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Guide to LoireWine Appellations
The Central Vineyards
The central vineyards - Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Quincy, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon are the last bastion, the eastern-most region of the Loire. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are the principle grapes of this region.
Sancerre is probably the most famous Sauvignon Blanc wine appellation in France, located on the left bank of the Loire, across from Pouilly-Fumé. One of the best known producers in the region is Didier Dageneau who, until his tragic death in 2008, was an influential voice in the area advocating the reduction of yields and the use of organic viticulture.
At Pouilly-sur-Loire, where Pouilly-Fumé is produced, the Loire river reveals steep slopes and rich Kimmeridgean clay deposits; near identical to those found at Chablis an hour's drive east. Framed by a continental climate, the style of Sauvignon Blancs of Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre tend to be fuller-bodied and minerally rich; the former possessing the smokier, stonier limestone expression, the latter more of gooseberry and nettle characteristics.
Quincy, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon
West of Sancerre, away from the river, a singular calcareous outcrop lies behind the Menetou-Salon; more clay rich and hence fleshy wines at Reuilly. While Quincy's fresh, zippy style is down to more sand and quartz.
Anjou-Saumur is a Mid-west Loire region most famous for the fine sweet Chenin Blanc wines of Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon (including the exemplary - if tiny- Quarts de Chaume appellation) and Coteaux de l'Aubance. The bulk of the wines produced in the Anjou region comprise the bland `Rosé d'Anjou' (made from the Grolleau grape) and marginally better Cabernet d'Anjou; Some smoky dry Anjou Chenin Blanc also produced.
The Saumur region's bread and butter is its Mousseux, while it also produces some dry Saumur Chenin (similar to Anjou's version) and some impressive Cabernet Franc, chalky dry thanks to the `tuffeau' soils.
Coteaux du Layon
The appellation is responsible for France’s finest sweet Chenin Blanc wines, grown on ancient schistous rock. Three of its sub-regions, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, and Coteaux du Layon Chaume have graduated to full appellation, such is the consistently fine quality of their wines. Depending the year the Chenin Blanc fruit is affected (as in Sauternes) by noble rot/botrytis cinerea to a greater or lesser degree, concentrating the sugars and building complexity in the fruit. The grapes are then hand harvested by ‘trie’ (several passages) before being vinified and aged in French barriques, whilst retaining notable levels of residual sugar.
Quarts de Chaume
An incredibly small (approx 35 ha) Anjou sub-region responsible for producing tiny quantities of sweet Chenin Blanc wines. The grapes are grown on schistous rock soils and are concentrated by the action of noble rot/botrytis cinerea ( also found in Sauternes, Barsac) to give barley-sugar like elixirs, rich in extract and residual sugar. They are aged in French barriques and have the capacity to last for up to 30 years.
Located around the central city of Tours, Touraine is famous for the Cabernet Francs of Bourgueil, Chinon and St Nicolas de Bourgueil as well as for the dry, sweet and sparkling Chenin Blanc wines of Vouvray and Montlouis.
The bulk of the region's wines are produced under the `Sauvignon de Touraine' appellation, a good value Loire Sauvignon Blanc produced on sandy clay undulating flats between the Loire tributaries the Cher and the Indre. Reds are also made from Cot (Malbec), Cabernet Franc and Gamay
Located west of Tours, the appellation is a bastion of Cabernet Franc. The wines are medium-full bodied and fleshy, with rich, perfumed raspberry/forest fruit character and underpinned by a fine structure and with the potential for up to 20 years ageing. Wines are typically matured for up to 18 months in french oak barrels.
Chinon is an important Cabernet Franc appellation, located within the Touraine region. Part of the appellation, closest to its other neighbour, St Nicolas de Bourgueil, possesses sandy gravel soils to give an easy drinking style, while the remainder is blessed with a ‘tuffeau’ subsoil from which the wines draw a finer structure and longevity. Neither style approaches the fullness of Bourgueil.
Based just outside Tours, the Vouvray appellation covers a range of dry, off-dry, sweet to sparkling styles. Its Chenin Blanc vineyards lie on chalky `tuffeau' cliffs that give the wines vibrant acidity and a stony floral, at times waxy character. Ideally, under perfect skies, the producers aim for Moelleux sweet wines, hand-harvest by `trie', often imbued with noble rot and rich with residual sugar. A less successful season would deliver more demi-sec, sec and, if really tough, sparkling/mousseaux.
Pays Nantais & Muscadet
The vineyards in this region are almost exclusively planted with Melon de Bourgogne; a grape imported into the Pay Nantais/Atlantic coastal region during the 17th century by Dutch merchants as distilling material for their schnaps. Muscadet wine and the Melon de Bourgogne grape has no relation to the Muscat family of grapes.
The area's four appellations are Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet-Côtes de Grand Lieu, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire and Muscadet (a generic appellation covering the whole of the Loire-Atlantique department)
Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine
Qualitatively and quantitatively the key AOC is Sèvre et Maine producing, in the right hands, tangy, sea-breezy light dry white wines with a distinct Atlantic zing (and a maximum abv of 12%). Melon is also grown elsewhere on schistous and clay soils, imparting a richer if less distinctive character. Those labelled 'Sur Lie' have been left on their lees for up to 6 months over winter to give the wines extra body and complexity.