In a previous post I did a little Loire Valley Q&A. Today, I want to take some time to compile that information together with some of the key points of the region that I didn’t have a chance to cover. To start with a broad outlook, there are four sub-regions in the Loire Valley, but note that these sub-regions are not appellation designates, nor is there any generic regional appellations that encompasses the whole of the Loire. (There is and IGP called Val de Loire that covers the entirety of the Loire Valley. Wines designated with the IGP label are said to be simple, light, fresh, and fruity.)
The four sub-regions are:
- The Central Vineyards
It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway (because that’s what they’ll expect of me during the WSET Level 3 short answer exam), that each sub-region has its own climatic influence:
- The climate of the Central Vineyards is continental—it is located well inland and away from modifying influences of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Conversely, Nantais enjoys those oceanic influences so has a maritime climate.
- Anjou-Saumur, though relatively close to the ocean, is actually warmer and dryer due to the protection of the Mauges hills along with its stony soils.
- Conversely, Touraine, which is further inland but not protected from those hills is cooler, wetter, and home to clay-based soils.
INTERESTING ANECDOTE: The Loire Valley is at the northern limit for the production of the grape varieties grown, and with the variation in weather patterns, the region as a whole experiences great vintage-to-vintage variation. Another grape growing concern is fungal disease, linked to high levels of rainfall (I would think, especially in the Nantais region, as it has a maritime climate—which, as we now know, means rainfall throughout the growing season.)
So, as you may suspect, the most desirable vineyards are those located on south-facing, situated mid-slope on steep slopes—so much the better if they’re facing the Loire River (which extends the reach of the Valley) to receive more heat and sunlight and better yet if those slopes contain well-draining, heat-absorbing soils like stony limestone or clay.
Although I talked a lot about grapes, I’ve yet to touch on Sauvignon Blanc, which is one of the primary grapes people think about when they think about the Loire Valley…
Sauvignon Blanc is predominantly grown in the Central Vineyards and in Touraine. INTERESTING ANECDOTE: Although the Central Vineyards has the smallest production of Sauvignon Blanc, it by far has the most prestigious, as this is where the famed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé regions (Central Vineyards) are located. Both contain vineyards located on chalky, well-drained, stony soils. The wines tend to be dry, high in acidity with green fruit and wet stone notes. Pouilly-Fumé, of course, is noted for its slightly smokey or flinty notes as well. Winemaking styles vary, from gentle pneumatic pressing and aging in 100% stainless steel to lees contact and oak barrel aging. WINEMAKING NOTE: This is the Central Vineyard area, it has a cool continental climate, which means some vintages the grapes will struggle to ripen fully. As such, it’s noted that some winemakers may opt to take their Sauvignon Blanc through malolactic fermentation (MLF) in order to reduce that acidity and soften the potentially austere wine.
Menetou-Salon is another appellation to note when talking about Sauvignon Blanc from the Central Vineyards. It is made in the same style as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, but is more, shall we say “wallet friendly.”
And what about Touraine? Touraine is the region that produces the most Sauvignon Blanc. But, unlike the famed Pouilly-Fumé or Sancerre, the generic Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is typically less concentrated and produced in a simple, fruity style. Which leads me to believe that these grapes are grown in some of those less prestigious vineyard sites where the soil tends to be more sandy (preserving the best vineyard locations for the region’s Chenin Blanc and maybe even the Cabernet Franc…which we’ll get to in a minute…)
Chenin blanc is a high acid, non-aromatic grape variety. It is responsible for the greatest white wine production in both Touraine and Anjou-Saumur.
CHENIN FACT: This grape is not a team player. Grapes, even within the same cluster, tend to ripen at different rates. So grape growers have to pay attention to each individual cluster and make several passes through the vineyard during harvest to ensure that only fully ripened grapes are collected. As such, Chenin has a variety of uses, from sparkling wine production (from those grapes that barely reached ripeness) to dry, medium, and sweet wines (from grapes that have increased ripeness).
Chenin Blanc is also quite sensitive to soil type and climatic conditions…
In Vouvray (located in the Touraine), the climate is cool, wet, with the soils clay-based. As such, the main production out of the appellation is sparkling Chenin Blanc and the still wines tend to be light bodied with fresh fruit and floral notes that rarely see new oak. Although, it’s also noted that the style of wine will vary from vintage to vintage and, during some years, can be made in a lusciously sweet style as well.
Anjou and Saumur have similar climate and soils (warm, dry, with stony soils in the locations near the hillsides). But Saumur is mostly known for its sparkling Chenin Blanc (made in the traditional, Champagne method), whereas Anjou is known for its dry wine. (Note here that, because of the warmer, dryer conditions, Chenin Blanc is able to achieve a fuller ripeness level than those that grown in the cool continental Vouvray appellation in the Central Vineyards. As such, it is not uncommon for the Chenin Blanc from Anjou to see new oak aging.)
In Savenniéres (located in Anjou-Saumur) where it is warm and dry, the region is noted for its full-bodied, dry Chenin Blanc. And while the area is not well-suited to the production of botrytized sweet wine, it can successfully produce a late harvest wine that is dry, full-bodied, complex, with good bottle-aging potential.
Conversely, in Coteaux du Layon (also inside Saumur-Anjou, but located near the River Layon, south of the River Loire) the region is sheltered within a valley near the River Layon that produce the idyllic conditions for botrytis and the appellation is known for its production of botrytized Chenin Blanc. (Remember it’s dryer and warmer here in the Saumur-Anjou region, thus the growing season is capable of extending into the autumn months. And with the nearby river creating misty mornings and dry afternoons during the tail-end of ripening, botrytis is able to develop without overtaking the grape and forming grey rot.) Inside Coteaux du Layon the two sites, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux, have their own appellations that rank amongst the top of this style of wine.
Ok, so this is interesting. Muscadet equals Melon Blanc or Melon de Bourgogne. Whatever it’s called it ripens early so does well in cool climate conditions and is frost resistant. That being said we’ll turn our attention to Nantais, as this is where the majority of Muscadet is planted.
The appellation Muscadet applies to the widest area. But the largest production comes from Muscadet Sévre et Maine. All wines from the Muscadet appellations (either one) are dry, with medium alcohol, high acid, light body and subtle green fruit flavors intended to drink young. Most, today, are fermented in stainless steel.
The exception to this is the Muscadet Sévre et Main Sur Lie, a specialty of the area. The wine is bottled in the spring following harvest after having spent the winter months aging on the lees, providing a richer texture in the resulting wine.
Cabernet Franc is an early flowerer and an early ripener, thus suited to much of the terroir found in the Loire Valley.
- In Touraine Cabernet Franc is produced in Chinon and Bourgueil (to the south of the Loire River) as well as Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil (to the north of the Loire River). As you may suspect, the lighter, fruitier styles come from grapes grown in the sandier soils, whereas the fuller-bodied, more structured and tannic wines are produced using grapes from the south-facing slopes filled with limestone clay soils.
- In Saumur, and Saumur-Campigny within Saumur, Cabernet Franc tends to be lighter in body and tannin than those mentioned above from Touraine. They tend to have juicy berry fruit flavors, floral notes, and are best enjoyed young and FUN FACT: chilled.
The “Other” Red Wines…
Gamay is the second most planted red grape variety in Loire Valley, predominantly planted in Touraine and Anjou. The resulting wines are light, fruity, and intended for early drinking.
Pinot Noir is grown in a small amount in the Central Vineyards with the best grapes coming out of Sancerre. (Yeah, Sancerre, more than just Sauvignon Blanc…) Although it is noted that the best vineyards sites are preserved for Sauvignon Blanc, so Pinot Noir is a rarity and the resulting wines quite light.
- Rosé de Loire, which can be produced both in Anjou-Saumur as well as Touraine, is always dry and must include a minimum of 30% Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Cabernet d’Anjou, produced solely in Anjou, is always medium-sweet and made from a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Rosé d’Anjou, again solely in Anjou, is less sweet and is comprised mainly of Grolleau, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and other black grape varieties.
- Rosé from Touraine can be made from a variety of black grapes and are usually dry, fresh, and fruity.
- Sancerre rosé is made from Pinot Noir and is typically pale, light bodied, and dry with delicate fruit flavor.
Note, rosé wines can be made from either short maceration or direct press.
Alright, how’d I do? Anything you want to add about the Loire Valley I haven’t covered here? Any wines you want to recommend, you know, to aid in my studies?
Ah…and I did promise a wine review (or two)…here you are. Both purchased at local Whole Foods Market.
About the Wine: 2018 Champalou Vouvray
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: Youthful with pronounced aromas of green apple, apple blossom, lemon pith, grass, lemongrass
Palate: Dry with high acid, medium alcohol level, light body, and a medium (+) intensity of flavors: green apple, lemon, apple blossom, wet grass, wet stone, white pepper.
The finish is long.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this is a very good Sancerre that you can (and should) enjoy now, but does not have the potential for aging.
About the Wine: Jean-Jacques Auchére 2017 Sancerre
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: Youthful with pronounced aromas of green apple, lemon, honeysuckle, grass, wet stone, chamomile
Palate: Dry with high acid, medium alcohol level, light body, and a medium (+) intensity of flavors: green apple, lemon, lemongrass, wet stone
The finish is long.
Conclusion: Based on the WSET criteria, I concluded that this is a very good Vouvray that you can (and should) enjoy now, but does not have the potential for aging.
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