I am discovering the wonderful variety of wines in the Loire Valley. Come and enjoy a taste with Pumpjack & Piddlewick

I am thoroughly enjoying myself guiding guests around the Loire valley in France. So many lovely varieties of grapes for wine, so many Chateaus to explore. The Loire is my special garden. One I don’t have to prune, but simply enjoy. And oh, my the choices!

In case you didn’t know, I’ve been involved on many fronts in the wine of France, and a few other countries. Hence my variety of posts on wine, and particularly my Wine 101 writings, where I like to take the snob value out of wine.

Variety is the Spice of Life

The Loire Valley is my new playground. I lived in Burgundy before, and enjoyed learning about, working vineyards and even making wine there. But, oh my, the diversity of the Loire region is quite amazing. Where the Burgundy region hosts 2 main grape varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), and 2 sub varieties (Gamay and Aligote), the Loire Valley plays host to many more.

Again there are 2 main grape varieties: Cabernet Franc (red) and Chenin Blanc (white). Well, one could argue 3 if we include the more famous though lesser produced grape variety of the valley, Sauvignon Blanc (white). Made famous by the name Sancerre. But there are really quite a few more: Gamay, Chardonnay, Cot (known elsewhere as Malbec), Melon de Bourgogne (otherwise known as Muscadet), Grolleau, Pinot Gris, Pinot d’Aunis, Romorantin … and more. You see? An amazing variety to choose from, so something for everyone’s palate.

A little history

To understand why there is so much variety, you have to understand a little about the Loire Valley. First of all, the river that flows through it (the Loire) pips just over 1000 km (600 miles) in length. It starts near the centre of the country, from the Massif Central, a high point in France. It flows weirdly north, through Sancerre, turns at Orleans and then flows southwest to the Atlantic, passing by Tours, through Anjou and on to Nantes.

It’s length plays host to over 300 Chateaus, though I have heard upwards or 1000 if you include the whole river and all the types, from Castle to fortified farm. There are certainly a mere 150 you can visit. But why so many? In a nutshell, after the 100 Years War, the Kings of France made the ‘Garden of France’ their home. Their various entourage, of which there were literally thousands, built and restored more castles along the river in support. Hence the range of sizes, depending on the level of nobility and wealth.

But the quantity of Chateaus pales into insignificance compared to wineries. It would literally take you years to visit the over 4000 (!) Domaine’s (wineries in French) along the Loire Valley. Challenge accepted?

The Loire Wines

But why are there so many wine makers along this river? Partly history, partly terroir – a combination of soil, weather, location. The history plays its part as all those castles had to have food and drink provided. So farms and vineyards surrounded them. And this still is the case today. Unlike Burgundy and Bordeaux, you won’t see swathes of vineyards. Rather the land is dotted with fields for growing crops, fruit trees and tucked amongst, often rarely on view, are the vineyards. The Loire Valley really does look like one vary large, long garden.

As for the land itself, the variety of soils play a hugs part in the large choice of grape varieties. With the river being so long, of course the land and its geology varies greatly. From flinty soils of the east, through the tuffeau limestone soil of the middle to sandstone and schist as you pass through Anjou on to Nantes. Each plays a part in what grows best, and thus which wines are predominantly made in the different regions of the Loire Valley.

To give a clearer picture, the colour coordinated map below showcases the different regions, and thus the soil differences. The weather also plays a part, with more Mediterranean climate coming in from the west, changing to continental, or cooler, climates as your head eastward. (From the yellow/orange into the green.)

Troglodyte Living

A fun and unique aspect particularly of the Touraine area (in yellow tones on the map above) is the various caves that were dug out of the limestone ridge that borders this section of the Loire. First dug as quarries to build the various chateaus and houses of the area, many of these caves have become wineries today, as well as troglodyte houses and even hotels.

At a constant 11-12 degrees C (51-52 F) year round, they have near perfect conditions for storing wine. They are fascinating to visit, with sometimes kilometers of tunnels to explore. I’ve visited caves that stretch behind and even under wineries and chateaus. A truly special aspect to the wine making of this region.

Let’s Add a Little Sparkle

Another thing the Loire Valley is known for is Cremant de Loire. In other words, sparkling wine. Made in the same way as Champagne, methode traditionnelle, the area can’t call it Champagne due to AOC regulations. (More on understanding that here – What is AOC?.) But, if you are looking for an equally good, inexpensive alternative, you are in for a treat.

There is also methode ancienne, or ancient method and also known as Pétillant Naturel or Pet Nat. It’s an age old process that actually pre-dates the traditional (Champagne) method. This differs from the traditional method in that there is only one fermentation. Traditional goes through two. This creates a difference in taste and texture. Predominantly texture, in that the bubbles are not as noticeable.

So whether you like more bubbles or less, or even none, let’s raise a glass to the Loire Valley and its unique diversity. Santé.

More Wine

If you have enjoyed my peek into the wines of the Loire, I hope you will check out more of my wine posts. Here’s a taste:

Understanding Wine Bottle Labels

Do Wine Glass Shapes Matter?

Why do People Slurp Wine?

Why Start a Wine Cellar?

If you wish to partake of a guided tour in the Loire Valley, I guide for VinoLoire.

I also sell wine related items in My Shop. An additional taste:

Simply click on an image to see more.

You can join in more and Nourish Pumpjack & Piddlewick, too. Click here.


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