In June, we travel to my favorite wine growing region in all of France! You’ll find the Loire River Valley situated about 2 hours drive south of Paris. The region is next to many of France’s most famous drink regions: it’s directly north of Cognac, south of Normandy (cider!), and west of Burgundy. The Loire, as a whole, is very diverse in wine styles, in climate, in geography, and in geology. For this reason, it can be divided into three primary growing areas:
1. Lower Loire: Pays Nantais
Landscape: The majority of the vineyards are found on the flat, south facing banks of the Loire, Sèvre, and Maine Rivers. The Atlantic Ocean is very close, from 6–60 miles (10–96 km) to the west, so the climate is maritime with cold, damp, stormy winters, cool cloudy springs, warm humid summers, and often blustery falls. Sounds a bit like Seattle, WA.
Soil: The soils in Pays Nantais are predominantly volcanic (igneous) with top-soils of porous gneiss (granite-like rock). So, this means vineyards have good drainage, which is ideal for the wet climate.
2. Middle Loire: Anjou, Saumur, and Touraine
Landscape: The blustery and damp maritime weather is tempered as you move inland. The seasons are more defined and the climate is more hospitable.
Soil: The soil types are as numerous as the varieties of grapes. There are four main sub-regions:
• Anjou: around the city of Angers
• Layon: a sweet wine region located along the Layon River, encompassed by Anjou
• Touraine: Around the city of Tours
3. Upper Loire: Centre
The Upper (or Central/Centre) Loire is the smallest region, but it’s home to the most famous Loire appellations–Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The Sauvignon Blanc from these two areas are emulated throughout the wine world.
In many ways, this area has more in common with the Burgundy region of Chablis, than with the rest of the Loire Valley. The climate is what can be called semi-continental with big differences in the daytime and nighttime temperatures (the diurnal swing). Frost is always a concern during spring and fog engulfs the valley in the fall.
Centre is closest to the source of the Loire River in the Massif Central Mountains and the majority of the vineyards are found along the river where they take advantage of its temperature moderating influence. The soils vary quite a bit with three distinct soil types, all found atop a base of Kimmeridgian Limestone, (the same as Chablis, parts of Champagne, and the white cliffs of Dover).
Now for the stars!
Francois Chidaine Clos du Breuil- Chenin Blanc
Montlouis is an appellation of 400 hectares located directly across the river from Vouvray. In fact, until it was granted AOC status in 1937, Montlouis wines were produced under the Vouvray appellation. The soils in both places are quite similar: sandy clay on a base of tuffeau. Some say that a slightly higher percentage of sand and pebbles in the Montlouis soils makes the wines a bit leaner than the wines of Vouvray. For us, this trait adds to the charm of Montlouis’s sec wines, giving them a lively crispness on the palate and outstanding minerality. François Chidaine worked alongside his father Yves for many years, and today he devoutly manages an estate blessed with vines between 40 and 80 years old. He works his vineyards biodynamically, but does not want any mention of biodynamic viticulture on his bottles even though the estate has been Demeter certified since 2003. For Francois, it is about the work not the notoriety. He is a true champion of the Chenin Blanc grape and touts its ability to produce vibrant wines that age gracefully. Francois is happiest on his tractor or with his hands in the dirt, but being among his barrels is a close second. In the glass: A beautifully expressive nose, with desiccated orchard fruits, sweet and very primary, but very convincing too. It has lovely clean fruit on the palate, reminiscent of a golden orchard mix, bright and also lightly mineral, with a super texture and pithy finish.
Anne Claude Leflaive Clau de Nell- Cabernet Franc
Anne-Claude Leflaive (of Burgundy’s Domaine Leflaive) and Christian Jacques purchased Clau de Nell in 2008; Sylvain Potin joined the team as estate manager in 2009. The property is comprised of 10 hectares of vines on a gently sloping hill surrounded by open countryside. The highest point of Clau de Nell offers a glimpse of the Loire in the distance; from here, an uninterrupted view unveils the sky and the river on the horizon, as well as rows of Grolleau, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. As with Domaine Leflaive, all of Clau de Nell’s wines are 100 percent biodynamic. Since the passing of Anne Claude Leflaive, Christian Jacques and Sylvain Potin are commited to keep her legacy alive through the biodynamic path and pursuit of the terroir’s finest expression. In the glass: elegant dark red and black berries, violets, cinnamon and plenty of earthen funk! Rich on the palate but structured by dramatic acidity.