Wines of the Loire
(Pronounced ‘Lwah’) This is the longest river in France and there are many vineyards along its banks and those of its tributaries: the Vienne, Cher, Loir, Layon, Indre and Sarthe. Red, white and rose’ wines and sparkling wines are made, and have been for many centuries from a variety of grapes (see Anjou, Jasnieres, Muscadet, Pouilly-sur-Loire, Quincy, Reuilly, Sancerre, Saumur, Touraine, Vouvray). In general, the Loire wines are light and elegantly charming in character, most of them being at their pleasantest when drunk young and fresh but a few, including some of the sweet wines of the Coteaux du Layon and the reds of Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil, are capable of achieving great quality if made so that their maturation in bottle will bring out subtleties of style. It is, however, difficult to achieve this nowadays, when wines cannot, for economic reasons, be kept for long maturation.
Although most Loire wines were considered ‘bad travellers’ until comparatively recently, it was not the wines themselves that were inadequate in this way. Local demand often took all the wine made and haphazard methods of transportation could damage even the most robust wine. Nowadays a greater area is under vines, the winemakers have more knowledge of the technical resources on which they can draw, and rapid transport makes it possible for Loire wines to go all over the world. They are not, however, as well known as I think they deserve, except possibly for Muscadet and the pink wines of Anjou. Northern export markets do not find it easy to like the crispness of many of the whites and reds, so that even Muscadet and many of the rose’ wines have been deliberately softened to please palates that prefer a touch of roundness, even sweetness. The really sweet wines are much neglected because of the preference for wines that are supposedly ‘dry’; however softened these may be.
Until recently, Loire wines were definite bargains, but there have been several small vintages lately and this, combined with a greater popularity for them in their own country, has sent prices up. It is strange that they have been so neglected in England – seat of the Plantagenets – and a pity that many of the public do not accept that a fine Loire, from a reputable producer, is worth at least as much as, say, an indifferent white Burgundy or a rather dull ‘little’ claret. For those who do not ‘drink the label’, there is great delight and interest in Loire wines.