The Loire is the longest river in France. It originates in the Massif Central in the Cévennes range, flows south to north and makes an abrupt turn to the west at Orléans, flowing then toward the Atlantic Ocean. The northern region, considered one of the most pleasant climates in France (with few extremes of temperature), has a well-developed wine culture.
The map above looks complicated, but we can make it more accessible by dividing it up into primary wine grape regions. (Note these are the major grapes. In many cases the primarily white wine appellations also produce smaller amounts of red and rosé wines from Gamay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc. The primarily Chenin Blanc regions may also produce other whites from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
- The Upper Loire, circled at right, is the traditional home of Sauvignon Blanc, led by the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The wine is light, dry, acidic, with mineral, gunflint, steely and citrus notes.
- The large Middle Loire section, circled in red, is the traditional home of Chenin Blanc. This middle section divides into two major parts:
- the Touraine region in the east of the section, named after the city of Tours, producing every possible gradation of Chenin Blanc, dry, sweet and sparkling, with the greatest variety going to the town of Vouvray.
- the Anjou region in the west of the section is named after the city of Angers. Anjou is known for Chenin Blanc in many manifestations: sweet at all levels (especially in the Coteaux du Layon) and dry (in the case of its appellation of Savennières, an extremely dry, age-worthy white wine). The Saumur appellation is famous for its sparkling Crémant de Loire.
- The appellations of Bourgeuil and Chinon, circled in black in the center of the map, are known for single varietal Cabernet Franc (which has its origins in Bordeaux).
- The Lower Loire, circled at left around the city of Nantes, produces white wines called Muscadet from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The grape is neutral, and the best examples of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine are often bottled without racking or filtering, so they age in bottle on their lees. Muscadet is often enjoyed with the area’s seafood. The region’s other grape, the Gros Plant Nantais, makes a highly acidic white wine with little international appeal.
Img070 Caption: “The Loire town of Vouvray produces Chenin Blanc wines in all levels of sweetness, still and sparkling. Photo by Elliot Essman”
Img185 Caption: “Houses built into the limestone tuffeau soil of Vouvray. Note the vines at the top, which grow in tuffeau soil. Photo by Elliot Essman”
Img182 Caption: “Cabernet Franc vines seen from the castle at Chinon. Photo by Elliot Essman”