO declared part of the Loire Valley a world heritage site in 2000.

The Loire River is the longest river in France (1000km), starting from the Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean. There are 4000 wineries in the Loire Valley vineyard, covering 75000 ha, which accounts for 2/3 of the size of the Bordeaux vineyard. One can find a wide range of wines (red, rosé, white, sparkling, sweet), a succession of microclimates, dozens of grapes (Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc for instance), a wide diversity of soils (chalky stones, limestone, quartz, schist, sand, gravel).

The Loire Valley is traditionally divided in four parts: the Centre (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé), the Tourraine (Chinon, Bourgueil, Vouvray), the Anjou/Saumur (Côteaux du Layon, Savennières), and the Pays Nantais (Muscadet). The winemakers there have made tremendous progress in the last decades: lower yields, plot selections, longer winemaking process, creation of new appellations, and smaller ones, organic farming and biodynamic farming. The wines in this region are characterized by their freshness, their crispness, and by the fruit fragrances they develop during their youth.

Sancerre is one of the most celebrated Sauvignon Blanc expressions in the world. Located in the left bank at the eastern edge of the Loire River, the Sancerre vineyard is made of chalk, marl, gravel, limestone, flint, and Kimmeridgian soils. Its appellation covers 2700 ha, composed of a dozen of villages surrounding the marvellous hill of the eponymous town.

The climate here is dry and continental, with average rainfalls all along the year. Few winemakers try to age their Sancerre in French oaks. Most of them use stainless steel vats. Classical Sancerre style is bone dry, refreshing, with zesty freshness. Sauvignon Blanc there is racy, flinty, smoky flavours, with a stunning refreshing acidity and mineral notes.  Sancerre wines must be paired with goat cheese and seafood.

Vouvray is the largest white wine appellation in the western part of the Loire Valley vineyard.  Eastside of Tours, in the Northern banks of the Loire Rive, Vouvray is the place to discoverseveral style of Chenin: dry, sparkling, sweet, medium. Based on limestone, chalk rocks, and flint soils, harvests there can stretch to November because of random ripeness of the Chenin Blanc cultivar.

Thanks to pruning management, Vouvray winemakers managed to harvest mature and sound grapes during the last two decades. Vouvray wine fragrances can go from rose, quince, acacia, to apricot, candied fruits, and honey. They must be paired with white fish dishes (dry Vouvray), and spicy Indian or Thai meals (off dry).

Information by Jean-Baptiste Martin

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