The Loire Valley1STAFF TRAINING MODULEThe Loire River is Europe’s last wild river and France’s longest, meandering on a 629mile-long path from its headwaters in the Massif Central to its mouth near Nantes onthe Atlantic Coast. The Loire Valley produces a great range of wines from myriad grapesand regions, yet the wines crafted along the river’s path share a common versatility, liftand energy at the table. In terms of pure value, Loire wines are unmatched.
Pays Nantais: This region surrounds the city ofNantes near the Loire’s mouth on the AtlanticCoast. With a cool and wet maritime climate,the Pays Nantais produces lean, often sheerwhite wines from Melon de Bourgogne—thegrape of Muscadet—and Gros Plant.Anjou-Saumur: This vast, dynamic area of wineproduction sweeps southward from the city ofAngers and the Loire River east of Pays Nantais.The Region2The Loire Valley is divided into four sectors:The Loire Valley, known as Jardin de la France (“garden of France”), is a picturesque and bountifulregion of small vineyards, farms, pastures, and orchards. The region covers a vast terrain from Sancerreto Nantes and occupies a series of changing climates and shifting soils. Much of the region lies on orabove the 47th parallel, placing the Loire Valley among France’s northernmost winegrowing areas.Thus, the Loire produces more white wines than any other region in France, and is second only toChampagne in sparkling wine production. Organic and biodynamic vineyards are a common sightthroughout the Loire, and interest in “natural” winemaking is high among younger producers.While maritime inﬂuences still affect Anjou’s climate, the ocean’s moderating inﬂuence is tempered byvast forests southwest of Anjou. The schist soils common in the western half of Anjou give way totuffeau limestone in Saumur to the east. Anjou produces a vast amount of rosé wines—many of whichare viniﬁed in an off-dry style—and Saumur is the Loire’s center for sparkling wine production.Touraine: The region surrounding Tours is scattered with châteaux and home to iconic representationsof Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Soft tuffeau limestone underlies much of Touraine, providingexcellent water drainage for vines as well as a malleable material for the excavation of undergroundcellars.Central Vineyards: To the east, the Loire’s Central Vineyards experience a more continental climate,with a shorter growing season than those areas to the west. Grapes like Cabernet Franc fare poorlythis far up the river, but Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir excel.
The Major GrapesBest known as the grape of Muscadet, Melon is a fairly neutral grape, characterized bypronounced acidity, lean structure, and lemon, saline and mineral ﬂavors. Many estates chooseto produce “sur lie” Muscadet wines, in which the wine is left in contact with its lees for aperiod of months after fermentation, and bottled unﬁltered. Muscadet “sur lie” tends to bericher than basic bottlings, with a slightly creamier mouthfeel and a subtle prickle. Aromaticcomplexity is enhanced by leesy ﬂavors of brioche and nut. Young Muscadet and East Coastoysters are a revelation, but the wines may also pair well with sushi and a variety of other lightﬁsh courses.33Melon de BourgogneMuscadet AOP: As basic appellation for Melonwines produced throughout the Pays Nantais,Muscadet AOP is best consumed in thevibrancy of youth. These are not aromatic wines,and they are best presented at the beginning ofa meal.Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOP: The best “surlie” examples from the premier appellation forMuscadet may strike tasters as Chablis-like, andmay improve with bottle age.Important AOPs for Muscadet/Melon de Bourgogne
The Major GrapesWith its characteristic fragrance of honey, herbal tea, damp hay and ﬂowers, Loire Chenin Blancprovides rich tasting imagery. The wine is produced in many different styles—dry, sweet, off-dry,sparkling, semi-sparkling—and has an array of applications tableside. Even in sweeter forms,Chenin Blanc provides cleansing acidity. The Loire Valley sets the gold standard for Chenin Blanc.4Chenin BlancCoteaux du Layon AOP: South of Savennières, the region of Coteauxdu Layon produces off-dry to lusciously sweet wines from Chenin Blanc.Lighter styles are appropriate for a springtime aperitif, whereas richer,sweeter versions are more appropriate for dessert or cheeses. Coteauxdu Layon can be a lighter and sprightlier pairing with foie gras thanSauternes, particularly at the beginning of a lengthy tasting menu.Important AOPs for Chenin BlancBonnezeaux AOP and Quarts de Chaume “Grand Cru” AOP: Reserved for sweet, botrytis-affectedwines from small areas within Anjou, these two appellations offer some of the Loire Valley’s mostcomplex and rewarding dessert wines.Label Terminology:Sec: DryDemi-Sec: Semi-dryMoelleux: SweetPétillant: Semi-SparklingMousseux: Fully SparklingVouvray: Located in Touraine, Vouvray produces still Chenin Blancwines across the full range of sweetness, and the occasional sparklingexamples retain rich varietal character. Even when labeled dry,Vouvray wines offer a wisp of sweetness on the palate. Vouvray canbe a great match with earthy components on the plate—beets,carrots or spring turnips—that connote a similar suggestion ofsweetness. Off-dry wines from Vouvray are versatile with ripe cheeses.Savennières AOP: The small appellation of Savennières in Anjou is knownfor dry, oxidative, and full-bodied styles of Chenin Blanc: At 13.5% alcoholor more, Savennières is the Loire’s most powerful white wine. Here, Chenintakes on more viscous tones of honey, roasted apple and ginger; itaccompanies richer dishes, particularly those with cream-based components,poultry, and game. Two single vineyards in Savennières, Coulée de Serrantand Roche Aux Moine have earned their own AOP designations.
45The Major GrapesGreen and grassy, sharp and stony—in the white wines of the Central Vineyards,Sauvignon Blanc etches a classic, direct proﬁle of vegetal pungency, citrus andpassion fruit. As the variety’s popularity continues to rise, Sauvignon Blanc acreageis increasing elsewhere in the Loire as well.Sauvignon BlancSancerre AOP: The Central Vineyards’ Sancerre is the classic home of SauvignonBlanc. The wines are often fermented and raised in tank or neutral wood, so thevariety’s sharp, mineral character is unobstructed by the ﬂavors of oak. Today, someproducers veer toward the style of New Zealand, offering louder aromatic intensityand showier tropical aromas, whereas others produce tight, steely wines of citrusand nerve. Overall, these light- to medium-bodied white wines elevate the tang offresh goat cheese admirably, and pair well with garden vegetables, green salads,ceviche, and other light seafood courses.Pouilly-Fumé AOP: Located across the Loire River from Sancerre, the wines of thePouilly-sur-Loire and surrounding townships are similar in style. In contrast withSancerre, tasters may ascribe a greater presence of ﬂint and smoke to the wines ofPouilly, and oak is a more common feature in the regions cellars.Important AOPs for Sauvignon Blanc
6The Major GrapesIn the cooler vineyards of the Loire—where Cabernet Sauvignon hasdifﬁculty ripening—Cabernet Franc shines. The wines brim withraspberry and cherry ﬂavors, tobacco and green herb. New oak is aninfrequent feature. The wines are medium- to full-bodied, withelevated acidity and alcohol levels of 13% or more. Tannins can beCabernet FrancChinon is the most famous address for Cabernet Franc in the Loire, but there are otherAOPs in its vicinity that produce a very similar style of wine. The rustic reds ofneighboring Bourgueil AOP and the more ﬂoral, aromatic examples fromSaumur-Champigny AOP, whose name is derived from the Latin campus ignis, or "ﬁeld ofﬁre", can be every bit as good as Chinon itself.Important AOPs for Cabernet FrancChinon AOP: In the westernmost sector of Touraine, Chinon is the classic home ofvarietal Cabernet Franc in the Loire Valley. Modern examples can be ripe, dense andfruity, but traditional examples often have a bitter, earthy, green component—a style thatcan be off-putting for guests reared on New World reds but essential for fans of classicFrench country wines. Chinon is a great bistro wine, and is commonly featured alongsidepork and rabbit rillettes, or bavette (ﬂank steak) and potatoes.
Pinot Noir grows in the Central Vineyards and eastern Touraine. Varietal Pinot Noirwines from the Loire Valley offer a real alternative to Burgundy, as the generalquality has greatly improved in recent years. The red and rosé wines of Sancerre andthe neighboring Menetou-Salon AOP are produced from Pinot Noir.Pinot NoirAlthough Gamay does not often feature as a varietal wine in the Loire, the region issecond only to Beaujolais in plantings. Gamay is typically used as a component ofred or rosé blends. The Pinot Noir-Gamay blends of Cheverny AOP are particularlynoteworthy.GamayWhile the abovementioned grapes constitute much of the Loire vineyard, they are byno means the whole story. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, and Malbec(known as “Cot” in France) join the lesser-known Pineau d’Aunis, Meunier, Grolleau,Romorantin, Gros Plant, Négrette, Orbois (Arbois), and more to complete the Loire’srange of varieties. When coupled with a great number of individual AOP zones, theLoire Valley’s tremendous winegrowing diversity is further enriched.Other Grapes of the Loire7
8Loire wines present an opportunity for discovery for all but the most wine-savvy diners. Bordeaux andBurgundy fans can remain in a realm of familiar grapes (Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir) while explor-ing new regions (Chinon and Sancerre), and the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc makes the white winesof Sancerre an easy sell. These are wines that pivot on the traits of energy and freshness, and willappeal to guests who value acidity and a lighter approach. In general, the wines of the Loire Valleyshould be easy sales for bistros and other restaurants focusing on classic French country food.The Loire’s sparkling wines provide an inexpensive alternative to Champagne. Sparkling Vouvray, withits earthy and woolen Chenin Blanc character, will appeal primarily to fans of the grape, but Crémantde Loire AOP—a sparkling wine crafted in the traditional method of Champagne—is a great choicefor guests celebrating on a budget. Still rosés from Sancerre and Anjou make easy spring- and sum-mertime sales. Anjou rosé, unlike Sancerre, usually offers subtle sweetness, and may be labeled asRose d’Anjou AOP, Cabernet d’Anjou AOP, or Cabernet de Saumur AOP. Finally, Chenin Blanc des-sert wines can clinch a hand-sale when paired with foie gras, fall fruit desserts featuring apple andquince, or a bit of blue cheese. Guests for whom familiarity with French dessert wines does notextend beyond Sauternes may be enthusiastically impressed by a good glass of Quarts de Chaume.1. What are the white and red grapes of Sancerre AOP?2. Name two appellations that produce sweet Chenin Blanc wines.3. What does “demi-sec” indicate on a bottle of Vouvray?4. What is the red grape of Chinon AOP?5. The Muscadet AOP is located in which of the Loire Valley’s four main regions?6. What does “sur lie” indicate on a bottle of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine?Selling Loire WinesReview questions