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The Loire is France's longest river and gives its name to an extensive wine-growing region covering some 70,000 hectares. It rises at Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc in the Massif Central and initially flows north, passing through Roanne and Nevers, among other places. At Orléans, it changes direction to the west, flows through Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers and Nantes and finally flows into the Atlantic at Saint-Nazaire. On its journey of a good 1,000 kilometres, it crosses 13 départements, six of which are in turn named after it.

On both sides of the Loire and along many of its tributaries such as Cher, Indre, Vienne, Layon, Loir, Sarthe, Endre and Maine lie the vineyards that comprise a total of 69 appellations: 54 controlled designations of origin (AOC = Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and 15 designations of origin for wines of higher quality from limited production areas (AOVDQS = Appellation d'Origine Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure). Wines without a restricted appellation of origin bear the protected geographical indication (IGP = Indication Géographique Protégée) Val de Loire.

Vines on the banks of the Loire near Montsoreau (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

An area of superlatives

Due to the length of the river's course, there are many different landscapes, geological formations and climates along the Loire. In general, the climate in the wine-growing region is continental (with large temperature differences between day and night as well as between summer and winter) and rather cool due to its rather northern location. Even when the grapes are fully ripe, the wines therefore usually have a refreshing acidity. However, the climatic conditions in detail depend strongly on the altitude and orientation of the vineyards as well as on the balancing effect of the Loire and its numerous tributaries. For example, the climate in the Loire Valley between Orléans and Nantes is generally somewhat milder.

This diversity of natural conditions means that wines of all types and styles are produced in the Loire region: White, rosé and red wines, still and sparkling wines, dry and sweet wines. The Loire is the largest producer of white wine and the second largest producer of rosé wine in France after Provence. After Champagne, the region is also the second largest producer of AOC sparkling wines in France. In terms of vineyard area, the Loire ranks fourth, and in terms of production volume, third among French wine-growing regions (after Bordeaux and Rhône). On average, four million hectolitres or 300 million bottles of wine are produced here every year.

The Loire is home to around 7,000 wineries and about 100 wine merchants, with 15 merchants alone accounting for 70 percent of the total annual turnover of 1.2 billion euros. One third of the volume produced is distributed by the 24 cooperative wineries in the area. In France, the Loire is the most represented origin in gastronomy, the second most common origin in private consumption and the third most common origin in retail. About one fifth of the wine produced - equivalent to about 70 million bottles - is exported, mainly to the UK and Belgium. Almost two thirds of the wines exported are white wines, twelve per cent are sparkling wines, the rest red and rosé wines.

Wine cellar in Bourgueil (Photo: Interloire / Stevens Frémont)

History of viticulture: from the Romans to phylloxera

Viticulture on the Loire dates back to the Romans and gained in importance from around 500 AD, mainly due to the influence of the nobility and the clergy. In the 10th century, the Abbot of Cluny in particular promoted wine, and subsequently the port of Nantes, among others, became an important wine trading centre. The coronation of Henry II Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, as King of England in the mid-12th century marked the beginning of the Loire wine region's close ties with the British Isles.

From the Middle Ages to the 16th century, the vineyards along the Loire were expanded under the influence of the bourgeoisie and the nobility, and the trade in wine also expanded across the river and the Atlantic as transport routes. Most of the numerous magnificent castles and monastery complexes in the Loire Valley were also built during this period, as many kings and princes settled in the Loire region and ruled their kingdom from there. Since 2000, the 250 kilometres of river between Sully-sur-Loire (near Orleáns) and Chalonnes-sur-Loire (near Angers) have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the construction of the railway in the 19th century and the phylloxera plague at the beginning of the 20th century successively slowed down the upswing in Loire viticulture and trade. In the mid-1930s, the AOC system was introduced and the Loire's resurgence as a quality wine region began.

The Abbaye Saint-Maur de Glanfeuil in Le Thoureuil (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

Six regions, four areas

If you follow the course of the Loire from its source to its mouth, you travel through a total of six French regions: Rhône-Alpes, Auvergne, Burgundy, Centre, Poitou-Charentes and Pays de la Loire. Some of them the river only touches, in the Centre and the Pays de la Loire it flows through almost every department.

In order to have a better overview of the large wine-growing region, it is divided into four areas, which are mainly located at towns: from west to east - i.e. upstream - the Pays Nantais around Nantes, the Anjou-Saumur area around Angers, the Touraine around Tours, and the Centre-Loire area, which stretches in a kind of triangle between Orléans, Châteaumeillant and Pouilly-sur-Loire.

To the south-east of these are four other appellations, which - again looking downstream - are the first foothills of the area, but play only a minor role. They begin in the Département Loire with the AOCs Côtes du Forez near Montbrison and Côte Roannaise near Roanne. To the west of these, on the Loire tributary Allier, are the AOCs Côtes d'Auvergne near Clermont-Ferrand in the département of Puy-de-Dôme and Saint-Pourçain south of Moulins in the département of Allier.

Appellations in the Loire wine region (Source: Interloire)
Click on the map for a larger view.

Distribution of grape varieties

Wines from the Loire are predominantly single-varietal, i.e. they are made from only one grape variety. According to the InterLoire trade association, the most widely cultivated white variety is Melon de Bourgogne (aka Muscadet) with 35 percent, followed by Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Folle Blanche as well as Pinot Gris (here called Malvoisie) and Romorantin. Among the red varieties, Cabernet Franc makes up about 54 percent, followed by Gamay, Grolleau (also called Groslot), Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Côt (aka Malbec), Pinot Meunier and Pineau d'Aunis.

Due to the different climatic and soil conditions in the individual areas, different grape varieties prevail in each case. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are mainly found in the Centre-Loire, where Grolleau, Pinot Meunier, Pineau d'Aunis and Romorantin also occur. Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon are mainly found in the Anjou-Saumur area and in Touraine, while Melon de Bourgogne and Folle Blanche dominate in the Pays Nantais - closer to the Atlantic.

The rosé wines from the Loire are produced from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pineau d'Aunis, Grolleau, Gamay and Côt (Malbec) and mostly come from Anjou, Touraine or Centre-Loire. Only Chenin Blanc is used for the sweet wines from the Loire. The late-ripening variety is susceptible to noble rot (botrytis), which concentrates the sugar in the berries, as the berry skins become porous due to fungal attack and the liquid can evaporate. Furthermore, in the Loire region, warm, dry winds can cause the grapes to dry out on the vine, which also concentrates the sugar in the berries (passerillage). The best Loire sweet wines come from the Anjou-Saumur area. Chenin Blanc is also the main grape variety for the sparkling wines from the Loire, which come mainly from Anjou-Saumur and Touraine; in some appellations, Chenin Blanc is also complemented by Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir.

Grape harvest at Le Cellier (Photo: Interloire / Philippe Caharel)

Centre-Loire: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir

The Centre-Loire area comprises seven appellations that are only partially connected: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly, Coteaux du Giennois and Châteaumeillant. Châteaumeillant is the southernmost appellation in Centre-Loire, situated around the town of the same name on the border of the two departments of Indre and Cher. North of it - also on the border of the two departments - is the appellation of Reuilly, which is immediately followed to the north by the appellation of Quincy. It lies in the Cher département, as do the appellations Menetou-Salon to the east of it and - immediately adjacent - Sancerre. The appellations of Pouilly-Fumé and Coteaux du Giennois, the latter of which extends north-westwards into the Loiret department, are again directly to the east in the Nièvre department. Further west, around Orléans, this département also contains the AOC Orléanais, which represents the transition from Centre-Loire to Touraine.

The climate in Centre-Loire is continental with an average of 1,700 to 1,800 hours of sunshine per year and relatively high rainfall in autumn. Therefore, the two early-ripening varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are predominantly cultivated in this area; in the appellations Coteaux du Giennois and Châteaumeillant, Gamay stands on about half of the vineyard area. The soils in the Centre-Loire consist of gravel and clay mixed with silicate and mica sedimentary rock as well as sandstone; however, there are differences between the individual appellations:

  • In the AOC Sancerre, the soil is very calcareous, which gives the wines a special mineral note. With 2,770 hectares of vines, the appellation is the largest in the area.
  • In the AOC Pouilly-Fumé, the wines often have a smoky tone due to a high proportion of flint in the soil. The vineyard area covers a good 1,220 hectares.
  • In the AOC Menetou-Salon, the sedimentary soil also has a higher proportion of limestone; the appellation is 465 in size.
  • In the AOC Quincy, the vines stand on a gently undulating terrace of a good 220 hectares on the banks of the Cher. The local climate is relatively warm and dry, and the soil consists of sand and coarse gravel.
  • In the AOC Reuilly, two soil types determine the almost 190 hectares of vineyards: on the one hand, marl on slopes with a medium gradient and, on the other hand, high sand and gravel terraces.
  • The AOC Coteaux du Giennois comprises around 180 hectares of vineyards, which are characterised by gravelly and calcareous soils.
  • The AOC Châteaumeillant is also around 180 hectares and has gravelly soil mixed with sand and clay.

Vineyards near Pouilly-sur-Loire (Photo: BIVC / Thierry Martrou)

Touraine: diversity of varieties and styles

The appellations of the Touraine area are mostly contiguous on around 13,000 hectares in the Département Indre-et-Loire and extend to the Département Loir-et-Cher in the east. In addition, there are "islands" in the north in the departments of Sarthe and again Loir-et-Cher, in the south in the departments of Vienne and Deux-Sèvres, and in the southeast on the border of the departments of Vienne and Indre. The AOC Valençay lies almost entirely in the Département Indre.

Touraine also has a continental climate, although the influence of the sea is already noticeable in the west. The westerly wind is slowed down by the region's chains of hills. The average sunshine duration is 1,800 hours a year, there is moderate rainfall in summer, and autumn is often dry. In the east of Touraine, the soils are sandy with a subsoil of clay, in the west chalky tufa dominates; in addition, clay soils on silicate rock ("Perruches"), clay and chalky soils on chalky rocks ("Aubuis") and airy gravel and sandy soils occur in the area. The main grape varieties are Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, but Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay are also well represented. Cabernet Franc is often blended with Gamay and Côt, while Grolleau plays the most important role in rosé wines; Côt and Grolleau grow mainly in the Cher valley.

Vines in the Clos de l'Echo near Chinon (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

Touraine has a total of 20 appellations with AOC status. The most important of these are Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil and the AOC Touraine, which, despite the same name, should not be confused with the area:

  • The AOC Touraine covers around 4,500 hectares and is mostly located east and southeast of Tours between the Loire and Cher rivers. The soil and climate conditions in the vineyards vary and influence the choice of grape variety. About 80 percent of the white wines in the Touraine appellation are made from Sauvignon Blanc, plus Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay; Chenin Blanc is even the main variety for the sparkling wines. Gamay accounts for over 60 percent of the red wines, and Cabernet Franc, Côt, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Pineau d'Aunis, which is the basis for most rosés, are also grown.
  • The AOC Chinon extends over 2,300 hectares on both banks of the Vienne to where it flows into the Loire. As if through a funnel, a mild Atlantic climate already penetrates here. The soil structure is divided into two parts: on the one hand sandy and alluvial soils, on the other hand clayey limestone soils on the slopes. More than 90 percent of the red wines produced in the AOC Chinon are mostly pure Cabernet Francs, although up to ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon may be added; the same applies to the rosé wines. White wines account for only three percent of production and are made from Chenin Blanc.
  • The AOC Vouvray covers about 2,000 hectares and is located east of Tours on the right bank of the Loire. Only Chenin Blanc is cultivated here, and the vines stand on clay and silicate rock ("Perruches") or clay and limestone ("Aubuis"). Depending on the weather during the year, the wines offer a wide range from dry to semi-dry and noble sweet to sparkling (AOC Vouvray Mousseux).
  • In the far west of the Touraine area, on the right bank of the Loire, are the AOCs Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil on a total of around 1,400 hectares. Similar to Chinon, the Atlantic climate already has a moderating effect here and Cabernet Franc is almost exclusively produced; however, ten percent Cabernet Sauvignon may also be added to the red wines in the Bourgueil AOC. The vineyards are completely south-facing, and the soils are again divided into two parts: Terrace sites with pebbly, sandy, and alluvial soils (predominantly in the AOC Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil) and hillside sites with clayey limestone soils (predominantly in the AOC Bourgueil).

Harvest near Bourgueil: Cabernet Franc (Photo: InterLoire / Louis-Marie Blanchard)

A few other appellations are worth mentioning:

Other AOCs in the Touraine area are Touraine Amboise, Touraine Azay-le-Rideau, Touraine Mesland, Touraine Noble-Joué and Montlouis-sur-Loire as well as the sparkling wine appellations Touraine Mousseux, Montlouis-sur-Loire Mousseux and Crémant de Loire. Rosé de Loire (again with AOC status) may also be produced in the area.

Château de Montreuil-Bellay% surrounded by vineyards (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

Anjou-Saumur: Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc

The appellations of the Anjou-Saumur area are almost entirely contiguous and are mainly located in the department of Maine-et-Loire; to the southeast, they extend into the departments of Deux-Sèvres and Vienne. Together they cover almost 15,000 hectares of vineyards. The climate in the west of the area (in Anjou) is maritime: with an average sunshine duration of about 1,900 hours, summers are hot and winters mild. In contrast, in the east, in the area around Saumur (the so-called Saumurois), continental influences dominate.

The soils consist of sedimentary rocks with sand and slate and can also be differentiated within the area: In Anjou, there are black soils of dark sedimentary rock as well as white soils of weathered chalky rocks; in Saumurois, calcareous soils prevail on the one hand and stony, siliceous or clayey soils on the other. The soil on the banks of the Layon (in the AOC Coteaux du Layon) contains a lot of slate. The main grape varieties in the Anjou-Saumur area are Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Chenin Blanc is the basis for dry white wines as well as for some of the best sweet and sparkling wines from the Loire that come from this area. Cabernet Franc is mostly vinified as a single-varietal red or rosé wine here, but Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay also occur.

Wine landscape near Champigny (Photo: Interloire / Thomas Pirel)

21 appellations with AOC status are grouped in the Anjou-Saumur area. The most important of these are Anjou, Saumur and Savennières, as well as several appellations each for rosé, sweet and sparkling wines:

In the Anjou-Saumur area, wines of the AOCs Crémant de Loire and Rosé de Loire may also be produced.

Vineyard near Messemé (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

For sweet wines, five AOCs stand out: Coteaux du Layon, Coteaux du Layon Villages, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume. Only Chenin Blanc is permitted in all four appellations:

  • The AOC Coteaux du Layon runs along the Layon and has a size of around 1,700 hectares. The soils consist of sedimentary and sandstone with a thin layer of clay and black Anjou mother soil. The vineyards here are particularly well aerated, which favours grape ripening and makes noble sweet wines possible. The AOC Coteaux du Layon Villages applies to the seven communes of Beaulieu-sur-Layon, Chaume, Faye d'Anjou, Rablay-sur-Layon, Rochefort-sur-Loire, Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné and Saint-Lambert du Lattay; wines with this designation are required to have a lower yield per hectare than the AOC Coteaux du Layon.
  • The AOC Bonnezeaux is located in the commune of Thouarcé on the right bank of the Layon. The 80 hectares of vines are planted on sandstone with quartz and jasper on three south-facing steep slopes.
  • The AOC Quarts de Chaume is located in Rochefort-sur-Loire, also on the right bank of the Layon south of Angers. The river forms a loop here, so that morning mists in autumn ensure the desirable noble rot of the grapes. The vines are rooted in sedimentary rock and fine-grained sandstone on a good 30 hectares of land.
  • East of Quarts-de-Chaume lies the AOC Coteaux de l'Aubance, where the vines grow on slate soil. About 170 hectares of vineyards extend between the right bank of the Layon and the left bank of the Loire.

Rows of vines near Rochefort (Photo: Interloire / Pascal Girault)

Pays Nantais: Muscadet and Folle Blanche

The appellations of the Pays Nantais area, with around 16,500 hectares, also form almost a coherent unit. They are mostly located in the Loire-Atlantique département and extend into the Vendée département in the southeast. South of La-Roche-sur-Yon - in the Département Vendée - the AOC Fiefs Vendéens with the associated appellations Brem, Mareuil, Pissotte and Vix is spread over five "islands". In the far east, on the border of the departments of Loire-Atlantique and Maine-et-Loire, lies the AOC Coteaux d'Ancenis.

The climate in the Pays Nantais is maritime with hot, humid summers and mild autumns and winters. The vines benefit from an average of over 2,000 hours of sunshine a year. The soils consist of volcanic, metamorphic and green rock, gneiss, mica sedimentary rock and granite. The predominant grape variety in this area is Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet), whose wines are given a special finesse by the quartz and granite rocks. Chenin Blanc, Folle Blanche, Pinot Gris as well as Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown.

Four appellations are available for the wines from Melon de Bourgogne:

  • The AOC Muscadet accounts for around 3,000 hectares of vineyards.
  • The AOC Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine is the largest appellation in the Pays Nantais area, with over 8,400 hectares southeast of Nantes. It takes its name from the two rivers Petite Maine and Sèvre Nantaise.
  • The AOC Muscadet Côtes-de-Grandlieu covers 260 hectares southwest of Nantes.
  • The AOC Muscadet Coteaux-de-la-Loire covers 160 hectares of vines on both sides of the Loire to the north-east of Nantes.

The AOC Gros Plant du Pays Nantais applies exclusively to white wines from Folle Blanche and has a vineyard area of about 2,300 hectares. All wines from the five appellations can be vinified "sur lie". They then remain on the fine lees (lees storage) at least until the spring of the year following the harvest, which gives them more suppleness and structure.

River landscape in the Muscadet Coteaux-de-la-Loire appellation (Photo: Interloire / Philippe Caharel)

Crémant de Loire: Top of the "Fines Bulles

The sparkling wines from the Loire are also called "Fines Bulles" ("Fine Bubbles"). In addition to the already mentioned AOCs Vouvray Mousseux, Montlouis-sur-Loire Mousseux, Touraine Mousseux, Saumur Brut and Anjou Mousseux, this also includes the AOC Crémant de Loire, which has the strictest quality specifications and, with over 100,000 hectolitres per year, also produces the largest quantity. While only Chenin Blanc may be used for the sparkling wines from Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire, cuvées with other varieties (often Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) are also permitted in the four other appellations.

Crémant de Loire is produced in the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine areas. The vineyards concerned cover 1,500 hectares. The main grape varieties are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc; Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d'Aunis may be included up to 30 percent. A Crémant de Loire must mature on the fine lees for at least twelve months.

Sparkling wine matures in the cellar (Photo: InterLoire / Louis-Marie Blanchard)

Tasting notes

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