French Wine 101 – Loire Valley Wines
Wine 101 Series
This is one of a series of posts aimed at newcomers to wine with interest but a modest checkbook.
A Few Simple Rules
- Just the facts, no flowery language
- Key types of wine from a region
- Some help in navigating the wine shop
- < 10€ in a shop in Europe
- <$20 per bottle in the US in a wine shop or grocery store
- 2-3x the wine shop price if you’re ordering off the winelist in a restaurant – ouch.
French Wine 101 – Loire Valley Wines: Two Whites, One Red
The Loire Valley stretches all the way from central France west to the Atlantic coast, and wine grapes are grown along the entire length.
Loire Valley Fast Facts
- As in much of France, wines are named for the community. You may feel like you need a secret decoder ring
- The Loire produces white, rosé, red, dry, sweet, and sparkling wines. Everything you could want is produced somewhere along the Loire.
Budget Center Loire – Light, Crisp White Wines Made from Sauvignon Blanc
Label – look for the following: Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Coteaux du Giennois & Touraine. These are the biggest community names for the Sauvignon Blanc wines made in the Center Loire.
- Pro Tip: don’t confuse Pouilly-Fumé (Loire, Sauvignon Blanc grape) with Pouilly-Fuissé (Burgundy, Chardonnay grape). Remember this key fact and you are well on your way to your Sommelier badge!
Wine – Light, crisp, highly acidic (refreshing) wines. You might find aromas of lemons and even a stony minerality from some.
Food – These wines are great with salads and light meals, especially any food you would squeeze a lemon on: fish, scallops, shrimp. They also go well with many vegetables and can pair with things like asparagus, often a difficult food for wine
Vouvray & Co. – Full Body White Wines, But Watch Out
As you float down the Loire river, the white wine grape slowly transitions to Chenin Blanc. The wines are more full bodied and richer than the Sauvignon Blancs we just left behind.
- The danger in this area is that the white wines can be dry or lightly sweet. Often the label will not tell you which it is.
- The dry / semi-sweet mystery is most notable in Vouvray
- Sec = dry, Demi-Sec = lightly sweet. If it doesn’t say, it is likely lightly sweet.
- The sparkling wines in this region are excellent and affordable – if you see one, try it!
Budget Chenin Blanc
Label – look for the following: Vouvray, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Savennieres
Wine – Full body white wines, ready to stand up to bigger foods. Good acidity with a richer mouthfeel.
Food – Foods with cream sauces, chicken, pork. Demi-sec wines are great with spicy foods like Mexican or Thai.
Cabernet Franc – Medium Body Red Wines
Cabernet Franc is one of the parent grapes of the much more famous Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc is fragrant and medium bodied, with lower tannins than its’ famous son.
Budget Red Loire Wine
Label –Look for the following: Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur
Wine – Cab Franc from the Loire will be medium bodied and not overly tannic. Aromas can tend toward the earthy side, more leather and tobacco than bright fruit. You might get a whiff of green pepper, that’s ok. It’s part of Cab Franc.
Food – Cab Franc is very versatile, it can easily go with chicken prepared almost any way, or pork or even steak on the grill on a summer night. If you like the more earthy side of red wines, Loire valley reds may become your favorites
In the Wine Shop
Advice to help you in the wine shop:
- There are thousands of bottles of wine from hundreds of regions. Go in the shop with a plan: I am looking for a Loire Valley (white, sparkling or red), under $20. 9,000 bottles in this shop mean nothing to me.
- Loire valley wines are the place you want some help from the staff in the wine shop. Some of the wines can be a bit sweet. If you want dry or would like to try a lightly sweet wine, ask for help!
- Budget – Expect these wines to be at the upper end of your <$20 budget. You may need to shop during a sale. The upside is that these are not the baby sisters of the top wines from the Loire. They are the top wines from the Loire.
In case you missed it earlier, download the link below to your phone. Voila! You have a quick reference to use when in the wine shop or restaurant.
Take a photo of yourself with a bottle of Loire Valley wine, post it on Instagram and tag @jmb5121 and #frenchwine101
Next installment, (April):
- French Wine 101 – Provence, Beaujolais