By Igor Ryjenkov MW
The Loire is the longest river in France, dotted with numerous historic castles and picturesque landscapes. Its region, a day trip from Paris, is dubbed the Garden of France and draws millions of visits by Parisians and tourists alike every year. The Loire is also a world of wines of every colour and style, all in the fresher, cool-climate spectrum thanks to its latitude, the cooler maritime, and, further inland, continental influences. It has four distinctive sub-regions with its own unique styles. Most Loire whites are single varietals, and reds wholly or partly rely on Cabernet Franc. Several Loire wines are benchmark expressions of the grape or style. Top reds and Chenins reward cellaring, but none require it as the vast majority of wine is meant for early enjoyment. Let’s take a whistle-stop tour of the Loire’s vinous highlights.
Going from west to east, upriver, we find ourselves in Pays Nantais, Muscadet country, with Sèvre-et-Maine as its prime zone. It is soft-spoken aromatically, light to medium-bodied with a nice brace of acidity. Often, depth and richness are added by the extra prescribed time on the lees, hence the “Sur-Lie” designation.
Next, we enter the Anjou-Saumur sub-region, where Anjou specializes in Chenin Blanc-based dry and sweet wines, while Saumur focuses on Cabernet Franc reds. Saumur-Champigny, Anjou, and Cabernet d’Anjou all hail from here, where the latter is a rosé blend of both Cabs, but the Franc, for a change, plays the main role in them all. Cooler provenance shows here in medium bodied, and fresher acids, often with signature notes of cassis, bell pepper, and minerality.
Next–Touraine, with its own very distinct expressions of the same two grapes. Vouvray is 100% Chenin grown in the area’s unique “tuffeau” soil, volcanic chalk which imprints a chalky note on the grape’s quince and mushrooms aromatics. Cab Franc dominated Chinon and St Nicolas de Bourgueil (and Bourgueil) show a greater grip and mineral elements against Saumur reds.
Finally, we reach the Central Vineyards. Sauvignon Blanc rules here with Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé as its benchmark expressions: lifted acidity, gooseberry, grassy, citric notes with Fumé showing an additional smoky–“fumé”–dimension thanks to the presence of flint in the soil here.
To those not yet familiar with the region–you are in for a treat. The wines are bright, rarely oaked and fresh, the style du jour, and are highly food-friendly. For those who are already fans–welcome back!
Order these wines from Cellar 297 until August 15, 2022
Toronto-based Igor Ryjenkov MW was the first in Canada to earn the prestigious Master of Wine credential in 2003. His wine business expertise has been informed by 24 years with the LCBO, first in retail, then in key buying positions, and lastly, in projects, most notably, developing the new 5-dot wine style matrix.