15 May

Loire Valley Wines 101: White, Red, Rose and Sparkling

So I love wine, but I have A LOT to learn! Did you know that Cabernet Sauvignon is the product of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc? Well if you did, I’m impressed. I did not. I also didn’t realize that it is actually lighter or more “green” than Cabernet Sauvignon and is often used in Bordeaux blends; that is until I went to a seminar on Cab Franc at the Spring to Loire event in Chicago last month. Loire Valley is in Northwest France and cranks out some serious wines notably from Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgonge and Grolleau grapes.

Loire Valley Wine Map                 credit super cellars

In France (and most of the Old World) the wines are named after the town and region (appellation) and not by the varietal (grape). The map above shows the entire Loire Valley, which surrounds the Loire River – hence the name “valley”. You can see that the main wine growing regions are all along the Loire river.

If you’ve ever studied a French wine bottle, you’ve probably noticed the letters “AOC” printed on each label. AOC stands for Appellation d’origine contrôlée. AOC is a French governing body that basically creates standards for French wine and other agricultural products and is dependent on what regions the goods (in this case grapes) are grown and the goods (wine) are made; essentially the controlled origin of the product. You will also find the name of the winery and vintage – the year the grapes were grown and harvested.  If you see “NV” that means it is “non vintage” and grapes could be from varying years.

Loire Valley Wines

Main Grape Varietals Grown in Loire Valley

Sauvignon Blanc – The Loire Valley produces some of their best wines with Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc can taste like citrus fruit but can also be fuller bodied and rich, depending on the appellation it is grown. Sancerre (region in Loire) is a very popular wine from Loire and is typically made from Savignon Blanc, but Sancerre could also be made from Pinot Noir, but that is more limited.   Sancerre blanc is usually full-bodied and dry with flavor notes of gooseberry and peach.  Sancerre rouge (red) is dry. Both are made in stainless steel with little exposure to oak. My first time trying Sancerre was at this event and I notated that it was the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve ever had.

Chenin Blanc – Not to be confused with Chinon – which is a town within the Loire Valley. Chinon actually produces some nice Cab Francs (confusing, yes!) along with some whites. Chenin blanc is a white grape, hence the name “blanc”, which means white in French. Chenin Blanc is high in acidity and can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to dessert wines. My personal favorite is a sparkling (pétillant) Vouvray Demi-Sec – a crisp, slightly sweet, sparkling wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc – delicious!

Cabernet Franc – Cabernet Franc has a very unique scent and can vary from being very light to being more full – bodied, but not as full as Cabernet Sauvignon. Cab Franc is typically used in Bordeaux style blends with Merlot and Cab Sav – Bordeaux being a region surrounding the town of Bordeaux in Southwest France.

Melon de Bourgogne – Most of the wine from the Loire is from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, aka melon. It makes for a refreshing and crisp white wine.

Gamay – A red grape that makes for a light bodied, fruity wine. Given some time, the fruits will ripen and become more rich. Gamay is also found in Beaujolais (wine growing region in Eastern France) and notably used in Beaujolais Nouveau.

Grolleau – A deep black grape (hence the French definition of the word is “crow”) that is typically used to make Anjou rose. It is relatively high in acid and low in alcohol once converted into wine.

Pinot Noir – A red grape known for producing lighter wines and grown in the Sancerre & Pouilly-Fume appellation in Centre-Loire. Often used in sparkling wines and rose and also by itself.

Loire valley wines

Main Loire Valley Wine Producing Regions “AOC”

Loire valley is a primarily white-wine region that stretches over a long distance along the Loire River in central and western France, and where grape varieties and wine styles vary along the river. Four sub-regions are situated along the river: Touraine, Pays Nantais , Centre-Loire and Anjou.

  • Touraine AOC – Touraine aka “the garden of France” produces cold climate-styled white wines (dry, sweet or sparkling) from Chenin Blanc in Vouvray AOC and red wines from Cabernet Franc in Bourgueil AOC and Chinon AOC.
  • Samur AOC – Saumur is similar to theTourain wines with respect to varieties, but the drySavennièresAOC and sweetCoteaux duLayonAOC are often more powerful than their upstream neighbors (Samur andSamur-Champigny).
    • Saumur AOC is known for sparkling wines and red wine from Cab Franc. The followingAOCs may be used for Saumur wine:
      • Cabernet de Saumur – a rosé wine
      • Coteaux de Saumur – a medium sweet white wine
      • Saumur – white, red or sparkling
      • Saumur-Champigny – red wine
      • Saumur mousseux – sparkling
  • Anjou AOC – Anjou produces many of the Loire Valley’s sweet wines made from Chenin Blanc. It also produces an excellent red Anjou made from Cab Franc. Rose d’Anjou is an off dry Rose that is fantastic (I noted a bottle to try below)!
  • Pays Nantais AOC – A region situated closest to the Atlantic, and produces Muscadet AOC – crisp white wines from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. Wines have been produced since the Roman era! Pays Nantais is the largest white wine appellation in France.
  • Centre-Loire AOC – Grapes have been growing here for at least 2,00o years. It’s the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre – the world’s most prestigious Sauv Blanc. Some great reds from Pinot Noir also come out of Cnetre-Loire. Other wines out of Centre Loire include: Pouily-Fume, Menetou-Salon, Chateaumeillant, Quincy and Reuily.

         Credit: Wikipedia & Loire Valley Wines Handbook + My notes

Loire valley winesThe Spring to Loire wine tasting event was a blast. My three biggest take aways were 1.) The wines out of the Loire Valley are overall pretty dry, crisp and great for summer. 2.) Learn to spit when wine tasting so I don’t get blasted, 3.) The Loire Valley cranks out some serious sparkling wines that I am a HUGE fan of – Vouvray Demi sec and Rose d’Anjou here I come!!! Also, as it turns out, I’m not a huge fan of Cab franc as a single varietal wine, which I thought I was. Perhaps I should give it another chance. Another noteworthy takeaway is wines in France are named after the region or appellation they are grown and not the varietal.

When a French person goes to pick out wine, they know what grape they are getting by reading the label, but it’s not all about the grape to them, it’s about the region. To us novice wine-o Americans, that makes things rather confusing since we name our wines by the grape varietal! In the end, it’s all French to me!

What are your favorite wines out of the Loire Valley? A few bottles I suggest are below:

1. Rose d’Anjou (AOC) , Monmousseau (name of winery), 2015 (vintage) – a sparkling rose wine made from 50% cab franc and 50% Grolleau $n/a – can find at Binny’s

2. Sancerre – Monmousseau, 2014, 100% Sauvignon Blanc  $n/a

3. Vouvray – Jean=Michel Gautier, 2014, Chenin Blanc “Demi-Sec” slightly sweet and delicious $21.99

 

 

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