In March our French Winophiles group began our journey of Loire Valley wines. We started at the western edge in Pays Nantais (Lower Loire) along the Atlantic coast. The past three months we have journeyed inland along the majestic Loire River through Middle Loire: Anjou and Touraine. Today we conclude this wonderful wine journey in the Upper Loire’s Centre-Loire. Grab a glass and please join me as we explore this final region of the Loire Valley and its delicious wines.
The Loire Valley contains over 4,000 vineyards. Like most of France, and Europe, the vineyards were originally planted by the Roman soldiers. The Loire River offered a convenient means of transportation through the Roman Empire and the soil and climate was perfect for grapes. In Medieval times the Loire was the center of Europe, halfway between the Latin world to the south and the Germanic world to the north. The monks cultivated the vineyards and crafted wines that were received across Europe with praise and popularity. In the 15th– 17th centuries the French Aristocracy built lavish summer chateaux throughout the Loire Valley. The results of the French Revolution left many abandoned chateaux as well as resulting in a national railroad that transported wines from Burgundy and Champagne, leaving the Loire behind. During the phylloxera outbreak the Loire was one of the last regions affected but also one of the last to recover. After the Appellation d’Origin Contrôlée was introduced in France in 1935, the Loire was recognized as a region producing high quality wines. Today the Loire Valley claims 69 AOP’s resulting in 75% of its wine production.
Centre-Loire rests in the heart of France. It is the exact geographic center of the country. Viticulture dates back at least 2,000 years in Centre-Loire. This is the smallest of the Loire Valley wine regions. It is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc as well as Sancerre, which sets the standards in quality for the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Other sub-regions include Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly. Though the region is known for its Sauvignon Blanc, red wine and rosé are also produced in small quantities in Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, and Chateaumeillant.
In this article I chose to highlight two of the Centre-Loire’s wine producing regions: Sancerre, and Pouilly-Fumé because these two regions produce some of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs in the world. If you are accustom to New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc I will tell you up front these are very different wines. Less fruity, much more mineral driven; super food friendly.
The soil has a lot to do with the wines produced in Centre-Loire region. There are three distinct soil types (also found in Chablis, Champagne, and the Cliffs of Dover) explained by Wine Folly:
- Terre Blanche is a mix of clay, Kimmeridgian limestone, and oyster shells, creating wines that are fruity, ageable, and angular with high acidity
- Caillotes features small pebbles of Oxfordian limestone and yields wines with delicate perfume and less structure than Terre Blanche.
- Silex, or flint, lends a smoky, gunflint quality to the grapes LOVE!
Sancerre AOP: located on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley; grapes planted in all three soil types then blended together to create the benchmark of Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc; racy characteristics of citrus, lemongrass, gooseberry and chalky minerality.
Pouilly- Fumé AOP: located further south on the right bank of the Loire River; Sauvignon Blanc is the only sanctioned grape in this region; name derived from the “smokey” attributes the wines possess from the grapes being grown in the silex soil; often blended with softer Sauvignon Blancs were more fruit characteristics from the Caillotes soil and deeper Sauvignon Blanc from the Terre Blanche soil.
Lucien Crochet Sancerre La Croix du Roy 2014: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from grapes sourced from several parcel that are planted with a south-east exposure; soft gold in the glass; subtle aromas of citrus and fresh cut herbs are wrapped in an earthy minerality of crushed stone; a truly beautiful wine, complex with an elegant subtly of flavors yet zesty, tart acidity that makes mouth pucker, refreshingly perfect for food or by itself, very long finish; as the wine warms it continues to evolve; vinified in stainless steel with a late racking to insure the wine captures the essence of terroir; imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchants, purchased at Pogo’s for $36.99.
Régis Minet Pouilly-Fume Vieilles Vignes 2014: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from grapes centered in the prized limestone and clay of the Kimmeridgian chain; the scattered flint in these vineyards creates a Sauvignon Blanc very distinctive from Sancerre; very soft gold in the glass; aromas of fresh cut grass are met with soft notes of citrus and a pronounced aroma of flint; a clean and refreshing wine that is zesty on the palate; racy acidity that coats the mouth; pronounced flint notes that I truly love; lingering, tart finish; stainless steel fermentation, 6 months on lees, native yeast, vines 25-30 years old; imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, purchased at Pogo’s for $26.99.
I learned in this French Winophiles series on the Loire Valley that there are five Thai restaurants located there. I wondered if Loire Valley wines pair well with Thai food (and they do!), how would they pair with Indian cuisine? To test this theory I paired these two wines with Grilled Tandoori Chicken, coconut whole wheat basmati rice, and grilled leeks. The pairing worked great. Because the chicken was marinated then grilled instead the resulting spice level was medium low but the flavor level was high! It was a delicious meal and paired beautifully with the wines. Loire Valley wines are very versatile. These two wines would also be great with shell fish!
Here are what my fellow French Winophiles discovered in Centre-Loire:
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “To Sancerre with a Tomato Salad with Parsley & Shallots”
Jeff of Food Wine Click tells us about “The Red-Headed Stepchild of Sancerre”
Jill from L’Occasion brings us “Central Loire: Fulfilling a Fantasy”
Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog shares “2015 Domaine Franck Millet Sancerre Rose #Winophiles”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Domaine Daulney Sancerre 2015 for #FrenchWinophiles”
Christy from Confessions of a Culinary Diva shares “Loire Valley Reds: Domaine du Pre Semele Sancerre”
Please join us this morning at 10CST on Twitter using #Winophiles to share your thoughts and experiences with Centre Loire or any aspect of the wonderful Loire Valley. I have thoroughly enjoyed our exploration of the Loire Valley. Each of the regions and the wines produced are outstanding. But all good things must come to an end so in July we leave Loire and head south. Please join us on Saturday, July 16th as we journey from Loire to Bordeaux in search of the great wines of Medoc.
My Song Selection: These wines have soul! Zesty, racy yet smooth and crazy good.
Get your own bottles of Loire Valley wines from the Centre-Loire and let me know what song you pair with them. Cheers!