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The Loire is the kid sister of French wine regions: lively, charming, full
of promise and often not taken seriously by friends of her rich older
brothers, Bordeaux and Burgundy. As a wine region, the geographical
area covered by the Loire is unusually large, extending almost 400km
from Sancerre, in the very centre of France, to Nantes, on the Atlantic coast.
The soil and climate are particularly varied, as are the wines. There are twodozen
different appellations to discover, ranging from crisp, white Sancerre to
honeyed Bonnezeaux, and from a zesty, youthful Touraine primeur to a heady
old Chinon red. The Loire is subdivided into four main wine regions: Centre,
which means Sancerre and the wines of the Haut Berry; Touraine, which
also includes the region around Blois; Anjou-Saumur; and, over the border
in Brittany, Nantes. Because of their Breton origins, the wines of the Nantais,
notably Muscadet, are not discussed here. The following is only an introduction
to the main wine styles of the Loire. Incredibly detailed information is available
free at tourist offices in all wine areas, including maps of the well-signposted
wine roads, or routes des vignobles, lists of addresses of wine caves and advice
on finding growers who speak English, if need be. For serious research, try
to get hold of a copy of Jacqueline Friedrich’s opinionated Wine and Food
Guide to the Loire or Roger Voss’s charming Wines of the Loire (unfortunately,
both are out of print). Alternatively, Chris Kissack’s excellent website, wwww
.thewinedoctor.com, specializes in the Loire, and contains plentiful background
information and detailed tasting notes. Some recommendations on
partnering food and wine are given below, but for more on the cuisine of
the Loire, see “Basics” (p.35).
Due to the northerly climate, vintages are particularly important in the Loire,
especially for red wines, as the grapes only ripen properly in sunnier, drier years.
The heatwave of 2003, for instance, was very good for most reds, but Sancerre
whites tended to suffer. In general, 2000 to 2006 are all regarded as good years
for Loire wines; 2002 and 2005 were particularly special – up there with the
great year, 1997. It’s impossible to generalize any further, however, as different
regions and even different wine-makers can produce wines of higher or lower
quality in any given year.


Red wine grapes
The classic red wine grape of the Loire is the Cabernet Franc, locally called the
Breton, probably because it arrived here from Brittany. The grape is best known for
its use in Bordeaux, mostly as a junior partner in the blend, though it plays a bigger
role in Pomerol and St-Emilion, with their limestone soils and damper climate. Its
finest expression, however, is in the Loire, where its popularity partly stems from its
ability to ripen early and resist cold winters. It produces wonderfully silky, summery
reds, smooth, pungent and with a distinctive taste of raspberries. It is often drunk
young, but the better wines should be laid down. The traditional local grape is the
Grolleau, or Groslot, a robust grape now best served by its use in rosé. As in Beaujolais,
Gamay is popular as a primeur – made for drinking very young. Less common
are Cabernet Sauvignon, the classic grape of Bordeaux, Burgundy’s Pinot Noir
– used for red Sancerre – and the plummy Malbec, known locally as the Côt.


White wine grapes
The great grape of the white wines of Touraine and Anjou is Chenin Blanc, known
locally as Pineau de la Loire. It is increasingly planted in California and South Africa,
but only achieves its potential in the Loire Valley. Wines made with the Pineau are
typically redolent of honey, quince, grilled almonds and lime leaves, often with a distinctive
smell of wet wool or musty stone – not unlike the limestone caves in which it
often matures. It is capable of producing a bewildering range of wine styles ranging
from sweet to dry, as well as sparkling, and notorious for having a “closed” period
– wines made with the Chenin Blanc tend to be drinkable young but then lose the
best of their flavour for a period of anything from five to ten years. You’ll need to find
an all-too-rare older wine to discover the best of the grape. Sauvignon Blanc is the
staple of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and ordinary Touraine. It thrives in a cool climate,
producing superbly crisp, grassy, smoky-perfumed wines at its best. At its worst, it
can make an astringently acidic wine whose smell is commonly described as “cat’s
pee on a gooseberry bush”.


Touraine wines

Most of the Touraine wine you can buy outside the region is the standard,
white Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) Touraine, much of it pretty
ordinary stuff with an unfortunate astringency resulting from not-quite-ripe
Sauvignon Blanc grapes. The better-quality wines can be appealing, however,
with a good balance of acidity and sweetness and a heady floral nose. Vouvray
has its own separate and very well-known appellation, while the tiny Touraine
Azay-le-Rideau AOC is starting to produce some good Chenin Blanc whites.
Red AOC Touraine wine is less commonly seen, and not much missed,
though some interesting reds are being produced under the more tightly
controlled Touraine Amboise and Touraine Mesland appellations, which
allow a blend of Gamay with smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc and Côt. The
former is sold everywhere in and around Amboise, east of Tours, while the latter is centred around the Blésois villages of Monteaux and Mesland, on the right
bank of the Loire opposite Chaumont.

Vouvray and Montlouis
Some of the best wines in the Loire are born in the chalky uplands of
Vouvray, which slope back from the Loire just east of Tours, but there’s still a
fair amount of sulphurous rubbish, too. The trick is to follow a local recommendation
and avoid buying blind, as all too often you can’t tell from the label
what’s inside. Vouvray is always white but it can be sec (dry), tendre (half-dry) or
demi-sec (slightly sweet), and in good years it can be moelleux (sweet) and even
doux or liquoreux (very sweet). Unusually, the best sweet wines are not limited
to those produced by the fabled “noble rot”, but also grapes dried on the vine,
or passerillé. Sparkling wines are covered on p.361. Vouvray’s character varies
enormously, but basically it’s the classic expression of the Chenin Blanc grape
(see box below) on its classic Loire soils – either aubuis, which is chalky Loire
tufa, or perruches, which is a flinty silex. The latter is found more abundantly
near the southern edge of the plateau, and creates a more severe, complex and
mineral-flavoured wine. Aubuis, by contrast, produces a true Loire Chenin,
with a smoky dampness in the nose, an apricot or apple fruitiness on the palate
and a firm acidity to hold all the flavours together. It goes perfectly with fish
and white meats – the sec perhaps best with shellfish, demi-sec with white
Most Vouvray vignerons make different wines from individual parcels of
land, which complicates buying, but among the famous names to look out for
are Domaine Huet (especially their Le Haut Lieu, Clos de Bourg and Le
Mont wines), Marc Brédif, Domaine des Aubuisières, Château Gaudrelle,
Domaine Champalou, Clos Baudoin and Clos Naudin. Of the two cooperatives,
the Cave des Producteurs du Vouvray, in Vouvray’s Vallée Coquette, is the
higher rated.
Montlouis, across the river, makes very similar wines that tend to age a little
faster and cost a little less. There’s an excellent Cave Cooperative in Montlouis
itself, but if you want to follow the wine roads, make for the villages of Husseau,
on the Loire, and St-Martin-le-Beau, at the far side of the appellation, on the
Cher. At the former, look for the caves of Dominique Moyer, Claude Levasseur
and Yves et François Chidaine; at the latter, make for G&G Deletang.


Chinon and Bourgueil
Facing each other across the Loire are the two great red wine appellations of
Touraine: Bourgueil, on the north bank, and Chinon, on the south. Both rely
almost solely on the Cabernet Franc grape, as grown in Bordeaux – which
means they risk comparison with their more famous southern cousin. A good
bottle can silence claret-loving detractors, maturing for up to thirty or forty
years and offering up rich spicy, truffle-like flavours in age. An indifferent bottle,
however, can be a little thin and unrewarding, and is best enjoyed young, lightly
chilled and without fuss. Some drink most Bourgeuil and Chinon wines in this
way, but a typical Chinon or Bourgeuil should be aged for at least five years. If
you’re expecting a classic wine like a Burgundy or an old Bordeaux, or a loud,
super-fruity New World offering, you’ll be disappointed. These wines are
typically light on the palate, gently laced with warm earthiness and the lingering
taste of summer fruits, and sometimes perfumed with violets.
It’s hard to pick out differences between the two. Chinon, which catches a
little more sunshine, is perhaps bigger and more rounded, while Bourgueil is
sometimes rougher-edged, with more tannin – qualities particularly pronounced
in St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, a separate appellation just west of Bourgueil itself.
If you know the origin of the wine, it’s more helpful to talk about the different
types of soil, as all three appellations share the same basic types. The gravelly,
sandy soil of the valley bottoms produces a fast-maturing, rustic wine best suited
to drinking young, while the chalky limestone-clay of the plateaux lends itself
to smoother, more serious, longer-maturing wines. The wines are often used
locally in rich meat sauces, and tend to go well with meat and game in general.
Their fruitiness also makes them an excellent partner for cheese, especially
goat’s cheese. Even if you’re not serving them chilled, they shouldn’t be too
warm, perhaps three or four degrees below room temperature.
Top Chinon names include the legendary Charles Joguet, in Sazilly, and Couly-
Dutheil and Château de la Grille, on the edges of Chinon itself – Couly-
Dutheil’s famous Clos de l’Echo site is right behind the château. There are also
rich pickings around the village of Cravant-les-Côteaux, where Bernard Baudry
is one of the best-known producers. For excellent Bourgueil wines, look for
Domaine de la Lande and Domaine de la Coudraye, in Bourgueil, and Pierre-
Jacques Druet, in the Hameau de la Croix-Rouge, just outside Benais. In the
St-Nicolas appellation, the Domaine Joël Taluau, on the road to Chevrette, is a
well-established producer, while Frédéric Mabileau is a relative newcomer.

Cheverny, Cour-Cheverny and Valençay
Thanks to their celebrated châteaux, three of the most minor Touraine appellations
bear the most famous names. All three are in the east of the wine-growing
area, and acquired their AOC status relatively recently. The most unusual and
interesting of the trio is Cour-Cheverny. Uniquely, this white wine is made
using the Romorantin grape, which was supposedly introduced to the region
by François I. Romorantin doesn’t exactly make a royal wine, however: Cour-
Cheverny wines are typically even more acid than their Sauvignon Blanc
neighbours. That said, their lemony acidity goes perfectly with a fatty white
fish, and they age unusually well. Domaine des Huards and Philippe Tessier are
names to look out for.
Cheverny has only been an appellation contrôlée since 1993, and it’s still
finding its way in the world. The area centres on the château but extends up
the left bank of the Loire towards Orléans. You can find whites made using
Sauvignon Blanc with, unusually, a small amount of Chardonnay added to lend
a little roundness. Reds run the gamut from Gamay and Pinot Noir to Cabernet
Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, while rosés rely on the Pineau d’Aunis and
Grolleau grapes. Valençay has only just made AOC status – in 2004 – and
remains something of a curiosity. Two thirds of the production is spicy, fruity
red, with the lively flavours of the Gamay grape dominating, helped out by
Pinot Noir, Côt and the Cabernets. Try it young, on the cool side, and served
with rabbit or chicken. Whites tend to be flinty Sauvignons – again, with some
Chardonnay blended in.

Jasnières and the Côteaux
Fashionable Parisian restaurants and wine-sellers started a trend for this previously
obscure wine a few years back, pushing Jasnières into the national wine
consciousness. The main drawback for this appellation is its northern latitude –
Jasnières is closer to Le Mans than Tours, situated in the Loire Valley near
Vendôme. Yields are kept very low to ensure only the ripest grapes get through,
but in colder, wetter years the acidity can be intolerably high, producing a poor,
tight-lipped wine. A good vintage can be exceptional, however, especially if you
can wait six or seven years for the Chenin Blanc flavour to really open up. The
leading wine-makers are Joël and Ludovic Gigou of the Domaine de la Charriere,
based in La Chartre-sur-le-Loir.
The names of the neighbouring appellations of Côteaux du Loir and
Côteaux du Vendomois barely register outside the region – but then the
latter has only been AOC since 2001. Both areas produce predominantly
Chenin Blanc whites, but with some fascinating, peppery vin gris (ultra-pale
rosé) made with the Pineau d’Aunis – try it with a fish friture. You can sometimes
find a few red wines, too. The heart of the Côteaux du Vendomois appellation is around Thoré-la-Rochette, where you’ll find the producers Emile Hérédia –
who makes organic wines – and Patrice Colin.


Anjou and Saumur wines

Even by Loire standards, Anjou makes an extraordinary variety of white wines,
especially if you include those of the Saumurois, with which they are normally
grouped. By volume, rosé is the leading wine, but there are significant amounts
of usually unexceptional AOC Anjou and AOC Saumur – names which can
refer to both white wines made with the Chenin Blanc grape and red wines
made with a mixture of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The more
interesting red wines come under the Anjou-Villages, Anjou-Villages-
Brissac and Saumur-Champigny appellations, while Savennières is the elite
appellation for dry whites. There’s also a fair amount of Anjou Gamay, which
has seen passing trends as an alternative primeur to the ubiquitous Beaujolais.
But the most extraordinary wines produced in this region are the exquisite
sweet wines of the Côteaux du Layon and, to a lesser extent, the Côteaux
de l’Aubance.
Anjou’s reputation suffers from the glut of bargain-priced rosé wines that
dominate the market, with supermarket own-brand wines flooding Britain
every year in early summer. Rosé d’Anjou can make pleasant summer drinking, but more typically it’s over-sweet and dull. The drier, more aromatic
Rosé de Loire appellation tends to be superior. Both are made with varying
mixtures of the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Côt, Gamay, Grolleau
and local Pineau d’Aunis grapes, but Rosé d’Anjou relies primarily on the
Grolleau. The Cabernet d’Anjou and much rarer Cabernet de Saumur
rosé appellations both restrict themselves to just the two Cabernet grapes, but
they’re very different in style. The former is fruity and semi-sweet, making a
good dessert wine, while the latter is dry, lively and highly floral, and perfect
with grilled and spiced meats.


The white wines of Savennières are in a class of their own. The unusually
steep, south-facing slopes around this small western Anjou village are made of
volcanic schist, which soaks up every available ray of sunshine. Yields are kept
tiny, and the local techniques are highly rarified. Many producers follow
complex variations on organic growing methods that are designed to express
the character of the local terroir to the greatest possible degree. The wine itself is
equally unusual – deep golden in colour, ageing superbly up to thirty years, but
almost exclusively dry. One wine writer has described Savennières as having
“the distant beauty of an ice maiden”. The grape variety is Chenin Blanc,
which offers up some surprising flavours in this context: white peaches, minerals,
jasmine, camomile, quinine and, later in life, dried fruit, beeswax and honey.
It’s a classic served alongside fish in a beurre blanc, especially the Loire favourites,
sandre and salmon. A Savennières should only be very lightly chilled, certainly
not lower than 10ºC. The top-rated vineyards are Roche-aux-Moines and
Coulée de Serrant – the latter so small as to be exclusively owned by one wine-maker, the philosophical Nicolas Joly, who follows the “biodynamic”
theory of wine-making. Other great Savennières wines include the Domaine
du Closel; Château d’Epiré, in the adjacent hamlet of Epiré; Domaine du
Baumard, based in Rochefort-sur-Loire; and Château Pierre Bise’s Clos de
Colaine, based in Beaulieu-sur-Layon.


Côteaux du Layon
The Layon valley and the slopes, or côteaux, that surround it, is one of the few
areas in France where climate and topography come together to allow the
autumnal growth of a fungus called botrytis cinerea. Morning mist and hot
afternoon sunshine allow this “noble rot” to develop, weakening the skin of
the grape so that it shrivels and dehydrates, causing the sugars inside to
concentrate. Growers have to make many tries, or passes through the vineyard,
to handpick the grapes where noble rot has set in to the required extent. The
result is one of the finest sweet wines in France, a serious rival to the internationally
better-known Sauternes, though made with the Loire’s Chenin Blanc
grape rather than Bordeaux’s Sémillon. The main flavour of a Côteaux du
Layon is honey, but the sweetness is balanced by herby notes and fruity acidity
– you might detect apricot, citrus zest and figs, and it’s easy to imagine oversweet
grapes bursting in the late-year, late-afternoon sun. The top wines can
last a lifetime, and slowly become more and more pungent with spices –
delicate and yet muscular at the same time. The idea of “dessert wine” is
anathema to the French, and these wines should be drunk as an apéritif or
paired with foie gras and other liver pâtés. Alternatively, they can partner
sauced fish, and make a superb match for blue cheese – especially Roquefort.
Serve cool, at around 8 to 10ºC.
The appellation Côteaux du Layon extends along the length of the Layon
valley, from near Doué-la-Fontaine to Chalonnes-sur-Loire. Within that
stretch are two elite mini-appellations: Quarts de Chaume, near Rochefortsur-
Loire, and Bonnezeaux, around Thouarcé. At both, the slopes face south
to southwest, allowing the maximum afternoon sunshine to reach the grapes.
Highly rated Bonnezeaux wines include Domaine de la Sansonnière and
Château de Fesles, both based in Thouarcé, while for Quarts de Chaume the
top end of the market is dominated by Château de Bellerive and Domaines
Baumard, both in Rochefort-sur-Loire. Other Layon producers to look out
for include Château Pierre-Bise, in Beaulieu-sur-Layon; Philippe Delesvaux, at La Haie Longue, near St-Aubin-de-Luigné; and Domain Jo Pithon, just
outside St-Lambert-du-Lattay.

The name “Champigny” supposedly comes from the Latin campus ignis, meaning
“field of fire”, and refers to the sunny microclimate that favours this sheltered
corner of the Saumurois. It is this warm weather that allows the region to
produce top-quality red wines, all of which are dubbed Saumur-Champigny
to distinguish them from the local white wines. Like its great rival, Chinon, the
grape variety is Cabernet Franc, and the flavours are similar: raspberry, strawberry,
cherry, sometimes vanilla, with distinctive violet notes.
The area is well defined, stretching back from the south bank of the Loire
between Saumur and the border with Touraine. The principal wine town is St-
Cyr-en-Bourg, in the southwestern corner of the appellation, but you’ll find
growers in all the villages along the Loire, too: Montsoreau, Turquant, Parnay
and Dampierre. The biggest and, some say, the most innovative wine producer
is Domaine Filliatreau, based at La Grande Vignolle, in Turquant. The wellregarded
Domaine de Nerleux, Château du Hureau and Château de Chaintres
are all based in handsome châteaux – the first in St-Cyr-en-Bourg, the last two
in Dampierre-sur-Loire.


Centre wines

Unlike the rest of the Loire region, the Sauvignon Blanc – a relative of the
Cabernet Sauvignon, which originally came from Bordeaux – is the chief grape
variety for white wines from the Centre region. One name dominates:
Sancerre. Its dry whites are exported all over the world, and sold at high prices
relative to other Loire wines. Explore a little further afield, however, and you’ll
find subtly different offerings at Menetou-Salon, a few kilometres west of
Sancerre, where the whites are more forgiving and floral, and can be better
value, and at Pouilly-Fumé, on the east bank of the river, where the wines
lean in the opposite direction, towards flinty austerity. Pouilly-sur-Loire
comes from the same area as the Fumé, but is made with the frankly inferior
Chasselas grape. Less well known than any of these are the tiny appellations of
Reuilly and Quincy, isolated on the left bank of the Cher, west of Bourges. In
the Côteaux du Giennois, north of Sancerre down the Loire, they make a
straightforward, lightweight red from a mix of the Gamay and Pinot Noir
grapes, and a white that often tastes like a rather slight Pouilly-Fumé.


Sancerre is one of the few Loire regions with a serious international reputation.
Made with the Sauvignon Blanc grape, the white wines are traditionally dry,
crisp and acid – you could almost describe the flavour as green. Increasingly,
however, wine-growers are using New World techniques to get as much fruity,
floral flavour as possible out of the grape. It’s unusually difficult to get to know
the wines of Sancerre, as most growers’ holdings are very small, and often split
up into tiny parcels on a number of different vineyards. What’s more, the growers
aren’t allowed to name the vineyard or origin on the label, even if there is only
one; instead, they have to put their own name to it, or resort to cuvée names that hint slyly at the vineyard of origin. And there are three very different types of
soil. On the western hilltops are the terres blanches, or Kimmeridgean chalk soils,
which produce the classic Sancerre, especially when combined with wines from
the drier caillottes, or pebbly limestones (on their own, wines grown on the
caillottes are more suitable for younger, easier drinking). Just a fifth of the territory
is silex, the flint-clay soil that many believe makes the finest Sancerre whites
of all – complex, steely, powerful and best drunk aged a few years. All can be
drunk as apéritifs, but they also go well with white meats and creamy dishes, the
acidity cutting through the fat. The big names are Alphonse Mellot and Vacheron
in Sancerre itself; Lucien Crochet, in Bué; and Henri Bourgeois, in Chavignol,
but it’s well worth trying out smaller wine-makers. Pascal and Nicolas Reverdy,
in the hamlet of Maimbray, are known for their reds.
Red Sancerre is much harder to find outside the region, but it can be exceptional
in a good year. Like red Burgundy, which is geographically quite close, it
is made with the Pinot Noir grape, which can produce a surprisingly pale,
thin-looking wine that browns quite quickly. Some drinkers find it offputting,
and the nose is even more extraordinary, a composty smell that some describe
as like raw meat or rotting fruit. The flavour is less heavy and full-bodied than
Burgundy, but can be just as complex, rich with spicy, earthy tones; it goes well
with game, duck and meaty fish dishes. It can be very enjoyable when drunk
young and lightly chilled. Sancerre’s soft, fruity rosé enjoyed a brief fashion in
the 1970s, but is relatively uninteresting.


Not to be confused with Burgundy’s Pouilly-Fuissé, the wines of Pouilly-Fumé
are twinned with Sancerre and, as such, fall definitively within the Loire wine
region. In terms of geography, however, Pouilly lies on the east bank, in
Burgundy, and you won’t, therefore, find it in this guidebook. This needn’t
deter wine buyers, who need only drive across the bridge from St-Satur, and
turn right onto the D553 for Tracy-sur-Loire, one of the main wine
communes, situated on a delightful stretch of the Loire. You can then continue to
the main village of Pouilly-sur-Loire, as well as Les Berthiers, just off the N7,
and nearby St-Andelain.
Pouilly-Fumé is, if anything, even more serious than Sancerre: gun-metal
flinty, mineral-flavoured and sometimes severe. Roger Voss, writing in Wines of
the Loire, claims that the wines “express the character of the Sauvignon Blanc in
complete simplicity”. Top wine-makers include Château de Nozet, just north
of Pouilly; the impressive Château de Tracy, close to the river; and the Dagueneau
brothers: Jean-Claude, in Les Berthiers, and Didier, in St-Andelain.

Reuilly and Quincy
The twin vineyards of Reuilly and Quincy are minuscule, together covering
barely a tenth of the area of Sancerre, and for years they were scarcely known
outside the region. The popularity of Sauvignon Blanc has galvanized the local
producers in the last decade or so, however, and the wines are now gaining a
reputation as a quirky, insider’s alternative to Sancerre – as promoted in the
restaurants of Paris. A good bottle of either can be wonderfully aromatic, slightly
tart with the flavour of gooseberries. Reuilly also comes in rosé, made with
Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, and in good years it can be very interesting: soft,
fresh and perfumed with red fruits. The red Reuilly wines, made with Pinot
Noir, are not highly regarded.

Sparkling wines

The sparkling wines of the Loire are made in exactly the same way as
champagne, and, indeed, they called themselves that before the wine-growers of
the actual Champagne region started to object. Méthode traditionelle is now
added to the label to denote a serious sparkling wine made in the traditional
way. The Loire’s sparklers are, on the whole, excellent value – a good sparkling
Vouvray or Saumur typically costs roughly half the price of an inferior bottle of
champagne, where you’re paying for the brand. If you’re in Saumur or Vouvray,
a visit to the rock-cut caves, where thousands of racked-up bottles take advantage
of the ideal cool conditions to mature, is a must. If you’re not, a glass or
two as an apéritif is just as obligatory – in France, sparkling wines are not
restricted to celebrations.

The longest-established Loire sparkling wine is Saumur mousseux, often
marketed as Saumur Brut. Saumur was the first town in the Loire to use the
champagne technique, and some of the great houses are still owned by
champagne-makers: Gratien & Meyer is part of Alfred Gratien Champagne,
while Langlois-Château is owned by Bollinger. Bouvet-Ladubay, which is part
of the Taittinger stable, produces some of the best sparkling Saumur wines. The
local giants – whose budget-priced wines may be relatively disappointing – are
Ackerman-Laurance and Veuve Amiot. Saumur mostly relies on the local
Chenin Blanc, but with various admixtures of Cabernet Franc and Champagne’s
Chardonnay grape to moderate any acid hardness in the Brut. Demi-secs can be
packed with honeyed flavour, especially when aged, and Gratien & Meyer even
make a sparkling red.

Connoisseurs are particularly keen on Vouvray, an appellation just east of Tours
that makes around half of its wines into sparklers, depending on the year. Most
common is the full-pressure mousseux, usually known as Vouvray Brut, which is
crisper and less heady than champagne, the acidity and quince or apple-like
fruitiness of the Chenin Blanc grape balancing any creamy sweetness. Some
people prefer it to champagne, but it has to be said that an inferior Vouvray can
be rather thin. Don’t ignore the honeyed demi-secs and the gently fizzing pétillant
wines, which can be superb. Montlouis, just across the Loire from Vouvray,
makes similar, often slightly lighter sparkling wines.

Crémant de la Loire
One sparkling wine to watch out for is Crémant de la Loire, which is
growing in popularity – and with good reason. Unusually, these are blended
wines from across Touraine and Anjou, but the quality is assured by regulations
insisting on very low grape yields, hand harvesting and bottle ageing for at least
a year. The wine is usually made with sixty percent Chenin Blanc and 25
percent Cabernet Franc, with the champagne grape Chardonnay (15 percent)
adding a familiar creamy richness.