Grapes and Wine in the Loire Region
What makes the Loire so SPECIAL?
In the Loire valley you find a huge range of terroir in this cool climate wine region of France. The length of the Loire river, over 1000 kilometres, means that it covers a lot of geological and climatic variation. One of the benefits of all this variety for the wine tourist is that the Loire Valley is the only region in France to produce excellent wine in every category: red, white, rose; still and sparkling; dry and sweet. So let's go and discover more about the grapes and wines of the Loire.
The soils are widely different and regional, The western coastal regions of Nantais and Anjou being part of a decayed granite, schist, slate, and sandstone. The eastern end of the Loire is geographically a vast chalk bed made of fossilized sea shells, known as the Paris Basin. It starts around Saumur and goes through to Sancerre in the centre region. This produces siliceous and chalky soils.
The Loire wine region is famous for its white wines. Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc are the most important grapes, plus other white wine grapes being Melon de Bourgogne, Folle Blanche, Aligoté and Chasselas. They account for over 75% of the wine produced in the Loire. The main red wine grape grown in the Loire is Cabernet Franc with lesser amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Pinot Noir.
Principal LOIRE Grape Varieties
Used extensively in the central vineyards of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé to produce a distinctive flinty acidy character, with tones of citrus and gooseberries.
Used to produce styles from dry to sweet but all with a certain floral, honeyed character, along with zesty acidity.
Muscadet de Bourgogne (Melon de Bourgogne)
Tends to produce a tart wine that benefits from barrel aging on the lees. Increasing in popularity especially with shellfish and fish.
A red grape that produces wines with floral tones of violets and light berries. At its best from Chinon and Bourgueil
Produces a delicious wine bursting with crushed red-berry characters - strawberries and cherries. In the Loire it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon
In the Loire is often used to produce a well-balanced wine by blending with Gamay.
Loire Wine sub-regions
The most western wine region of the Loire, Pays Nantais or as it is also known, Muscadet, is greatly influenced by the Atlantic climate. In volume terms it is the biggest producer in the Loire with the bulk of the wine, Muscadet, coming from the Melon de Bourgogne grape with the best examples coming from the Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine area, a district which is named after the two rivers of the area. The barrel aged Muscadet sur lie - where the wine has been left on its lees and yeast - is an interesting and more complex wine style. Also produced in the region is what is reputed as France's cheapest white wine, Gros Plant, a light bodied wine made from the Folle Blanche grape.
The wine area of Anjou-Saumur offers the largest range of wine styles including sparkling and sweet wines in the Loire Valley. In this area mainly rose wines are produced, however white from Chenin Blanc is the most known style. Anjou-Saumur is also a famous area for the production of sweet wines from Chenin Blanc.
Going towards the east is the wine area of Touraine in which white and red wines are being produced. The climate of this area offers good conditions for the cultivation of Cabernet Franc for red wines. The most renowned areas for the production of red wines are Chinon, Bourgueil and St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Red wines from Touraine are generally produced with 100% Cabernet Franc or Gamay, however Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec (Côt) are also used. White wines in Touraine are produced from Chenin Blanc, and the ones from the Vouvray appellation are exceptional.
The central vineyards are located at the most eastern end of the Loire wine region, ending around Nevers. The reason for this name is not because the area is located at the centre of Loire Valley, but at the centre of France. The main grape in the vineyards in this region is Sauvignon Blanc with the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé producing world-renowned examples.
FACTS ON GRAPE GROWING and WINE MAKING in the LOIRE
Name: Appellation Controlée
Location: From the Massif Central to the Atlantic coast around Nantes. The Loire wine region follows the Loire river in its valley
Size of the vineyards: 30,000 hectares
Production volume: over 400 million bottles (78% white wine)
Soil: Various: Clayey-limestone, limestone, siliceous and chalky soils
Weather: Predominantly oceanic in the west and continental in the east of the Loire Valley.