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!
Domaine Philippe Tessier “Le Point du Jour”- Pinot Noir/Gamay
Certified organic since 1998, the estate covers 22 hectares and produces Cour-Cheverny, from Romorantin, as well as Cheverny from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Côt for the reds, and Sauvignon Blanc with Chardonnay and Orbois for the whites. The estate maintains living soils with diverse flora and fauna; harvesting is by hand and fermentations are with wild yeasts with no addition of sulfur.
This Cheverny rouge is equal parts Gamay and Pinot Noir grown on clay/limestone soils. The wine shows lovely aromas of tart cherry, raspberry, and cinnamon with violet and citrus. There is a lovely mélange of cherry, black raspberry, and strawberry on the palate that is light and lively but with good depth. Serve chilled with charcuterie, grilled meats, and mild cheeses – great on a summer picnic or cookout!
Bernard Baudry “Les Granges”- Cabernet Franc
Bernard Baudry is unquestionably one of Chinon’s most outstanding producers. Not only does he have the talent to make delicious and consistent wines, vintage to vintage, but he is also fortunate enough to have vineyard land that showcases many of the varied soil types of the appellation. After completing his studies at the viticultural school in Beaune, Bernard returned to the Loire Valley to consult in Tours. By 1975, he had purchased his first two hectares of land in Cravant-les-Coteaux, a village from which almost half of the production of A.O.C. Chinon is sourced. “Les Granges” is produced from gravel and sandy soils and from 40-year-old vines. Animated red fruits swirl around a dense core of blck fruits. Red and purple floral perfume abounds accompanied by some green herbs to add to Cab Franc’s rustic nature. Not Rougeard but at a fraction of the price, it’s a classic, stand-up example for Chinon rouge.
Eric Chevalier “Clos de la Butte”- Melon de Bourgogne
Éric Chevalier is a rising star in the Nantais of the Loire Valley. For ten years, he sourced fruit for a large négociant in the Touraine. In 2005, he decided to return to his hometown of Saint-Philbert de Grandlieu, just southwest of Nantes, and ended up taking over the family domaine, Domaine de l’Aujardière, the next year. His father, a talented vigneron who did not bottle much of his wines and was well-known as a high-quality source of bulk wine, had stopped working the vineyards and the vines were either going to have to be pulled up and replanted, or sold. Éric was anything but enthusiastic. Little by little his passion grew, and today he is proud to be the fourth generation to farm the domaine. He is also proud to be bottling more and more of the family’s production himself. Éric sustainably farms twenty-five hectares of vines, producing wines of great character and finesse. He found his future in his family’s past. What makes this Muscadet a Freaky Friday contender is its richness and savoury, oxidative power. Partly attributable to the 50-year-old vines – producing Melon de Bourgogne grapes with a great knack of showing minerality and place. Partly the nine months on lees with regular stirring – imparting masses of complexity, along with trademark notes of citrus pith, subtle stone fruit and oceanic minerality. A downright compelling Muscadet.