I never really realized just how large the Loire Valley is until I started studying for the WSET Level 3. It’s…pretty big. Like, a bit intimidating big. And, unfortunately, I don’t have a really good short answer question that can help break it down for me. So, I’m being creative. I’m using some sample multiple choice questions I found around the inter-webs to help me break into the region at a more accommodating pace.
[Answer(s) based on WSET Level 3 material]
1) What are the four regions of the Loire Valley and what are their respective climates?
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
Can I tell you a personal story for a moment? I have wine maps encompassing my home office at the moment. Every region I need to know for this test I’ve printed out, attached notecards with key points, and pinned them to create a kind of wine globe. The Loire Valley is one of the highest points in my self-created wine world. And it keeps falling down. And now I know why. It was trying to tell me that I was understanding the map wrong. Contrary to what it sounds like, the Central Vineyards are not central to the Loire Valley. Nope. Central refers to the center of France. Now that that’s out there, this first point will make more sense.
- 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.
2) Where is Vouvray located? What kind of wine is produced?
Vouvray is located in the Touraine region and when we think Vouvray we must think Chenin Blanc. Chenin is one of those grapes where the soil makes all the difference. As we just read, Touraine is home to predominantly clay based soils that will stay cooler and wetter given the cooler and wetter climate. It is traditionally light-bodied with fresh fruity and floral notes. And while it can be made in a range of styles, from dry to lusciously sweet depending on the specific vintage, Vouvray’s main production is in sparkling Chenin Blanc.
Which area in the Loire Valley is prone to botrytis?
Botrytis, aka noble rot, that fun little funky fungus that, if grown properly, can produce beautiful sweet wines. In Loire, the place that best produces sweet wine from noble rot has to be Coteaux du Layon. The appellation is located inside Saumur-Anjou in a sheltered valley near the River Layon (a river that diverges south of the Loire River) that produce the ideal conditions. (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.
I also want to throw in a note here about the neighboring Savennieres appellation. Here the climate is warm and dry, as mentioned above, but contrary to the situation in Coteaux du Layon, the vineyard area is well exposed, not in a sheltered valley. Thus, the air circulation impedes the development of noble rot. That being said, the region is noted for producing a late harvest Chenin Blanc—a dry late harvest Chenin Blanc—that is said to age for decades.
3) What style of rosé produced in the Loire Valley is always dry?
We did cover this is my rosé winemaking pop quiz, but why not reinforce it here? For this answer, we zero in on the region of Anjou-Saumur.
- 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. DING DING DING DING! We have our answer. But let’s continue…
- 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.
While we’re here, a few other rosé mentions…
- Rosé from Touraine can be made from a variety of black grapes and are usually dry, fresh, and fruity.
- Sancerre rosé (Yeah! You read that right. I always thought the region was home to 100% white wine, specifically Sauvignon Blanc. But, did you know that Sancerre actually produces a small amount of Pinot Noir? So do other regions inside the Central Vineyards, but Sancerre is where the best vineyard sites are located.) That was a long parenthetical phrase and if you made it to the other side then you won’t be surprised that the rest of the sentence goes like this … is made from Pinot Noir and is typically pale, light bodied, and dry with delicate fruit flavors
4) Describe a Muscadet Sévre et Maine 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.
5) With reference to the Loire Valley, write about…
a) Cabernet Franc
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-Bourguil (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.
I talked a bit about Savenniéres above, but will reiterate here. 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.
c) The soils of Touraine
As mentioned above, Touraine is home to predominantly clay-based soils on which Cabernet Franc thrives (when paired with the right aspect and altitude). Touraine is also 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.
d) Fungal disease
There is, indeed, a fungus among us, and its name is botrytis. But beyond that, fungal disease is a concern in the Loire Valley, especially in the Nantais region with its maritime climate. Remember, with a maritime climate, rain can happen throughout the year and without proper air circulation, moisture between buds or full-on berries can cause detrimental funguses. And even where botrytis is present, the preferable noble rot can quickly turn to grey rot, if vineyard conditions are not correct, leading to grapes unsuitable for wine production.
So how’d I do? Did I answer these questions ok? Anything you want to add? Questions, comments, concerns, observations AND requests are ALWAYS appreciated. That being said, I’m going to do a follow up post to this one covering some of the key Loire points that these questions didn’t. Stay tuned. Oh…and I may have a wine review or two coming your way featuring some Loire wines. 😉
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