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Guide to the Touraine

Guide to the Touraine

The Touraine does it all and does it brilliantly: easy-drinking white, red and rosé wines; sparkling wines; sweet wines that will bend your mind. The region even makes incredibly cellar-worthy reds and some of France’s longest-lived collectible white wines. 

If France is the world’s most diverse wine country and the Loire is France’s most diverse wine region, the Touraine is the Loire Valley’s most diverse subregion.

The Touraine is made up of the wine regions that surround the city of Tours.

Its terroir is enormously varied: it covers an area where the Atlantic and continental climates meet; where the culture of Sauvignon Blanc fades and Chenin Blanc rise; where the soils go from chalky tuffeau to flinty-clay, shot throughout by sands and gravels from aeons of deposits by the Loire and other rivers. 

The Touraine’s best-known grape varieties are Cabernet Franc (red and rosé wines) and Chenin Blanc (white and sparkling wines). But it’s also chock-full of delicious Gamay and Côt (the local name for Malbec) for red wines, and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for whites. Most impressively to the wine geeks among us, the Touraine is home to riveting rarities like Pineau d’Aunis, Grolleau and Romorantin.

The Touraine is cool and the wines are cool climate wines: always vibrant with acidity and delicate, precise flavors, they pair with almost any food you could put on a table from the myriad local cheeses to the incredible vegetable dishes, to the local meats. It’s hard to imagine a better place to eat and drink -- after all, it is often called the jardin de la France. 

Here are the Touraine’s most famous appellations:

Vouvray

(known for white wines ranging from bone dry, through sparkling, to decadently sweet)

vouvray

Whether you like super-dry white wines, super-sweet dessert wines, or a Cinderella-like just-so demi-sec, there’s a Vouvray for you. And if you like sparkling wines that taste of their terroir, are beautiful with food on release but that can also age? You’ll like Vouvray.

Vouvray has long been an insider’s favorite for its ability to offer sheer pleasure, incredible terroir transparency, and all at reasonable prices. The secret has been getting out, somewhat, and prices have started to climb. But the wines are better than ever and the values are still solid. 

  • Flavors
    • Vouvray offers such a wealth of flavors that it’s hard to believe it’s a single appellation working with a single grape. Chenin’s usual range from apple and orchard fruit through dry honey are all in play, together with mineral notes unique to the different soil compositions. 
  • Soils
    • If you’ve ever seen the beautiful Loire Castle of Chambord (yes, the same name as the raspberry drink) you’ve seen Tuffeau: the golden-hued limestone subsoil of Vouvray. Roots can dig deep in this soil (in fact, if you spend time in Vouvray cellars dug out under the vineyard hills you’ll actually see the vines’ roots breaking through the cellar ceilings and into the caves themselves. 
    • Above the subsoil, Vouvray has varied terroirs with everything from chalky limestone to clay and flint (known locally as perruches), sand and various mixtures of all those elements.
  • Grape
    • In Vouvray it’s all Chenin Blanc, all the time.
  • Climate
    • This is the middle of France and the climate is continental. The grapes preserve lots of acidity thanks to the cool temperatures, but they also can hang for a long time and develop lots of flavor and sugar, all of which makes it possible for them to produce the large variety of wines they do, from bone dry to unctuously sweet.
  • Wines
    • Vouvray categorizes its white wines based on how sweet it is and whether it sparkles:

Sec: “Sec” is French for “dry” and it’s the name they give to, not surprisingly, the driest of their wines. These wines will technically have a little sugar in them (otherwise the acidity would feel out of balance), but less than 0.4% (meaning less than 4 grams/L) and when you taste them they range from very dry to shockingly dry. The best Vouvray Secs age for 10 years easily and better vintages with great storage will age much longer.

Demi-Sec: “Half sec” in French, is an off-dry style with enough sugar in the wine that you can taste it, but not enough to make it feel overtly sweet (up to 1.2g/L). At this level of sweetness in the best wines, the sugar works largely to help carry the fruit flavors and not to make the wine feel like dessert. Some Vouvray fanatics consider this to be the best sweetness level for appreciating Vouvray’s terroir, without the distraction of either too much sugar or intense acidity.

Moelleux: “Sweet” in French, is the name for, well, the sweetest Vouvrays. They can contain lots of sugar (maybe even 45 g/L) but the best of the wines are perfectly balanced by acidity that keeps them fresh and so full of complex flavors that it’s easy to think of the sweetness as merely complementary to the main event. 

Sparkling Vouvray: Vouvray Brut and Vouvray Petillant: Vouvray makes some of France’s greatest sparkling wines. The Bruts are made, like Champagne, according to methode traditionelle. There are also wines made according to older techniques, like Huet’s famous Vouvray Petillant, which is bottled with lower pressure and yet which has bubbles that are beautifully persistent.

 

Chinon

(known for red, white and rosé wines) 

This is Cab Franc country -- and just about as good as that grape gets. Many of the wines are fresh and simple easy-drinking wines full of raspberry and chalk flavors, perfect with light food like caesar salad, roast chicken or lighter meats off the grill. But Chinon is also home to some very top sites that make much more serious wines with more power and structure that are great with heavier meats, even steaks or burgers. 

There is also a very small amount of white Chinon, from Chenin Blanc, which can be utterly delicious and incredibly long-lived. 

  • Soils
    • Chinon’s soils are varied. Some, especially near the water, are sandy and light and mostly make the easy-drinking wines you might find in a bistro. Other sites have bare clay-limestone soils or tuffeau much like in Vouvray, and make much more structured wines. There are even sites with deep gravels, perfect for drainage and ripening, just like in the famous gravelly sites of Bordeaux (another great region for Cabernet Franc).

Saint Nicolas-de-Bourgueil

(known for red wine)

Much like Chinon, the soils in some spots are lighter and sandier and denser with limestone in others. But the river is wider here providing some sites with more of a moderating influence than the distant Atlantic offers. The wines have a reputation for elegance.

Bourgueil

(known for red wine, with tiny amounts of rosé)

  • A classic Loire appellation that is outside the scope of this blog post.

 

The Touraine is also home to many less famous regions that make amazing wines that are totally worth getting to know.

The Vendômois

The coolest region in Touraine, up at the northern end of the region where the maritime influence that begins in the Touraine is barely appreciable. This is the land of the Loir river -- note the missing “e” -- a tributary of the Loire. It is almost as far north as French wine country goes -- Champagne and Alsace are further north, but not much else. On top of that, many of the vineyards are north facing and have cool, flinty soils. 

All this makes for some of the highest acid wines in the Loire, with bright fruit flavors complemented by pepper and spice that can beguile.

There are three appellations in the Vendômois.

1. Jasnières 

This appellation for white wines from Chenin Blanc is pretty rare but the few wines we do get in America tend to be from top producers and distributed by some of our favorite importers. 

The soils are varied with clay and limestone in different amounts, as well as some particularly fascinating sites that are very rich in flint (silex, in French), which can give the Chenin a smoke note that may remind you of Pouilly Fumé. Kermit Lynch’s grower, Janvier, even has a cuvée called Cuvée du Silex.

The wines are already beautiful when they arrive young, with pretty stone fruit, floral notes and minerality.  They sing with rich seafood dishes or creamy dishes. They are also said to age beautifully for five or ten years or even longer, developing towards spice and honey and deeper minerality. Unfortunately, we almost never see these wines with age. If you’re interested, you should start buying some now and hiding them away somewhere cool and dark! 

2. Coteaux du Loir 

The white wines are also from Chenin Blanc and the red wines are from Pineau d’Aunis, an amazing local specialty that makes wines that range from easy drinking, crisp and fruity to (in the right hands and coming from the best sites) deeply mineral, perfumed and peppered wines of substance. The two most famous producers that come to New York are Eric Nicolas’ Domaine de Belliviere and Patrick Janvier.  

3. Coteaux du Vendômois

Red, white and rosé wines that rarely make their way to America but are often incredible values when they do. They tend to be fresh and light and full of berry fruit and hints of minerality and flowers. Unfortunately, we see very few examples in America.

Touraine, Touraine-Amboise, Touraine-Chenonceaux, Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau (and their neighbors)

The Loire city of Tours gives its name not only to the broader region of the Touraine, but to a handful of specific appellations with a local name appended to Touraine. Many of the appended names are also famous Chateaux, like the three above. 

Logically enough, many of these appellations are in the “Garden of France” region where the Kings of yore built incredible chateaux and where tourists love to galavant today. But it’s hardly a region constrained by history. In fact, it’s home to many of France’s most exciting, cutting edge natural wine producers. This is one of the homes of natural wine in France, and we’ll be devoting a whole blog post to these producers and this wine. (So stay tuned!)

  • Soils
    • Super-varied with flint, clay, clay-limestone, sandy spots,  gravel and, of course, chalky subsoils.
  • Grape Varieties
    • Sauvignon Blanc is the most common white grape, with Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay also present. Red grapes are wildly varied: although Gamay represents more than half the crop, the list of other grapes includes Cabernet Franc, Malbec (called Côt, locally), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pineaus d’Aunis, Pinot Noir and Grolleau. 
  • Styles and food pairings
    • Any area this diverse in soil and grape and producer could be expected to have a huge variety of wine styles and flavors. And indeed there are.
But there’s also a unifying theme here: whether they are sulfur-free natural wines from the experimental end of things, or a more conventionally made wine designed to appeal to conservative mothers-in-law, the wines tend to have a lithe and graceful easy-drinking mien that shows off pretty fruit and, again, works beautifully with many foods.
True, some of the wines will be more polished than others; some natural wines will be deeply funky. But all of them will have that Touraine freshness.

Other Regions

There are some other wines from this region that you may see, but which are outside the scope of this post. 

  • Cheverny (white, red and sometimes rosé wines)
  • Cour-Cheverny (very rare white wine from the ancient Romorantin grape)
  • Montlouis (a Vouvray neighbor with a growing reputation)

 

 

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