The array of white wine styles coming out of Loire Valley make it an intriguing place for wine lovers. We’ll take a look at the wines of Touraine, including Vouvray, and we’ll also have a glance at Muscadet. Be sure to try a wine from these regions if you can get your hands on them. The key difference is in the grape variety they specialise in. Out of the three, the regional whites of Touraine should be the easiest to acquire.
To view my first post on Loire, which covers Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, click here.
It is known as ‘the garden of France’, beautiful Touraine boasts the most grand of castles and stately homes. Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau (pictured) – are a must see if you ever go there. Centred on the town of Tours, Touraine is a vast area encompassing the famous red appellations of Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, as well as the white appellation of Vouvray (below).
Whites labelled Touraine come from the wider Touraine area and are mostly made from Sauvignon Blanc, which makes it a good, less expensive alternative to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. The wines are crisp, dry and racy, with the best Sauvignon de Touraine rivalling those from their premium neighbours. Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Arbois may also be used in white Touraine blends and popular red grape varieties include Gamay, Cabernet and Côt (Malbec).
This is where the whites of the Loire get really interesting. The distinctive wines of Vouvray are made from Chenin Blanc and in the best years they can produce wines that live as long as the world’s oldest Rieslings. The wines are normally labelled sec (dry) or demi-sec (medium dry), with the naturally high acidity of the Chenin grape, particularly this far from the equator, balancing sweetness in the demi-sec wines, but also giving longevity. In warm vintages when sugar levels are at their highest, it’s worth checking out the Moelleux-style sweet wines. Vouvray at its best will produce fabulously complex white wines, appley and floral in their youth, and nutty and almondy with age.
‘Melon de Bourgogne’ is the official title given to the grape variety used in Muscadet. It can also be referred to as Muscadet, or simply ‘Melon’. Hailing from Burgundy, it is now at home in the far west of the Loire Valley. The better vineyards are in the Sèvre et Maine subregion south and east of Nantes, where vines are planted on well-drained soils. Skin contact, lees (dead deposits of yeast) stirring and barrel fermentation for the best wines all help to give greater weight and richness. Wines that have ‘sur lie’ on the label have been aged for some time on lees. Light, fresh and crisp with green apple and grassy aromas, a must try with oysters.
The Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region. The majority of these Crémant de Loire are produced around the city of Saumur and are a blend of the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. In the cooler years producers in Vouvray might be better using their yields as a base for sparkling wine, but year in year out there are many excellent sparkling Chenins from this area.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the magical reds of Loire Valley. To view part one, click here. To view our sale on the wines of Loire, click here.
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