French Wines: Loire Valley

The Loire River extends over 600 miles from the west coast below Brittany to the east side of France, past Burgundy a few miles to the east and originates in the limestone valley known as the Ard├Ęche. The earliest records of vines in the Loire valley describe vineyards in Sancerre and a little further upstream. Monks apparently cultivated vines near their Benedictine monasteries as early as the seventh century. During the Middle Ages, merchants came up the Loire to obtain salt from the residents and soon established a wine trade as well. The Dutch and English were the first to get the exports of this wine, but it was not until after World War II that the Loire wines were well-known outside of France. The appellation wines of the Loire typically follow the French practice of the local village name, such as Sancerre, or Vouvray, and the grape varieties vary between appellations due to soil and micro-climate conditions. Although there are still many local grapes used for the local wines, the predominant grapes are Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay. It is typically only the late-harvest dessert wines of the Loire that have a reputation for longevity, most are made to be consumed within a few years of the vintage, and have a bright, aromatic nose, light body, and crisp finish. The soils varied, usually a mix of sea-shell based chalk or limestone, clay and sand.