March 27, 2017
The Garden of France
A mere two-hour drive south of the French capital, the Loire Valley has long been the playground of Paris’s well-to-do. The landscape is green, lush, pastoral and dotted with castles. It has provided northern France with incredible food and wine for centuries, yet it still seems like a well-kept secret.
Loire Valley wines remain relatively inexpensive. These wines have intensely mineral personalities, with focused, expressive and earnest styles. They are not big or brash, and so have struggled to find a foothold in the Alberta market where bold wines tend to dominate. Loire Valley’s acid-driven wines are a perfect start to renew and refresh your palate – and make for memorable spring and summer sips.
Muscadet, Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre are perhaps three of the region’s better know wines, but there is so much more to discover. As wine professionals and consumers alike continue to seek out more and more wines that provide value, balance, textural experiences and food pairing prowess, the Loire Valley is finally more than a blip on the wine radar.
Among gourmands, the Loire Valley is known as the Garden of France: revered for its regional culinary flare and delectable local ingredients. Shellfish, fresh water seafood, goat cheeses, vegetables (asparagus in particular) and orchard fruits are all specialties of the Loire where the wines are purposefully suited to its cuisine.
Touring the Valley.
It is easiest to think of Loire as three distinct parts: the mouth of the river on the west coast that is home to the Muscadet; the central Loire where the grape varieties Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc dominate; and, the eastern Loire, which is home to the famous Sauvignon Blanc regions of Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre.
Muscadet is located on France’s Atlantic coast. Its namesake wines are traditionally paired with oysters, mussels, or anything in need of a lemony kick that Muscadet always provides. Muscadet is one of today’s great wine values, as very good versions can easily be found for under $20.
IN THE MIDDLE
The middle section of the Loire is home to a myriad of grapes varieties, including more well known types like Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. However, it is Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc that are the real stars here.
Chenin Blanc is a chameleon, capable of shape shifting into multiple white wine styles: from sparkling to dry, off-dry, medium sweet and sweet. Profound examples of all styles can be found from the region of Vouvray. But the true “must try” wines of the Loire Valley are the dry Chenin Blancs from the tiny region of Savennieres. It is here that Chenin Blanc transcends the typical white wine experience.
Cabernet Francs from this part of France are medium-bodied, full of red-fruit flavours like raspberry and cherry, and have interesting earthy (think clay) and herbal nuances. Celebrated Cabernet Franc regions include Saumur-Champigny, Chinon and Bourgueil. These are juicy, bright and lively wine styles that are ideal alongside many of your favourite dishes – or enjoyed outdoors under sunny skies.
FAMOUS SAUVIGNON BLANC
For most people, the famous villages of Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre are the gateway into the Loire Valley. The two towns are located directly across from each other, separated only by the Loire River itself. The Sauvignon Blanc from this part of the world is renowned for its balance of zippy citrus fruit-flavours, grassiness and wet-stone accents. They are completely refreshing as aperitifs and pair magically with goat cheese. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs in contrast are much noisier and tropical in flavour. Best served jet cold, the Sauvignon Blancs of Pouilly Fume and Sancerre cut like a knife and can be relatively neutral: making them perfect with seafood, green salads with vinaigrette and lemon infused dishes.