The Loire (pronounced Loo-WAHR) Valley is in northern central France, along the Loire River. The region is so lush and beautiful that many call it the “Garden of France.” But enough about the geography, let’s get to the wines!
Loire Valley Whites: The Classic, The Cheap, And The Rare
Unfortunately, the availability of Loire Valley reds and rosés is quite limited in the States, so your best bet (without a private jet) is getting to know the whites. Like all French wine, the Loire Valley whites get sorted by sub-region, so it’s handy to have a little map:
We’ll start on the far right, jump to the far left, and then return to some of the other little areas scattered throughout.
Regionally named Sancerre (sahn-SAIR) and Pouilly-Fumé (poo-EE foo-MAY), these classic Loire Valley whites are pure Sauvignon Blanc grapes with a tangy, tart taste due to the cool northern climate. These wines are so tangy and crisp, that French wine-experts like to joke they smell like pipi de chat (translation: cat pee). Seriously. Cat pee.
Wine experts may be weird, but give a Loire Valley white a whiff and you just might see what I mean (or don’t, if you’re really concerned about drinking something that may smell like cat pee).
You’ll notice that these Sauvignon Blancs are decidedly different from the California or New Zealand ones you’ve had. These wines will also pair extremely well with seafood or tangy cheeses (like goat cheese).
Here are a few recommendations for classic Loire Valley whites from Master Sommelier, Andrea Robinson:
Domaine Lucien Thomas
Jean-Claude Chatelain (shah-tuh-LUH)
Muscadet is the typical French bistro “house white” – a great accompaniment to oysters, Muscadet is light, crisp and relatively inexpensive. Don’t let it age; drink it young and spritzy!
Virtually unknown to many Americans (even the winos!), Chenin Blanc is well reputed abroad for how well it ages and pairs with cuisine. You can have a dry, off-dry, or sweet Chenin Blanc, but it will typically carry an apple/pear flavor with a light and elegant body.
Try a Chenin Blanc from Savennières (sah-venn-YAIR) (dry), Vouvray (voo-VRAY) (dry, off-dry, or sweet), or Coteaux du Layon (koh-TOE duh lay-OHN) (sweet).
A few notable recommendations from Andrea Robinson:
Savennièrres Domaine des Baumard, Nicolas Joly
Vouvray Champalou, Prince Poniatowski, Bourillon-d’Orleans, Huet, Phillippe Foreau, Benoit Gautier
Coteaux de Layon Château Bellerive, Château de Fesle, Domaine Godineau, Moulin Touchais, Domaine Ogereau, Domaine Cady, Beaumards
You may notice a few other areas on the map that are Sauvignon Blanc producers, though the Tourraine region produces Chenin Blanc as well (and even Chardonnay). In general, these areas are not as common as Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé where the wineries really deliver that classic Loire Valley white.
This is the third part in a six part series on the big six wine regions in France.
Part one: Taking the ‘Pain’ out of Champagne
Part two: Get to Know Your Bordeaux
Part four: All About Your Glass of Alsace
Part five: Burgundy is More Than a Color
Part six: There’s No Place Like Rhône