The Loire Valley wine region starts at the Atlantic Ocean and reaches into central France. It is most famous for Sancerre and Vouvray. While great examples of each exist, for the most part, the most expensive and least interesting wines imported into the US are going to be from these two appellations. Luckily, there are 67 other appellations full of diverse styles of wines to explore at great prices.
After Champagne, the Loire Valley produces the most sparkling wine in France. These bubbles come in every different style, and you can get a bottle of sparkling white, rosé and red from the Loire for the same price as one bottle of nice Champagne. Sparkling wines from the Loire, like all wines from the region, are not as mainstream in our country. This means two things. It is best to shop at a store specializing in wine to find them, and when you do find them, you can be reasonably sure that the liquid inside is going to be delicious. Some names to look for include Lambert, Louis de Grenelle, Champalou and Domaine Terres Blanche. Huet, from Vouvray, is one of the more famous names (especially for their sweeter still wines). You might also come across some sparkling reds, which are really wild. Domaine Terres Blanche is one example and Chateau de Miniere also makes a really cool red pét-nat.
If forced to drink whites from only one region, I would spend three seconds thinking about it before opting for the Loire. There are so many great wines in so many different styles, mostly from three different grapes: sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne. If you find a wine from a different grape, buy it! It’s going to be fun, trust me. The western most part of the Loire is the Muscadet or Nantais region. At one point, most of this region consisted of large areas of machine harvested vines, grown to produce the largest harvest possible. This resulted in flavorless, diluted wines, which some growers then aged on their lees (mostly dead yeast cells) to add texture. Thankfully, a revolution began in which growers started working with organics, hand harvesting and producing smaller yields. This vanguard recently started giving way to the next generation, which are continuing these ideas, but also experimenting with new ideas as well. Once Muscadet was Muscadet. Now there are 10 Crus within Muscadet, highlighting different soil types and terroir. Muscadet is a wonderful region, making white wines that can age for years. They are crisp, minerally, often even a little briney — the perfect foil for our shellfish. They are also comically undervalued as compared to the appellations of Chablis and Sancerre, with which they share certain characteristics. Names to look for include Eric Chevalier, Jo Landron, Pepiere, Luneau-Papin, Michel Caillot, Domaine des Cognettes, Michel Delhommeau and so many more. Once you’ve explored melon de bourgogne a bit, reach out for the other wines of the region. A good start is Jean Aubron’s Folle Blanche, a steal for under $15.
What about chenin blanc? You can find chenin from the Loire dry and bright, rich and full bodied, and sweet and succulent. It’s amazing what this grape does in different regions. Skip Vouvray and look for wines from Saumur, Anjou and Savennieres (a little pricey). These are underrepresented appellations, and many of the winemakers are very small, so the best bet is to ask your local wine merchant for recommendations, or better yet, have her choose a few different styles for you to explore.
Sauvignon blanc gets all the love. Many people today equate the Loire Valley with Sancerre. It’s true that some of the great sauvignon blancs of the world come from Sancerre, but it’s also true that the United States is awash with mediocre Sancerre, usually selling for $30 or more. Unless someone needs to be impressed, your best bets are to explore the wider Touraine region. For under $20, and often more like $15, there are sauvignon blancs full of bright acidity and crisp citrus fruit. Henri Bourgeois, a Sancerre producer, makes a $15 petit sauvignon blanc that is delicious. However, there are many more like Les Deux Moulins, Domaine L’Aumonier and La Chapiniere, among others.
Cabernet franc is king in the Loire. Whether you are drinking from the appellations Anjou, Saumur or Chinon, you are drinking cabernet franc. With its red berry fruit and crunchy texture, these wines are all perfect for the summer. With climate change, you can even find wines big enough to pair with a steak. Look for gamay as well. Often labeled with a Touraine or even Vin de Pay designation, gamay from the Loire often showcases peppercorn and bright red berries. It can usually be served with just the slightest chill. If you see a wine from the grapes grolleau, pineau d’aunis or others, be sure to grab them. They make fascinating bright, light wines. You might even find pinot noir. Two of my favorite pinot noirs on either end of the spectrum are both from the Loire Valley. Jean Francois Merieau’s Les Hexagonales is easy and delicious at $16, while Claude Riffault’s version from Sancerre is savory, elegant and beautiful at $40.
What about rosé? The Loire valley makes plenty of that, too. Most tend to be brighter and more focused then the Provence style that is so in. They are, for the most part, can’t miss, especially for anyone looking for a different type of rosé. Like most wines from the Loire, they are terrific with food. So get out there, and start exploring this amazing region before everyone else finds out how great the wines are!