Exploring the wines of the Loire Valley

03 September, 2020 by Deborah Jackson

The Loire Valley is a story of diversity, from the highest number of organic and biodynamic producers and growers in France, to the number of classic grape varietals, appellations and wine styles.

Production comprises of 44 per cent white wine, 24 per cent rosé, 19 per cent red and 13 per cent sparkling. There is something for any occasion or price point – and when we offered the National Liquor News tasting panel to swirl their way through a variety of styles from the region, they eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

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Crémant de Loire

The Loire Valley is home to a huge sparkling wine production. Utilising the Method Traditional production of secondary fermentation in bottle and adding Chenin Blanc into the mix of classic Champagne varieties, the wines are exceptionally well made and offer huge drinkability at a price point that Champagne cannot compete with.

With COVID-19 taking a huge toll on the economy and shopper spending habits, it will be interesting to see if there is further trading down from Champagne.

If so, Crémant is perfectly positioned to do well. Customer perception is that it’s French, well packaged and looks like top quality Champagne, it has the fine bubbles of Champagne – but has and easy and accessible price point.

Even before the pandemic, the category was growing at 300 per cent YoY in the UK, with US figures following suit.

Muscadet

Once considered a neutral white with little character, Muscadets have come a long way in the past few years. With individual Crus being recognised, to a greater push to organic and biodynamic, the wines are growing in interest and quality. They also fit with nicely with the general trend to lower alcohol and lighter wine styles.

By December 2019, Muscadet imports were up more than 140 per cent YoY, albeit from a small volume base.

With top quality but still small domains such as Pierre Luneau-Papin using screw cap closures for their entry level wines, these wines look to do well in both the wine bar and bistro on-trade and independent bottle shops.

Well priced, with regional characteristics and that fit many of Australia’s key drinking occasions, seafood lunches, barbecues and sunny balcony afternoons, the lure of Muscadet must surely continue to rise.

Sauvignon Blanc

The Loire Valley is the spiritual home for Sauvignon Blanc. The first application that comes to mind is Sancerre, with three different soil types, often no further than a metre from one another. These soils are separated by fault lines that run across the surrounding vineyards and converge on the medieval village of Sancerre, perched atop its commanding position high above the vineyards. These soils cut through in the wines just like the fault lines in the vineyards. Terre Blanche are limestone wines, minerally and precise, Silex or Flint dominant wines have less obvious fruit on the nose and mineral notes – they age extremely well too. Finally, the gravelly Caillottes and Griottes mix up stones and limestone for generous styles of wine closer to their New World counterparts.

While Sauvignon Blanc is largely considered to be centred on Sancerre, and its sister commune of Pouilly-Fumé there are other regions capable of making classic Sauvignon Blanc. Moving further west from Sancerre you get to Reuilly and Menetou-Salon, both regions producing wonderful styles of Sauvignon Blanc but with more accessible price points for us in Australia. Often rounder in mouthfeel, these wines make great entry points to classic French Sauvignon from predominantly limestone soils.

In terms of interest for the real wine lover it should be noted that more and more producers are making small batches of oak aged wines. Often using local forests and even acacia wood, as per the Daniel Chotard Sancerre Blanc Marcel Henri in the tasting. These wine have intense depth and complexity, yet still show the nuances of Loire Sauvignon Blanc – gooseberry, kiwifruit and just the right amount of herbaceousness offset with textural minerality and a richness from the local barrel ageing.

Reds of the Loire

Cabernet Franc is the hero red variety of the Loire, with wines from Chinon and Saumur the most well known. Again this isn’t the whole story as there are plenty of medium bodied reds from Gamay and Cabernet Franc from the Touraine, Anjou and Menetou-Salon, which often offer greater value, especially for the off-trade.

While often overlooked by its white, Sancerre and surrounds also produce some lovely fine-bodied Pinot Noirs. Bright and tight these wines fit the growing movement to lighter or medium bodied wines, although the pricing makes these a harder proposition to the bottle shop customer.

The National Liquor News tasting panel came together for a special (socially distanced) tasting of Wines of the Loire Valley with the overall feedback being that the the styles of wine being produced in the region would be perfectly suited to emerging sophisticated wine drinkers in Australia.

You will be able to see the high scores and standout wines from that tasting in the September issue of National Liquor News.