For most wine drinkers the Loire Valley starts and stops with the Sauvignon Blanc grown in the central vineyards around the small towns of Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire, but this large region deserves far more recognition.
The Loire is France’s longest river at 1,012km and wines are produced along the majority of its length. It is the third largest producer of appellation wine in France (and the largest producer of white) and there are currently just over 57,000 hectares planted. There are 51 appellations and 4 IGPs and a remarkable 25% of the vineyard carries organic or sustainable certification. In a region that covers such a large area, and which grows 24 different varieties, generalisations are dangerous, but Loire wine does have a common thread and that is a freshness and lightness of touch. It is possible to find most styles of wine here, including some very successful sparkling, a couple of the world’s classic sweet wines, light through to quite full reds, whites from pale and neutral through to deep coloured and full bodied and a level of rosé production second only to Provence.
For ease the Loire is generally divided into three zones, The Pays Nantais with Muscadet specializing in light white wine at the mouth of the river, Anjou and Touraine (The Middle Loire) making reds and rosé from Cabernet Franc (and to a lesser extent Gamay), whites from Chenin Blanc and some decent sparkling from Chenin and Chardonnay and finally the Upper Loire making whites from Sauvignon Blanc and reds from Pinot Noir in the Central Vineyards and reds and rosés from Gamay in St.Pourçain, the Côtes Roannaise and the Côtes du Forez, all of which are in the Auvergne and closer to Lyon than Sancerre!
This is historically a region of small farmers and there are still 6,200 vineyard owners today, although recent years have seen a slow consolidation amongst these. 250 merchants and 16 cooperatives make a sizeable proportion of the wine, but there are also nearly 900 domaines in operation. The area has also been at the forefront of Biodynamic farming in France and more recently, ‘natural’ wines.
This northerly wine region stands as a beneficiary (at least for now) of a warming climate and as fashions move more towards wines with more elegance and freshness and those with sustainable credentials, the Loire is well positioned to become a far more dominant player.