Anjou, in the western Loire Valley, has a long history of wine production, and produced some of the most coveted wines of the Middle Ages. It was developed by Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th centuries, and was predominantly known for its white grapes, until many varieties were killed off in the 19th century phylloxera outbreak. Today the region relies on a more diverse, hybridised selection of varieties, but it is only half the size of its original strength.
Anjou has a relatively mild climate, tempered to some extent by the Atlantic, and the Vendée forests to the southwest. It has a relatively low level of rainfall.
Some of the main wines produced here include the reds Anjou Villages, made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, Anjou Gamay, made with the Gamay grape and Anjou Rouge, for lighter reds. The most popular white wine produced in Anjou is the Anjou Blanc, which must be made with at least 80 per cent Chenin Blanc, usually alongside Chardonnay or Sauvignon. These vines thrive in the Anjou soils of schist and carboniferous rocks.
The 450 hectare appellation of Cheverny is situated on the plains between the Loire and Cher rivers in the northeast of Touraine in the Loire Valley. For centuries, vines have been grown here, but it was only in 1993 that the area was awarded its own AOC. It is known for its light red wines made from Gamay with Pinot Noir, often with Cabernet Franc, Cot/Malbec and Pineau d’Aunis as well. Its whites are Sauvignon Blanc based (60 to 85 per cent), often blended with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Menu Pineau/Arbois. The soils here can be made up of sandstone, limestone, sand, clay and alluvia.
There is also a separate appellation here, of 50 hectares, for the local grape, Romorantin, called Cour Cheverny.
Muscadet is the most productive appellation in the Loire Valley region, covering more than 13,000 hectares, around 2,500 vineyards operate here, producing between them 100 million bottles a year. The only variety of wine officially recognised by the Muscadet AOC is Muscadet itself, a dry white wine made using Melon de Bourgogne grapes. It is thought that Melon de Bourgogne was first introduced to Muscadet by Dutch traders in the 16th century, where its hardiness allowed it to survive the great frost of 1709, which had killed off many other local varieties.
Muscadet is located in the west of the Loire Valley, near Nantes, and is kept cooler than much of the region due to the influence of airflow from the Atlantic, which also provides a larger amount of rain. The Muscadet appellation is divided into three further sub-appellations: Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire in the north and Muscadet-Cotes de Grandlieu in the southwest. While the terroirs vary between appellations, there are certain common factors. For example, it is common to find soils of silt, schist, clay, gravel, sand, granite and volcanic rock.
In the heart of Cléry-Saint-André is the 15th century Notre Dame basilica, its gothic towers looming over the commune. It was here that Louis XI was buried in 1483. Here, and across Orléanais, there is a long history of celebrated winemaking, going back to around the fifth century. It was only in the 19th century with the advent of railway that the area began declining in popularity, as the simple road routes by which wines could be taken to Paris were eclipsed by trains that could just as easily ferry wines between Languedoc and Paris instead.
The soils here are mostly made up of silica. It is one of the few places in France to still grow the rare Gascon grape. The climate can be challenging, though – droughts can be common, as can intense frosts, which reached -20 degrees Celsius in 2012, killing large numbers of vines. Cléry-Saint-André is part of Orleanais, and has similar characteristics to Soings-en-Sologne.
In the Anjou region, on the north bank of Loire River, the Savennières appellation is known for its production of dry white wines made with Chenin Blanc. It has a low level of production across its three sub-regions: Savennières, Savennières-La Roche-aux-Moines and Savennières-Coulée de Serrant, an area of ancient vines now run by biodynamic pioneer Nicolas Joly.
The small commune of Soings-en-Sologne, around 200 kilometres south of Paris in the Loire Valley, has seen wine production for many centuries. It is a largely woodland area, complete with ponds and wild animals, which allows the organic producer to embrace the rich biodiversity. As of 2011, only four producers operated in Soings-en-Sologne. It is also one of the very few places in France where the grape Gascon can be found.
The soil here features a thin layer of silica made up of flint dust, with deeper layers of clay, flint, limestone and quartz. Soings-en-Sologne is part of Orleanais, and has similar characteristics to Cléry-Saint-André.
Vouvray is the land of the Chenin Blanc, with around 2000 hectares of vineyards devoted to white wine production. Of all the appellations of the Loire Valley’s Touraine district, this is the most significant in terms of white wine production. More than one million cases of Vouvray are sold here each year.
The small town of Vouvray is just east of Tours, and perches on the north bank of the Loire River. Much of the area has been worked for years, with wine production going back as far as the monasteries of the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until 1936, however, that the Vouvray appellation was officially created. Before this, much of the produce were taken by the Dutch Wine Company to use in blends.
The terroir here is mostly of clay with gravel on top of a bedrock of tuffeau (a local limestone) with a microclimate produced by the continental and Atlantic weather systems converging. However, it is also the weather that determines the success of the crops, which are high sensitive to such conditions. The appellation is on a plateau, and mainly south-facing over the river. These conditions can give rise to noble rot, which is important in the production of sweet whites.
Vouvray wines have an often long ageing potential, with some of the best examples still being fruity and lively after many decades in the bottle.