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A Whirlwind Tour of the Loire

Written by: Tom Gilbey

With our wine of the week being Muscadet and with the temperature promising to hit 29 degrees, we’re shining a light on the Loire with its perfect selection of wines to match our pre summer holiday mood and the smiles on our faces now that summer’s definitely here.

So what grows here?

The most well-known and talked about wines are the Sauvignons from the very far east of the Loire, most famously Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.  (Note that Sancerre and Menetou Salon do also make a bit of red from Pinot Noir which at it's best is extremely tasty, light and straight forward if a bit overpriced).

These are less exotic than the New World Sauvignons with the good ones having more complexity and finesse. The strict Appelation Controllee laws mean that the vignerons aren’t allowed to water their vines here, so forcing the vine to drill its roots deep in to the sub soil, some 10 feet deep for the older vines, where they suck up their water with key nutrients that they transport to their grapes. This is the point three of the all-important French terroir triangle - soil, grape and climate ...

The soil bit is absolutely key and it’s why these two wines, Pouilly Fume and Sancerre, even though they’re just a few kilometres apart on either side of the river, can taste so different. Sancerre is largely made up of chalk soils and Pouilly Fume is predominantly limestone. The chalk gives Sancerre a gentle creaminess and supports the fresh, hedgerow and cut grass aromas and those tangy gooseberry flavours whilst the limestone in Pouilly Fume gives the best wines a smack of gun flint on the nose, exactly the smell of a gun barrel shortly after it’s been let off.

So what’s west?

Well, despite us seeing less of them over here, the Central Loire is home to some of the most complex and delicious wines of the region if not in France as a whole. The dominant red grape here is Cabernet Franc making wines of varying degrees of deliciousness in Saumur, St. Nicolas de Bourgeoil, Chinon, to name but a few. These are extraordinarily pretty wine regions with impressive Chateaux and caves cut in to the banks of the Loire to house their cellars. In my experience, the best of these reds are simple, juicy wines that can be enjoyed cool, so brilliant for this week. Some vignerons are making beefier, more complex wines which rarely stack up against the reds from further south which achieve this effortlessly with that bit more heat and sun.

The real unsung hero though from the Central Loire is the Chenin Blanc. The Loire valley is the home of Chenin where it makes some of the finest sweet wines in the world (Coteaux du Layon and Quartz de Chaumes) and a variety of dry whites from ultra-zippy and refreshing Vouvray Sec to the deeply complex dry whites of Anjou.

And then there’s the Pays Nantais

…the far east, to the mouth of the Loire. Here’s Muscadet land, the best of which can, and often is drunk in vast volumes, extremely cold with fine seafood and shellfish. There’s no wine quite like it when put in front of a plate of shellfish that’s going to require getting your hands dirty – it’s as refreshing as white wine gets. Made from Melon de Bourgogne, the majority and some of the best of these are classified ‘de Sevre et Maine - sur lie’. Sevre et Maine is the Appelation covering 23 of the best villages of the region and ‘sur lie’ means that the wine has been aged for 6 months on its lees (dead yeasts and other detritus) giving a degree of complexity not found in your bog standard Muscadets. These wines are often bottled with a bit of CO2 to add a prickly zip to them and are delicious drunk fresh and young… although the really good ones are even better with an extra years bottle age – we kept back some 2016 which is drinking even better now than the newly arrived and super scrummy 2017.

…and that, in a nutshell, is a whirlwind tour of our favourite wine region for this week. If you like the sound of any of these delicious wines from the Loire, take a look at our range here and don't be afraid to call us for a steer.

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