It was on our fifth trip to France in 2006 that we first visited the lovely Loire Valley. Of course, my research for the trip included a great deal of information about the beautiful châteaux of the region, as I tried to discern which of the forty most famous beautiful castles we would be able to visit in our four days there. I didn’t realize from my research that the Loire Valley itself was stunning; it is often called “The Gardens of France.” I made that discovery as we drove though the region, which is only about an hour and a half drive southwest of Paris. The region is also covered in vineyards! Interspersed with the vineyards on either side of the Loire River are lovely orchards and fields of vegetables! And, THE WINES, the wines of the region are marvelous, beautiful, food friendly wines!
If any wine region could be described as “made for Goldilocks,” it would be the Loire region of France. Especially well-suited for summer, the wines are not too heavy, not too light, but just right. Whether sparkling, white, rosé, red, or dessert, the Loire has a fantastic example of just the right wine for any occasion.
There are four major wine producing areas in the Loire. My favorite wine from the Loire is from Chinon, a region in the middle of the valley. Ninety percent of the wine from this region is red wine made from the Cabernet Franc grape. Cabernet Franc is a perfect summer red, fuller than a Pinot Noir, yet less heavy than Cabernet Sauvignon. These reds should be served ever so slightly chilled! Rosés of Cabernet Franc are softer and richer than those of Provence. In addition to producing great wine, the area is home to the Fortress of Chinon, where the 17-year-old Joan of Arc came to liberate the future King Charles VII and drive the British from France. It is the largest fortress in France.
The Central Vineyards in the extreme eastern part of the Loire Valley are where the villages of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are located. These are the best-known areas of the Loire, producing Sauvignon Blanc styles known the world over. Their signature lean, crisp, flinty, and sometimes gun smoke aromas make them excellent pairings for oysters and other seafood. Pinot Noir is also produced here, as the area is not far from Burgundy, but in a softer style, lower in acidity. It also lends itself to rich rosés.
Vouvray and Touraine are best known for the white wines made from Chenin Blanc. Vouvray is available in still and sparkling styles, ranging in sweetness levels from off dry to decadently sweet. The Domaine Huet sparkling wines are not to be missed if you ever get the chance to try one! Cabernet Franc is also grown in this area and can be delightful with flavors of dark berries with hints of violets and earth, again without the bitter, grating tannins of its better known cousin Cabernet Sauvignon.
Less well known, the regions of Anjou and Samur to the west, also produce excellent wines from the same two grape varietals, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Sparkling whites and rosés are produced under the term “Cremant de Loire” which means they are made in the same method and style as champagne. The whites are crisp with floral aromas, and are apple-like with hints of honey. They can be very dry to very sweet. This area is best known for its rosé, which makes up half of the production. And, in exceptional years, Chenin Blanc can even produce a sweet, dessert style wine called a Quarts de Chaume which can rival a Sauternes in decadence.
A tiny lovely footnote in the Loire Valley is the region of Nantes in the far west of the valley, which is known for Muscadet. The sea breezes from the Atlantic Ocean here help to create a crisp white wine, lean with hints of minerals. These wines are also a great pairing for seafood.
While perfect for warm weather, these wines are not just summer loves. When fall and the holidays arrive again, these wines will make excellent mid-dinner wines or light wines for appetizer gatherings. Above all, they make excellent gifts, as they are delicious, just-right wines, yet relatively unknown to the average wine drinker. So, gift and guide your friends into the Loire, the “Goldilocks wines” of France.