Loire Valley - Châteaux and Wines of all Styles and Colours

Wink Lorch's picture

Loire Valley - Châteaux and Wines of all Styles and Colours


Wine Travel Guides - Loire Region


The longest river in France, the Loire rises in the Cévennes mountains in the Ardèche department quite far south in France, then heads north-west passing exactly half-way along its length through Pouilly-sur-Loire  (famous for the white wine appellation Pouilly Fumé). Next the river turns west cutting its way through gentle countryside until  finally, after over 1,000 kilometres (610 miles) it reaches Nantes where soon after it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the Loire vineyards lie not far from its banks or those of its many tributaries in the second part of its journey and enjoy a famously mild climate, influenced by the rivers. The Loire wine region produces a very wide range of wine styles, with whites ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet; dry and medium rosés; increasingly good reds and some excellent dry sparkling wines too. The region’s calming landscape is dotted with the most extraordinary number of spectacular châteaux, several of them built for the mistresses of the French nobility back in Renaissance times.

Loire wine producers couldn’t be more friendly to visit, especially if you make an appointment – many are small, family-run concerns. A discovery of the most interesting producers along the length of the Loire is the passion of Englishman Jim Budd, a wine writer  devoted in particular to the Loire Valley, where he and a group of friends have shared a second home for many years. I was lucky enough to be able to persuade Jim to write the five Loire Valley guides for Wine Travel Guides and he has recently updated them judiciously, adding a few new producers and restaurants that he discovered earlier this year.

Perhaps the most difficult decision about visiting the Loire Valley is which part to visit if you only have a short time as distances are quite great, though the relatively new A85 motorway linking Angers with Vierzon has sped things up a little. Ideally, especially if you have five days or more to spend visiting the Loire Valley, you should choose two bases to keep your down your travelling time. If wines form Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are your passion, then a couple of days in the Central Vineyards are a must to explore the wines of Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and other appellations; if you want to combine some visits to the finest châteaux with a taste of interesting Chenin Blanc, try the delightful city of Tours as your base; if Cabernet Franc reds, more Chenins and some fascinating abbeys and museums are your bag, then consider Saumur or Angers as a base. And, finally, if you love oysters and crisp dry white wine, then choose somewhere near Nantes for a couple of days to explore the far west of the region. Here’s what Jim has to say in our guide about the Nantais:

“After a 1000 kilometres the Loire finally reaches the Altantic Ocean and the vineyards at this last stage of the journey produce almost entirely crisp, dry white wine. Rarely flashy – they tend not to rack up high scores in wine competitions – these wines are often deliciously refreshing. This low undulating land is Muscadet country. Muscadet is the perfect wine with fish and being close to the Atlantic this is available in abundance and wonderfully fresh. A young Muscadet is ideal with a seafood platter, while a grilled fish with the local beurre blanc calls for one with a couple of years of bottle age. There is, of course, more to the region than vines including the city of Nantes – an exciting blend of the modern and the historic. Also worth exploring, is the little known nature reserve of the Lac de Grand-Lieu, while not forgetting its Muscadet.”

Jim’s real love is the area around Tours as his house is not far from the city. Here are excerpts from his introductions to our two guides to the areas near Tours, first East and then West:

“Eastern Touraine is the heart of the Loire Valley – not the geographic middle but the essence of the Loire. Here are many of the most famous châteaux – Amboise, Chambord and the lovely Chenonceau built of tuffeau, the local honey-coloured limestone. It was here that the French kings governed for much of the Renaissance, while cavorting with their various mistresses in the gentle Touraine landscape. The whole area is a classified UNESCO World Heritage site. The remarkable wines of Vouvray and Montlouis mark a final glorious flowering of Chenin Blanc close to its the easterly limit. Sauvignon Blanc is widely planted, providing crisp and racy wines costing a fraction of Pouilly Fumé and Sancerre.”

“Although many people think of the Loire as white wine country, a little under half of Loire wines are either red or rosé. Saumur Champigny, Bourgueil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and Chinon form the centre of the Loire’s red wine production. Based almost exclusively on Cabernet Franc, this is the source of the Loire’s finest reds, with the possible exception of top Sancerres made from Pinot Noir. There is a range of styles from easy-drinking reds bottled early to enjoy young to much more structured wines, usually planted on the limestone hillsides, that need time and in good vintages will last twenty years or more. The string of lovely châteaux – both world famous and unknown – found east of Tours continues to the west. Azay-le-Rideaux, Chinon, Ussé (the sleeping beauty château) and Villandry are the best known. There are also many beautiful villages and little hamlets that nestle in the gently undulating countryside.”


I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in the Loire in August, enjoying a visit to the appellation and village of Menetou-Salon, a close neighbour of Sancerre that produces similar wines. The following day having driven south of Tours, we ate out at chef Jacky Dallais’ Le Promenade, one of Jim’s hot restaurant recommendations that happens to be conveniently close to where my sister lives. Jim writes about it on our guides:

“This is one of my favourite restaurants in France and given the quality of the food certainly offers amazing value for money. Dallais champions local produce including geline de Touraine, a particularly flavoursome local bred of chicken. Splendid wine list not just for the Loire but for other parts of France especially Languedoc-Roussillon, orchestrated by Xavier Fortin.” We had a wonderful lunch there with excellent wines and can’t wait to go again on our next visit to my sister. Wine travel in practice!


If you aim to explore the wine regions of the Loire this autumn or even are planning a visit next year, do take a look at our guides and don’t forget the special subscribers’ discount for Wandering Educators visitors.  You will find the details at our special Wine Travel Guides section here at Wandering Educators.




Wink Lorch is the Wine Editor for Wandering Educators, and the Publisher of Wine Travel Guides.