Top 5 Reasons to Fall in Love with Loire Valley Wines
The wines of the Loire Valley are some of the greatest wines in the world. The region gives us everything a wine lover could want, from collectible and age-worthy gems to fresh, fruity friendly wines that are easy to drink pair with any food on any occasion.
And yet they don’t have the high profile of peer regions, like Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Sancerre, the Loire’s most famous wine by a long shot, is practically a household name in America. But beyond Sancerre, the Loire is still relatively unknown.
And that’s a shame! Loire wines offer something for everyone, in every context.
In this post we’re going to start with the Five Reasons (and one bonus reason) we Love the Loire -- and why we think you will too!
Of course, as you can see from the map above: the Loire is a big region! So next, we’re going to break the region down into four bite-sized pieces.
Then in subsequent posts we’re going to dive deeper into some of these regions and answer some of your burning questions like, “What is the weirdest, most distinctive grape grown in the Loire Valley?” And, “Why is the Loire home to so many super-cool winemakers?”
Top 5 Reasons to Know the Loire valley
1. The Loire is the Most Diverse Wine Region in the World
If I could only drink the wines of one region for the rest of my life, it would be the Loire.
Because The Loire is a whole world of wine unto itself. You could drink only Loire Valley wines and you wouldn’t have to give anything up.
Great sparkling wines? Check. Light whites and ageworthy whites? Check, check.
And not just white wines: there are light reds to chill, brooding reds, and age-worthy reds.There are even a range of dessert wines that offer almost absurd degrees of pleasure. For anyone who has ever enjoyed a dessert -- or even a ripe piece of fruit -- these wines are must-tries!
The secret is that the Loire Valley is large, ranging from the hills of Central France through the semi-continental Anjou-Saumur and Touraine regions, to the Atlantic Coast. The variety of soils, microclimates and even winemaking and culinary traditions makes for an incredible range of wines.
Which brings us too….
2. Wine Travel; Travel Through Wine
On the one hand, the Loire is one of the most magical places in the world to visit. If you get the chance to see the famous castles and gorgeous natural geography, you won’t be disappointed.
On the other hand, if you don’t have time or cash to just jet over to Paris and hop on your high speed train for a week or two touring, you can always take a mini vacation with just a bottle of wine and a bite to eat.
No wines do a better job of transporting you to the land than the Loire Valley’s. Take Muscadet, from France’s Atlantic coast, which tastes of mineral and salty air. It’s an almost inexplicably affordable treat, and if you open a bottle with a dozen oysters you will have one of life’s truly great pairings. Close your eyes, savor the flavors and aromas, and you’ll swear you’re by the sea.
Even the seemingly ubiquitous Sancerre comes from a very small area in the Central Loire, an area where Sauvignon Blanc can get just ripe enough to give fruity, delicious flavors, without losing the super-fresh acidity and unique mineral notes that make it more than a simple sipper.
Wonder if it really comes from somewhere specific? Just pick up a little piece of the local goat cheese, crotin de chavignol, at your local cheesemonger next time you’re drinking Sancerre and you’ll be convinced you’re at a cafe looking at Sancerre’s limestone soils.
Of course, one of the great pleasures of travel is getting off the beaten path and finding something special and a little less well-known. Well, wine is very much the same way. And the Loire is great for both! Sancerre is worth drinking and visiting. But so is nearby Menetou Salon (which makes delicious Sancerre-like wines and has its own lovely country vibe), to say nothing of the beautiful chalky hills of Vouvray and the ancient hilltop village of Chinon -- and their respective wines!
3. The Loire Valley is the Home of Delicious, Budget-Friendly, Wines
Sancerre’s whites are a year-round favorite because they are dependably delicious, food-friendly wines that don’t have to break the bank. But they are just one of many Loire wines that fit that bill! From Muscadet on the Atlantic coast to Saint Pourçain deep in France’s interior, the Loire is a land of amazing wines that bring joy at reasonable prices.
4. Loire Valley Wines Are Easy-Breezy Gems, Fresh and Always Food-Friendly
Wine’s highest calling may well be at the dinner table. The right bottle of wine will help elevate even a simple meal, and can help you to see untold depths in a great dish.
And there’s no region that makes wines that are easier to pair with your meal than the Loire.
How do they do this magic? The Loire’s mix of climate, soils and winemaking practices (that is, the “Terroir”) all contribute to make wines with plenty of acidity but that retain their beautiful fruit. That acidity acts like a squirt of lemon on your food (imagine a little lemon wedge with your fresh seafood): it brings the flavors to life, adds contrast, and keeps every bite feeling fresh.
Sancerre is the quintessential example of this style of wine: the Sauvignon Blanc fruit is delicious and works well with lots of foods, but the wine’s natural acidity is what really makes it sing.
But the best thing of all is you don’t have to go hunting for a fancy bottle to have this experience. (After all, “Budget Friendly” was our Reason #3...) Many a simple bottle of wine from the Touraine will give you the same pleasure, whether it’s a white (like Sauvignon Blanc) or a red (like fresh and fruity Gamay or Cabernet Franc): Loire wines are made to bring meals to life.
5. The Loire is Ancient, Yet Avant Garde
The Loire is an ancient winemaking region. The Roman’s planted vines in the 1st Century and by the middle ages it was considered one of the greatest wines across both England and France. Although much has changed, many ancient sites are still farmed and many winemakers work à l’ancienne.
And yet, the Loire is on the cutting edge. It has been home to many of France’s great, natural, organic and biodynamic winemakers since the dawn of the movement. It has been a welcoming home to many young and female winemakers.
It’s hard to say why it manages to straddle the ancient and the modern so comfortably. It has helped that land here is cheaper than Burgundy. Historically, lower prices have attracted winemakers who are really interested in local viticulture; they are passionate about the terroir and the traditions of the Loire and are not buying land as some sort of financial speculation. In fact, the Interloire organization has published data showing that of every purchase of Loire Valley vines in the last five years, fully two thirds of the acquirers were Loire locals and about one third were young winemakers starting out on a passion project. That’s clearly not the way it works in Bordeaux or Burgundy these days.
But it’s not only pricing. Nicolas Joly, the Loire’s most famous Ambassador of Biodynamics, earned that moniker as the owner of Savennières' most famous vineyard, the Coulée de Serrant.
There’s also a can-do spirit, a sense of possibility, that animates many people in this part of the country -- a spirit that would be familiar to any American. That spirit underlies a lot of the experimentation you see here. It’s why growers aren’t afraid to replant a plot of ungrafted vines to see how long they can hold of phylloxera.
When married with the Loire’s deep respect for tradition you have the makings of something great: a cutting edge motivated not by novelty for novelty's sake, but out of a desire to make the truest possible wines of the region with what nature has to offer.
It’s not normally what we think of the Loire for, but it’s a fact...
6. Loire Wines are Perfect for the Reasonable Cellar
Aging wine can be rewarding. With time, good bottles of wine change and begin to show layers of flavor that they only hint at when they’re young.
But it can be expensive to load up on big names from the most famous regions that you don’t even get to drink for 10 years or more.
Well, if you drink Loire Valley wines, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because the Loire is packed with wines, from Muscadet to Sancerre, that are reasonably priced and age beautifully!
There are wines, like many good Sauvignon Blancs and even Muscadets, that will improve with 3-5 years of bottle age. And many reds from Chinon, Saumur and other Cabernet Franc-based wines will improve for that long or even longer. We regularly get Chinons, for instance, with five-plus years of age and are always on the lookout for bottles from top producers with great sites that go back as far as the 1970s!
But then there are some wines, like some of the great Chenin Blancs of Vouvray and Savennières, that age spectacularly for decades and decades. It’s not unheard of for some lucky people to drink Vouvrays that are pushing 100 years old! Unfortunately, such wines are at this point very, very rare.
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