Meandering some 1,000km from source (Massif Central) to mouth (Saint-Nazaire), the Loire is the longest river in France, and possibly its sweetest and most pedestrian, punctuated by château after château along the way. Its namesake wine region, Loire Valley, is hence often referred to as “the Garden of France”. Possessing some 75,000ha under vine – equivalent to just under 10 percent of the national grand total – stretching from the northwest to the southeast of France, Loire Valley is a hugely diverse region in terms of grape varieties (more than a dozen allowed), styles (in all colours ranging from still to sparkling, bone-dry to luxuriously sweet) and climate (from Atlantic to continental). So diverse is Loire Valley, that general categorisation does not apply.
A full century after Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, the Romans began planting grapes and making wines in Loire Valley. Throughout history, the reputation of Loire Valley wines seemed curiously linked to climatic cycles. During the Roman Warm Period, which lasted from 250 BC to 400 AD, the first vines were planted, and winemaking proliferated. During the Medieval Warm Period, which lasted from 950 to 1250, Loire Valley established a solid reputation for the quality of its wines.
Loire Valley has easy access to some of the best source of oak in France, e.g. from the forests of Allier, Nevers and Tronçais. Somewhat counter-intuitively, oak has not been traditionally used in Loire Valley, until the last few decades. Historically, Loire Valley wines tend to be acidic, fresh, fruity-driven and relatively light-bodied, which may not stand oak influence. During this era of global warming, however, ambitious winemakers have begun experimenting with oak maturation, in addition to extended maceration on lees, resulting in ever fuller and stronger wines.
A cluster of numerous AOCs, Loire Valley is subdivided either by geography (from NW to SE: Lower Loire, Middle Loire and Upper Loire) or stylistic subregions (from NW to SE: Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine and Centre-Loire). Of the many permitted grape varieties, Melon de Bourgogne, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay are amongst the most widely planted, constituting between some the vast majority of Loire Valley wines produced.
Neighbouring Sancerre to the east, Menetou-Salon is hailed as the next big thing in Loire Valley, even a potential rival to mighty Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. A single-varietal Sauvignon Blanc. Light lemon-yellow with bright citrine reflex, the refreshing nose offers lemon peel, pomelo, guava, cut grass and seashell. With vibrant acidity and clear minerality, the pristine palate delivers lime peel, gooseberry, sweet ginger, leafy herbs and fine chalk. Medium-bodied at 12.5 percent, the lively entry continues through a minerally mid-palate, leading to a clean finish.
Renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre does produce solid red wines, too. A single-varietal Pinot Noir. Luminous ruby with burgundy-cardinal rim, the dainty nose presents blueberry, redcurrant, fresh mushroom and violet. With silky tannins, generous acidity and palpable minerality, the joyous palate furnishes cranberry, raspberry, rooibos tea and sous bois. Medium-bodied at 12.5 percent, the very-laden entry persists through a succulent mid-palate, leading to a tangy finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages