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Exploring the Essence of Terroir: Loire Valley Wines Unveiled

Welcome to the Loire Valley, where every twist and turn of the majestic Loire River unveils a new chapter in the story of French winemaking. Join us for a virtual tour through this enchanting region as we uncork the secrets of its renowned wines. Then, we’ll uncover the main grape varieties and provide quick navigation tricks for finding them on French wine labels. Finally, make sure you stick around to the end of the post for some tantalizing recommendations of wines to try!

Table of Contents

The Setting and the Loire Valley's Rich History

The Loire Valley was once the “playground of royalty” being not too far from Paris. It’s therefore adorned with castles providing the most stunning landscape.  Among these legendary fortresses is the iconic Château de Chambord, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and a symbol of French royalty (and the photo at the top of this post). Moreover, it was in the Loire Valley that Joan of Arc famously encountered the Duke of Burgundy at Château de Chinon , marking a pivotal moment in her historic journey.

So if you’re looking for the perfect getaway, look no further than the Loire! Home to the renowned Chèvre goat cheese and just a quick 1-hour train ride from Paris; it’s easily accessible for all travellers. Plus, with the entire region reachable by bike, you can explore its enchanting landscapes and charming villages at your own pace.

 

 

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A stones throw from Chinon is the Château de Ussé, the castle that Disney used as a model for Sleeping Beauty

Sustainable Eco-Friendly Viticulture and Small-Scale Producers in Loire Valley

But it’s not just the stunning scenery that makes the Loire Valley a wine lover’s paradise—it’s also the commitment to sustainable farming practices. With more than 80% of its vineyards embracing organic or sustainable farming practices, the region sets a precedent for eco-friendly viticulture. Moreover, this cool-climate region yields wines known for their mouthwatering quench-ability and moderate to low alcohol levels.

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Dotted along the Loire River are small family producers, each contributing their unique touch to the region’s winemaking tapestry. With 24 different grape varieties spread over various terroirs, there’s a wine to suit every palate.. And with 92% of Loire wines classified as Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP), you can trust in the quality and authenticity of what’s in your glass.

Now, let’s dive into some fascinating facts about Loire Valley wines before we share tasting notes of some fabulous wines from the region.

Decoding Loire Valley Wines and Region

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Wine Styles

  • 37% white (which includes sweet wines)
  • 30% rosé
  • 20% red
  • 13% crémant -These are the sparkling wines that are made in the Champagne method
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Commitment to sustainability

  • 80% of the vineyards are farmed sustainable, organic or biodynamic – giving mother nature a big fat hug
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Decoding the white wines of the Loire Valley

  • wines made from Chenin Blanc account for 37% of exports. This is France, so Chenin Blanc is ‘hidden’ under names such as Vouvray and Savennières as well as in the off-dry and sweet wines of Coteaux du Layon.
  • 18% of wines are from Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll find this in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. 
  • Do you crave salt? Try Muscadet or Melon de Bourgogne pretty much only grows here at the end of the Loire region just before the river empties into the Atlantic.
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Decoding the red grapes of the Loire Valley

  • 53% of red wines from this area are made with Cabernet Franc. Look for Chinon, St Nicolas, St Nicolas de Bourgeuil and Cabernet d’Anjou on wine labels if you love this zesty red wine.
  • Ooo, and the favourite of sommeliers, Pinot Noir grows very well here. Check out the red wines of Sancerre and Menetou-Salon for some tantalizing options
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Other important appellations you are likely to find in stores

  •  Although we’ll need to decode the appellations listed above to know what’s in the bottle, look for Touraine PDO or Val de Loire IGP. These appellations encompass a diverse array of grape varieties, and these grapes are typically indicated on the label!
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Loire Valley Taste like:

  • natural mouthwatering acidity due to its latitude at 47º
  • reserved alcohol levels from the cool climate too (most wines are between 11.5%-13% abv)
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Wine Laws

  • 92% of the wines are classified as the highest quality tier PDO or AOC
  • the rest are in the IGP or PGI quality tier  – These wines offer fantastic quality for value! Look for Val de Loire IGP.

Interestingly, despite being in France, most of these wines are consumed domestically. In fact, Parisian cafes, bustling with university students, often serve these wines by the bucket load.

While traveling to France may not be feasible at the moment, we can still embark on a virtual journey to the region through our glasses. Finally, here’s a curated selection of refreshing options for you to enjoy this spring!

Tasting Notes of Loire Valley Wines

* tasted on April 15th, 2024 thanks to Sopexa for inviting me to taste!

Domaine J. De Billebois Sauvingnon Blanc IGP Loire 2022 $26

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This wine is exactly why we shouldn’t forget the IGP category. This is French Sauvignon Blanc and it’s perfect. More reserved than New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs yet I’d argue even more refreshing because of that fact. 

Pouring a pale lemon colour, this wine is bone dry with a seamless mix of grassy notes, blossoms, gooseberries and white nectarine aromas. On the palate, its zingy acidity, moderate alcohol and fruit give the wine just enough weight for its mid-frame. Flavours harmonize on the palate with lime juice and white blossoms, finishing with all more fresh grass on a spring day! The finish lingers. Drink now while this freshness and perfection last with fresh summer greens or asparagus or on its own!

90 points Best to drink while it's fresh (within 6-8 months) Glug glug!

Domaine Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme Thésée Touraine 2020 $37

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I was so sure this wine was a Chenin Blanc when I tasted it but it is in fact a super cool Sauvignon Blanc!

With a gorgeous medium gold colour and an intriguing nose with elevated aromas of yellow apples, apple skin, beeswax, mixed nuts, tangerine, and dried chamomile flowers. There’s a marshmallow roundness to the aromas with almond skin, wet wool (which is why I was SURE it was Chenin) and a whiff of VA.

There’s so much texture on the palate, you don’t even notice the wine’s rippingly high acidity – also because its beautifully balanced by the body and fruit flavours. Light tannins complement the overall structure. There are abundant notes of apricot both fresh and dried, dried yellow flowers and wet wool enveloped in melted beeswax and finishes with apricot pit – all within an elevated body, it offers a lingering finish.

Super unique expression that may not appeal to everyone but will reward the right fit. Pair with richer fair – orange+ soy marinated roast chicken, salads with ginger-soy dressing

92 points Drink now or within 6 months - it's just perfect now!! Glug glug

Donatien Bahuaud Secret des Vignes IGP Val de Loire 2018 $24

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You don’t see Chardonnay wines coming from this region very often. Actually, I think this may even be my first. This Chardonnay is NOT for those who love their butter-bombs. Instead,, this is an elegant expression – this is MY style! A wine aged in stainless steel and is a fantastic pairing with grilled or bbq’d salmon.

It’s a no-fuss refreshing wine with fresh apples, almond skin and citrus notes in a med minus frame with a medium finish.

88 Points

Domaine de L’Ecu 'Granite' Muscadet 2021 $37

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If you have never tried Muscadet before, now is your chance! Muscadet plantings are concentrated at the mouth of the Loire Basin before it empties into the Atlantic, near the city of Nantes. These wines are therefore, perfectly matched with the regions fresh oysters. What’s soo cool is that the flavours mirror the flavours of the wines.

Aged on lees for 12-15 months, this organic and Demeter-certified wine unusually for this style has some weight on the palate – it’s so delicious on its own!

It boasts light flavours of lemon juice, salt, chamomile tea, blossoms, lime, and a hint of peanut shell. High acidity balances the palate and will cut through those little balls of fat (oysters), while the finish, medium in length, leaves you craving more. With a moderate alcohol content of 12.5%.

The palate carries through… salty and deep, with notes of lemon peel and lemon curd, finishing surprisingly rounded for its profile. 

PS: any wine that writes ‘Granite’ on the label wins in my mind.

90 Points

Domaine Ménard - Gaborit Accostage Muscate Sèvre et Main 2020 ($37 I'm guessing - I missed the price)

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Another Muscadet! 

Pale lemon in color, this wine offers medium intensity aromas of fresh apples, lemon juice, a hint of seaweed (this is that salty, savoury quality from vines grown close to the ocean), and blanched almonds.

On the palate, the wine is bone-dry with high acidity and a medium minus body, along with a medium-length finish. Notes of juicy red apples, lemon juice, almonds, seaweed, and almond skin. The wine finishes with a pronounced saltiness, making it a perfect match for oysters or roasted potatoes with salt.

We just HAVE to make it to the Loire Valley to taste these wines with the local fare. It’s certainly on my bucket list! (I did a bike tour through the Loire Valley, but didn’t make it this far east. This wine makes me want to go back!)

89 points

Domaine de la Robinière Bel-Air Vouvray 2021 $26

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This wine, from 60 year old vines is aged in old, large oak casks to provide some texture. It’s a pale lemon colour that offers a whiff of minerality. Orchard fruits of pear, apples, zesty fresh lemons and dried chamomile tea on both the nose and the palate.

Juicy with a moderate alcohol of 12.5% abv and finishes with a satisfying medium length. This wine is one of my go-to’s at BC Liquor Stores! 

88 Points

Domaine du Closel La Jalousie Savennières 2018 $57

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Certified organic and biodynamic with 12 months ageing on lees. Medium intensity notes of wet wool, yellow apple, apple skin, peanut shell, and a subtle hint of minty lemon verbena characterize the aroma.

On the palate, pronounced intensity flavours smack you in the face with lemon curd, beeswax, lemon verbena, and hints of apricot, peach, biscuit, and almond skin, along with a touch of apricot pit – yes, we can classify this one as complex!

With high acidity, a medium-plus body, and an alcohol content of 13.5%, it boasts a long length on the finish. Buy a bottle and invite your philosopher-friends to share in this delight!

93 points

Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon 2007 $65

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If you’ve never had a Coteaux de Layon, you MUST! These wines never disappoint. The appellation is meant for sweet wines made from botrytis or noble rot. 

In the glass the wine is a medium gold with amber flecks.

Pronounced intensity mineral notes like chalk and limestone, accompanied by dried apricot, mango, dried chamomile tea flowers. There’s an compelling mix of both fresh and dried fruits and flowers here. Lanolin-like smooth seductiveness provides some definition to this full-bodied wine. Add a touch of ginger from the botrytis – just seals the deal!

Mouthwatering with a long length finish, and surprisingly for the richness, a reserved alcohol content of 13%.

93 points

Summary

So whether you’re exploring the ancient vineyards of the Loire Valley or savouring a glass of Chenin Blanc from the comfort of your own home, let the wines of this storied region transport you to a place where history, tradition, and innovation converge in every bottle. Discover the gems in the Loire Valley!

Psst, before you go to the Loire Valley, you should sign up to one of my WSET online wine courses,

which will give you the knowledge and tools you need to fully enjoy the region’s wines.

Cheers to that!

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SommWine | Exploring the Essence of Terroir: Loire Valley Wines Unveiled

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