France’s Most Diverse and Food Friendly Region: Loire Valley

On any given day you can find me in the kitchen preparing a meal for my fiancé and myself. At times, even my dog Snowy gets a homemade meal. Although I didn’t grow up in a home of nightly gourmet meals, my passion for good food and cooking started young. While my mother would work long shifts, I would entertain myself after school and homework with watching various cooking shows. Some of my favorites were Barefoot Contessa, Julia Child, Martha Stewart, Iron Chef, Nigella Lawson, Alton Brown, and Rachel Ray. 

I would pay careful attention to how they would cut, filet, roast, marinate, and season their meals. I was never shown how to use certain spices in a meal, but I learned by watching and experimenting when I was old enough in college. My brother became my loyal guinea pig and to this day recognizes I’m not a bad cook! 

Cooking has brought me many close friends and dare I say my fiancé (I don’t think he would want to marry me if I couldn’t cook)! However, gradually over time I also developed a passion for wine. It started out innocently enough, realizing quickly I couldn’t drink boxed Franzia or other cheap domestic wines. Eventually, my enjoyment for wine turned into a full blown calling: A calling that has shaped my life in ways that I would have never imagined. 

As a consequence, food and wine pairings have become increasingly important to me. As a home cook, you can pour your heart and soul into a meal for loved ones, yet the wrong wine can throw the entire meal off balance. Food & wine pairings are important and not a process to be overlooked. 

Loire Valley Wines: An at Home Chef’s Best Friend. 

This past month, I was approached by Loire Valley Wines and their managing agency to construct an article that would showcase Loire Valley’s food & wine pairing capacity. This was an opportunity for creativity I didn’t want to miss out on so naturally, I jumped on it! 

The reality is, Loire Valley is host France’s most diverse and approachable wine region. They have whites, reds, sparklings, Rosé. For every type of meal you can find a Loire Valley wine to pair. 

I like to think of the wines of Loire Valley as a bountiful bouquet of flowers. Aromatic whites and Rosés, crisp sparkling wines. But it doesn’t stop there, robust and hearty reds, like the Cabernet Francs of Chinon even sweet wines, like Coteaux du Layon. Many grape varieties are permitted in the Loire Valley. Beautifully diversified, yet cohesive like a bouquet of flowers. 

It’s best to see Loire Valley as grouped into five subregions which run along France’s longest river. From West to East there is Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, and the Central Vineyards. There is also the existence of an IGP called Val de Loire which covers the entire region. 

The different regions of Loire Valley are subject to different climate influences. However, generally speaking Loire Valley is considered a cool climate region. An exception to this would be the Central Vineyards which has a continental climate and the Nantais region which has a maritime climate being a coastal region. 

Grape varieties of Loire Valley

Sauvignon Blanc:

This grape is mainly grown in the Central Vineyards and Touraine. The most prestigious appellations for Sauvignon Blanc include Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Another area where Sauvignon Blanc is produced is Menetou-Salon. The wines from this area tend to be high in acid, dry, and with hints of green apple. Pouilly-Fumé can also have a subtle smokey note. Touraine is an area where wines tend to be less concentrated and usually simple and fruitier. Usually, these wines are best drank young. They’re a great pairing with cheeses, select charcuterie, vegetables, fresh salads, Mediterranean fare, and even complimentary to Asian foods. I myself have paired a Sancerre with salmon tacos, with a homemade mango salsa and this pairing was fantastic! 

 

Chenin Blanc:

A grape variety that can be made into dry, sweet, still or sparkling wine in the Loire Valley. It’s highly variable nature depends on the amount of ripeness at the time of picking. The most underripe of fruits is used to make sweet wines. These can be typically found in both Vouvray and Saumur.Young Chenin Blanc in the form of dry still wine will typically have notes of apple, or even tropical fruits which, again, depend on the ripeness of the grape. With age, dry Chenins can become richer, more rounded, with lovely notes of honey and toast. These wines can come from Vouvray and Anjou, but also Saumur. Anjou is known for sometimes oaking their Chenins.Two other appellations worth mentioning are Savennières and Coteaux du Layon, which are located towards the west end of Anjou. Savennières makes full bodied, complex, dry Chenin Blancs with late harvest grapes. On the other hand, Coteaux du Layon makes the most fantastic sweet wines in the region of Loire Valley! Noble rot develops well in this appellation.As you can see, Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley can be an incredibly diverse and flexible pairing for most any of your favorite dishes. With a wide variety of styles, there’s a chenin to suite almost any meal. Some suggestions could be chicken dishes, fish, or even desserts. 

Muscadet:

The fantastic part about this grape is that it ripens early and is virtually frost resistant, making is suitable for cool growing climates. The majority of Melon Blanc is grown in the Nantais region. The appellation of Muscadet covers the widest area of land, but Muscadet Sèrve et Maine is the most prestigious. All these wines are dry with medium alcohol (maximum permissible is 12%ABV), high acidity, light body, and delicate green fruits. A subspecialty of this appellation is Muscadet Sur Lie, which basically means on lees. These wines spend their winters resting on the lees. A classic pairing is with oysters. 

Cabernet Franc:

This is a grape variety that is also well suited to the Loire Valley. In the region of Touraine, Cabernet Franc is famously grown in Chinon. Know for it’s funky, herbaceous bell pepper notes, this is absolutely one of my favorites and a wine that was made for food. I love Cabernet Franc with a hearty beef stew or BBQ Steak.Another prominent Cabernet Franc producing appellation is Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Saumur-Champigny. These wines tend to be more light and fruity as compared with its cousin in Chinon. Both these wines have the capacity to age in bottle. I feel like these wines could go well with tomato based pasta dishes or even a meat sauce. 

Gamay:

This is the second most planted grape variety in Loire Valley. Primarily planted in Touraine and Anjou, these wines are fruity, easy drinking wines, which are best consumed young. 

Pinot Noir:

Although not widely planted, Pinot Noir can be found in the Central Vineyards. Usually the best planting sites are reserved for Sauvignon Blanc, so finding a Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley can be a rare find in the US! 

Rosé:

Although more a style of wine rather than a grape variety Loire Valley is the number two AOP producers of Rosé wine, second only to Provence. Rosé wines are mainly produced in Anjou, Saumur, Tourine, and Sancerre. Mostly dry in style, the exception to this is Cabernet D’Anjou. This wine is always a medium sweet and a blend of both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Rosé D’Anjou is less sweet and is predominantly made from a local grape variety called Grolleau and is blended with Cabernet Franc. Sancerre Rosé must be made from Pinot Noir and is usually light and delicate. I’ve tried a wide variety of Rosés from Loire Valley and I actually prefer them to Provence styles. I find the Rosés from Loire Valley to be much more food friendly. 

Keeping it simple and fun

Below is an infographic supplied by Loire Valley wines which beautifully illustrates how these wines can pair so well with a variety of meals or occasions.With so much variety and possibilities, what wines of Loire Valley will you pair with next?

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