By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 1 June 2019
Best known for its splendid riverside chateaux and troglodyte caves, the Loire still remains one of France’s hidden gems when it comes to wine. Everyone has heard of the river itself, but few realise what great value some of the lesser-known wine appellations can offer.
Along 600 miles of river, the Loire’s climate varies west to east from oceanic to continental. Only its varied microclimates, it grows a considerable variety of grapes with a prodigious range of wine styles - from crisp sleek sparkling, fruity rose sparkling, flinty dry white, pale light rose, edgy herby reds to sensationally fresh sweet dessert wines.
This is one region that will certainly benefit from climate change with a rise in summer temperatures helping it to ripen its red grapes in particular, but for now vintages can still be inconsistent varying considerably year to year, so this is one region where vintages really do matter.
In the last decade, 2010, 2015 and 2016 have been Loire’s best vintages – with 2016 offering fresher whites than the previous year and fabulous sweet wines. 2017 was affected badly by frost, but there are still very good Sauvignon Blancs from central Loire and charming reds from Touraine.
The main Loire fizz, Cremant de Loire, is made anywhere from Ancenis, west of Anjou, to Blois in Touraine. The best come from Chenin Blanc grown on tuffeau chalk around Saumur. Made by the same method as Champagne, they offer fantastic value for money – but are at their best in their first year, not for cellaring. Sleek crisp Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Cremant de Loire (£11 Sainsbury’s) is made under stricter regulations than normal sparkling Saumur. If you prefer rose fizz, the vividly fruity Cremant de Loire Rose NV Chateau de Champteloup (£7.99 Aldi) made from Cabernet Franc is worth snapping up.
My favourite Loire fizz is Vouvray. The richness, intensity, honeyed notes and minerally character of their Chenin Blanc-based fizz is by far the best in the region. Try Vouvray Brut Petillant 2012 Domaine Huet (£24 The Wine Society; Armit Wines); Petillant indicates it has a soft elegant light mousse, racy acidity and long intense flavours.
Huge diversity here from Muscadet made from Melon de Bourgogne, Savennieres and Vouvray from Chenin Blanc through to Sancerre and Pouilly Fume made from Sauvignon Blanc.
For good value, Muscadet is hard to beat. This large area has fallen from fashion, but it can offer superb bargains like lemony fresh creamy textured Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie 2017 (£5.69 Aldi) which acts like a squeeze of lemon matched with Atlantic shellfish.
For the richest most intense dry whites, Chenin Blanc-based minerally Savennieres Sec 2015 Chateau d’Epire (£18.75 Yapp Bros) is made on Loire’s north bank west of Angers. If you prefer Sauvignon Blanc, look for unusual bargains like aromatic quince flavoured Cheverny 2018 Domaine du Salvard (£9.50 The Wine Society) made predominantly from Sauvignon - it has a limey zesty flavour but can be softer than many Loire Sauvignons due to its addition of a little Chardonnay in the blend. For flinty smoky 100% Sauvignon Blanc, head to the red flint soils of Pouilly Fume for a grassy sleek zippy Pouilly Fume 2017 Domaine de la Loge (£16.99 Raeburn Wines).
Loire is known for medium-dry rose styles like Rose d’Anjou, but many Loire roses are actually bone dry. If you prefer a pale light dry rose – head to Sancerre. Historically, thanks to the Duchy of Burgundy, the red Pinot Noir grape used to dominate in Sancerre, but this tricky grape lost favour after phylloxera to Sauvignon – and only 20% of its vineyards are now red. David Sautereau’s Sancerre Rose Les Epsailles 2017 (£17.95 Berry Bros www.bbr.com) from Crezancy village is typically pale with light berried aromas, very light tannins and a lovely crunchy natural acidity – an ideal wine to serve with salmon, jambon, lamb tagine or simple summer salads.
Loire can struggle to ripen its red grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay and Pinot Noir. They can have a raw bite with crunchy acidity, making them ideal partners with rich charcuterie or hard cheeses. The most intense and concentrated Loire reds are made from Cabernet Franc-based Chinon, Bourgeuil and St Nicolas de Bourgeuil - much loved by those who often discover these edgy reds in situ. For an easier fruit-forward style, try unoaked Saumur-Champigny Tradition, Clos des Cordeliers 2016 Domaine Ratron (£14.95 Berry Bros & Rudd) from Cabernet Franc grown on tuffeau soil near Saumur in Anjou. Loire reds are often best drunk in their youth – served slightly chilled.
Undoutedly the unsung hero of the Loire, highly prized in the region - but barely known in the UK. Coteaux du Layon with its famous crus Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume in Anjou are hidden gems, but Vouvray’s sweet Moelleux or Liquoreux styles can often be better value.
A clear favourite at our recent Loire tasting was the beautifully mature honeyed luscious Vouvray Moelleux 2005 from Domaine Pichot (£25.99 for 75cl bt Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh)***STAR BUY*** from a superb sweet wine vintage, made by one of the oldest families in Vouvray. The Pichots make this luscious honeyed Chenin Blanc dessert wine from grapes affected by ‘noble rot’, hand-harvested by triage – successive selective pickings at optimum ripeness – and vinify in small parcels. Delicious served with foie gras, fruit tart or blue cheese.
Join Rose’s Tasmanian Wine Tasting in Edinburgh on Thursday 11 July £42
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