Wines from the Loire Valley
If the Rhone is red wine country, France’s other great river, the Loire, is most famous for its whites. The vineyards along this pretty river are at the northern limit of vine cultivation for France, which means they have to struggle for sufficient sunshine and are almost always notably high in acidity.
For many wine drinkers, both British and French, Muscadet is the epitome of a wine that is appetizingly dry and nerve-tinglingly crisp. It is made from a local grape called Muscadet in vineyards near the mouth of the river, some of which are also planted with the even tarter Gros Plant. The heartland of the Muscadet area is Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine, and the wines labelled sur lie are bottled straight off the lees (sediment) to give them more flavour.
Further inland is the Anjou area, most famous for the medium dry to medium sweet Anjou Rose. Slightly drier and finer is Cabernet d’Anjou Rose, made from Cabernet grapes.
The white-wine grape planted in the vineyards of both Anjou and Touraine is Chenin Blanc. It produces wines of all degrees of sweetness, but with a slightly honeyed smell, and lots of refreshing acidity. Anjou Blanc is usually a flowery, medium-dry wine, but it’s easy to see that it aspires to be a Savennieres. This delicate but long-lived prototype of medium dry Anjou white is made in tiny quantities on the north bank just opposite the much richer wines of Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, the best sites of the Coteaux du Layon. These are French wines that should appeal to lovers of German wine’s combination of sweet fragrance and acidity.
Between Angers and Tours is a little red-wine enclave, planted with Cabernet Franc to produce the light, zesty wines of Saumur-Champigny, Chinon and Bourgueil – in ascending order of richness.
Vouvray and Montlouis are responsible for more Chenin Blanc wines of varying sweetness, though the range of quality available as the former is instructive. As with most other wines, the more you pay, the better you get, though no Vouvray should be expensive. The best, especially the slightly sweeter ones labelled either Demi Sec or Moelleux, can develop a lovely golden colour and intriguing richness over several decades.
The furthest inland of the Loire vineyards are planted with quite a different white grape variety, the crisp aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are the most famous products of this area, though the much smaller appellations of Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly all provide wines of similar zip and fashionable appeal. The tasting term, ‘flinty’, seems tailor-made for the fresh, yet slightly heady aroma of a young Pouilly-Fume. These are wines to be drunk when still young and racy. Some red and pink Sancerre is also from the scented Pinot Noir grape of Burgundy.