The prestigious Bordeaux wine region is located on the western coast of France. The region is separated into two sub-regions, referred to as the Right Bank and the Left Bank. Each region has its own unique nuances that characterize it from the other.
The banks refer to the two riverbanks, the land masses on either side of the Gironde Estuary, the place where a river meets the sea. The Gironde Estuary is fed by two rivers, the Dordogne and the Garonne. The Left Bank viticultural region is on the southwest side of the Gironde and the Right Bank is on the northeast side.
The prominent difference between the Left and Right banks is the grape varietal grown. The Left Bank is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon while the Right Bank is mainly Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The reason for the grape varieties being different is due to the type of soil. The Left Bank is characterized by gravelly soils while the Right Bank is mainly clay soils.
The varietals grown determines the difference in style of wine produced. The Left Bank’s Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends tend to be more structured, powerful and have a higher presence of tannins, whereas the Right Bank’s Merlot-dominant blends tend to be softer and silkier. Personally, I am a fan of the wines from the Right Bank.
The most complicated difference between the Left and Right Banks is the way in which the wine is classified. For a detailed explanation of the classification methods see my post, France’s Cru Levels from March 18th.
The most notable vineyards on the Left Bank include Château Latour, Château Margaux, Château Haut-Brion, Château Lafite, and Château Mouton Rothschild. Estates on the Right Bank include Château Cheval Blanc, Château Angélus, Château Pavie and Pétrus.
As I have discussed in the past, French wine labels can be rather puzzling since they indicate the region where the wine was produced rather than the grape varietal contained inside the bottle. Also, the label will often contain such words as “Grand”, “Premier” or “Cru”. Even though premier means first in French, you will often find grand appearing on the better quality wines.
The simple translation for cru is growth. However, in the world of French wine its reference is for the geographic terrain, specifically the soil type, climate and altitude where the grapes are grown. It gets complicated by the fact that cru is not applied in the same manner throughout all the wine regions of France. Further complicating things is that the term cru is also used in Germany and Italy where there are additional variations in the meaning.
In the Burgundy region of France, the classification of cru is rather simple. Cru designates a vineyard as being of a certain level of quality. The classifications originate back to the 12th century and the Cistercian and Benedictine monks in the Côte d’Or. Every vineyard in Burgundy is classified in the hierarchy where Grand Cru is at the top followed by Premier Cru and then “village” wines, with the generic Bourgogne category at the bottom.
There are 33 Grand Crus with each having its own appellation. Only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are grown here, but most appellations only permit one or the other varietal to be grown; very few allow both. Premier Cru wines are less expensive and are often a better value, though their long-term aging potential is typically less.
Chablis has one Grand Cru appellation that includes seven vineyards. These vineyards overlook the town of Chablis and benefit from a southwest exposure that helps ripen the grapes.
The Bordeaux region applies the term cru in a much different manner. Grand Cru Classé classification system forms the basis of the rating system and it’s tied to a specific chateau or estate, rather than adjacent vineyards. It was created in 1855 and is comprised of only left bank chateaus in Médoc, Graves and Sauternes, ranked from first to fifth growths, based on their value at that time. The first growths are called Premiers Crus, while second through fifth growth crus are called Crus Classes.
On the right bank Pomerol isn’t classified but Saint-Émilion is. St.-Émilion has three chateau-based quality classifications. At the top is Premier Grands Crus Classés, of which there are 18, followed by Grands Crus Classés which contains 64 chateaus. The appellation’s third category is not tied to a specific ‘classed’ chateau or geographical subzone. Wines labeled “St.-Émilion Grand Cru” merely have more stringent production rules.
The Alsace region uses the term Grand Cru in similar fashion as the Burgundy region. Fifty-one vineyards have been designated superior, or Grand Cru, and wine from those vineyards can use the term on their label. There is a great deal of diversity in Alsace’s Grand Cru wines. There are four grapes approved for use, as well as a wide variation in soils.
The Beaujolais region is where Gamay grapes are grown. Here cru is applied to villages rather than vineyards. There are 10 villages and the wine produced from these villages is called Cru Beaujolais.
The Champagne region also classifies entire villages as Grand Cru or Premier Cru. The Champenois created a system referred to as échelle des crus, or “ladder of the growths” in the early 20th century to fix grape prices for both farmers and buyers at Champagne houses.
At each harvest a price is set and growers with land in one of Champagne’s grand cru village receives 100% of that price. Grapes from the premier cru villages earns from 90% to 99% of the set price, while the rest receive from 80% to 89%.
There you have it; a little more of the puzzle of French wine resolved.
In France the varietal of grape a wine is made of is seldom indicated on the label. Instead, the French tend to identify flavour by the region from which the wine was produced. Because of this, people often shy away from buying French wine. However, the mystery of French wine can be solved by simply knowing which grapes are grown in each region. To assist you, most wine and liquor stores arrange their French wines by region.
The Alsace region is located in the northeastern region of France between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River. Historically, Alsace was part of Germany, which influences the types of grapes grown in the region. It is home to single varietal white wines including Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sylvaner. The wines cover the spectrum, ranging from dry to sweet.
The Beaujolais region is known for growing the Gamay grape, which has bright acidity and low tannins.
Bordeaux is France’s largest and most renowned wine region. It is known for its red blends highlighting Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank and Merlot, Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the Right Bank. The white varietals of Bordeaux include Barsac and Sauternes grapes.
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, referred to as Chablis, are the standard grapes grown in the Burgundy region.
The Champagne region is renowned for its sparkling wines produced from one or more of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
The Loire Valley stretches from the Auvergne region to the Atlantic Ocean. It produces most of France’s white wine. The white varietals of the Loire include Chenin Blanc (called Vouray), Sauvignon Blanc (referred to as Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé) and Muscadet. It is also known for the red varietal, Cabernet Franc.
Provence is the oldest wine region in France. It is the only region that specializes in Rosé wines.
Syrah and Viognier are the highlights of the northern part of the region while Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are prominent in the south. Mourvèdre is the dominate grape in Châteauneuf -du-Pape. Blending of the grapes results in rich reds and vigorous whites and rosé.
Once you know which regions grow your favourite grapes, it is much easier to find a suitable bottle of French wine to enjoy.
Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with international wine regions such as France’s Bordeaux, California’s Napa Valley or Italy’s Tuscany. However, there are many other, lesser-known regions, each offering its own unique characteristics. These regions offer not only good wine but fewer crowds and opportunities to discover places less travelled. My list is not intended to be all-encompassing; it is merely a list of regions that I have found intriguing for one reason or another. The regions are presented in alphabetical order by country.
Pedernal Valley, Argentina
Located in the shadow of the Andes mountains, Argentina’s wine country is spectacular. Situated north of the famous Mendoza region is the lesser-known Pedernal Valley. It is felt that the Pedernal Valley can stand on its own merits as a premium wine region. The region’s Malbec is considered world-class and distinct and represents a unique style.
Mendocino County, California, United States
Mendocino County grows less than four percent of California’s grape yield but contains an impressive one-third of the state’s certified organic vineyards. The number of old vines, post-WWII plantings makes this region unique. Some of the best wineries in California source their grapes from Mendocino. Dry-farming practices were introduced to the region by Italian families in the early 1900s, which resulted in wines that are concentrated, balanced and distinctly Californian.
Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
Canada’s own Okanagan Valley is considered breathtaking as it is situated between two mountain ranges and contains glacial lakes and rolling hills of vineyards. The region produces world-class wines that are difficult to find outside of Canada. The high-quality wines combined with the beautiful views of the region have attracted top winemakers from France, New Zealand and South Africa.
Chinon, Bugey and Savoie, France
There are three lesser-known regions in France. Chinon is in the Loire Valley. It is much less popular than its neighbours, Bordeaux and Burgundy. The Loire Valley is famous for its white Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumés. The red variety is Cabernet Franc.
The wine regions of Savoie and nearby Bugey are nestled in the French Alps and are home to great wines and hospitality. Savoie has both a ski and hiking industry and thus there are quality restaurants, wine bars and a wide range of accommodations. The vineyards are spread throughout the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes overlooking both the mountain ranges and fresh bodies of water.
Bugey is situated underneath the alps. There is a group of small producers that have either relocated from other parts of France or are new vintners who are focused on raising the profile of the region.
The Republic of Georgia
Georgia is the world’s oldest continuously producing wine region but it is one of the lesser known. This is due to The Republic formerly being under the control of the former Soviet Union. During that time only four grape varieties of the over 500 available were allowed in production. After gaining independence, Georgia rediscovered its wine culture and began sharing it with the world. Traditional Georgia wine production is unique, resulting in the production of some exceptionally distinctive wines. The wines are produced in underground amphorae called Qvevri.
For additional information about the wines and the region, see my posts The Wines of European Georgia from February 6, 2021 and Traditional Georgian Wine from September 18, 2021.
The Szekszárd wine region is located about 160 kilometres south of Budapest. Not many tourists explore beyond Budapest since the region has not been marketed. However, it is one of the country’s oldest wine regions, dating back around 2000 years. Wine production is small and the wineries are often family-owned, which equates to limited exports and less awareness about the region.
The region has a wide range wine styles. The most popular variety is the Kékfrankos grape (aka Blaufränkisch) which produces a tannic and spicy style of wine. There’s also Kadarka grapes which creates a fresh acid red fruit that is meant to be enjoyed without aging.
Mexico’s wine history dates back to the1600s but the region remains a virtual unknown for many wine enthusiasts. Although wine grapes have been cultivated there for 400 years, it has only been during the past several decades that there has been a renewed focus on premium and terroir-driven expressions.
Valle de Guadalupe’s boutique wineries are experimenting with a mix of European red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Tempranillo. The varietals are often blended to create a Bordeaux style of wine.
Middleburg, Virginia, United States
California, Oregon, Washington and New York dominate the U.S. wine industry but there are other regions worth noting. One of these is Middleburg, Virginia. Virginia was one of the first places in America to produce wine but it is still a relative unknown. The wine industry there is mostly made up of small artisanal producers who are creating world-class wines. Some think of the region as a crossroads between Napa Valley and Bordeaux. The region is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains an hour outside Washington DC.
There are many lesser-known wine regions to be explored, either by visiting or merely by sampling the wines they produce. By expanding our horizons and creating new experiences, we will ultimately find more wines to enjoy.
Alsace, a region in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany, is the home of Gewürztraminer. The region has been passed between French and German control several times since the early 1680s. As a result, Alsatian culture is a unique mix of French and German influences.
Today the varietal is grown in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the U.S.
Gewürztraminer is an aromatic grape variety that grows well in cooler climates. It has a high level of natural sugar and the wine is white and usually off dry. Gewürztraminer generally contains a gram or two of residual sugar but because of the heightened aromatics, higher alcohol and lower acidity, many of these wines will taste sweeter than they actually are.
The aroma or “nose” will be that of lychee or ‘sweet rose’. However, it may also have hints of red grapefruit, allspice, cinnamon or ginger. The flavour will consist of hints of grapefruit, pineapple, peach, apricot, orange or cantaloupe.
When serving with food, Gewürztraminer is a great compliment to duck, chicken, pork, bacon, shrimp and crab. Highly spiced and aromatic herbs such as cayenne pepper, ginger, clove, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, madras curry, sichuan pepper, shallots, soy sauce, sesame, almond, rose water, lime leaf, bay leaf, coriander and cumin are a great match.
Gewürztraminer goes well with less stinky and delicately flavored soft cow’s milk cheese and dried fruit, as well as roasted vegetables and veggies with natural sweetness including red onion, bell pepper, eggplant, tempeh, squash and carrots.
The Lignage grape was virtually extinct several years ago. The last known vine was situated in the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) nursery at Montpellier, France. Today, the number has increased but there are still well under a thousand vines in existence.
The revival of Lignage is part of a wider project overseen by a local group, the Union for Genetic Resources of Centre-Val de Loire (URGC). URGC’s goal is to revitalize old grape varieties linked to the local area prior to the phylloxera infestation in the late 1800s.
Phylloxera is an insect that can damage grape vines by feeding on the plant sap from the roots. It is often described as an aphid-like sucking insect.
Officially, the project is experimental at this point so the Lignage varietal is not listed on any appellation documentation. Lignage’s history in the region dates back to 1427. It was also known as Macé Doux, Macédoux, Massé Doux and Lignage de Blois. By the mid 1800s it had become well established in a winegrowing zone known as the Côte des Grouëts.
The variety is similar to Pinot Noir in that it produces a light-coloured red wine. Having purple skin and a green flesh it can also be made into a white wine.
Not much is known about the wine that Lignage produced but according to written accounts the grapes produced a fine, delicate, lightly coloured red wine with fine aromas and a low alcohol content. More information should be known by 2024 when the first trial wines are expected to be produced. It is anticipated that by 2028 the varietal will return as an official vine and be available for more extensive planting.
I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to try Lignage at some point in the future.
North America is now said to be entering the early stages of a Champagne shortage which could last for several years. There are a number of reasons why this is happening. First, there are the supply chain issues that I discussed in my December 31, 2021 blog, Wine Shipping Delays. This problem was caused by the effects of COVID-19 on the shipping industry, which has resulted in deliveries taking two or three times longer than normal.
Complicating things further has been the fluctuations in the demand for Champagne. Because of the COVID-19 related lockdowns of 2020, demand fell by about 25% but rose back up again by the end of that year. The upward trend continued throughout 2021 with demand returning to pre-pandemic levels as consumers were willing to spend more to wine and dine at home since they were often prevented from dining out at fine restaurants.
However, the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), who regulates how much Champagne may be produced each year, in response to the initial reduction in demand, reduced Champagne output but did not react to the resurgence in demand at the end of that year. The effects of the reduced Champagne production won’t be felt until this vintage reaches the market in a few years’ time. Ironically, the organization whose purpose it is to protect the Champagne industry inadvertently caused significant financial damage.
While consumer demand for Champagne was expanding throughout 2021, France’s Champagne region was experiencing extreme weather issues. In March there was scorching heat that burned many of the vines. This was followed by frost that destroyed about 30% of the vines. Finally, there were torrential rains during June and July that resulted in mildew coating many of the remaining vines. As a result, the 2021 grape harvest was the smallest in many decades.
Champagne production won’t be returning to normal anytime soon. Shortages are expected to last through until at least 2025.
These availability problems will provide growth opportunities for producers of other sparkling wines including Italy’s Prosecco, Spain’s Cava as well as many North American varieties. Canadian options include, among others, 13th Street Cuvée Brut Sparkling Rosé, Cave Spring Blanc de Blancs Brut Sparkling, Henry Of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut VQA and Château des Charmes Brut Sparkling.
Beaujolais is located at the southern end of Burgundy, France. It produces more than three-quarters of the world’s Gamay wine. During the past number of years Beaujolais has improved beyond just producing Beaujolais Nouveau, fruity wines made specifically for early consumption, to now include high-quality yet affordable red wines.
It continues to be the most recognizable type of Beaujolais. It is bottled and appears on store shelves just a few weeks after being harvested. The phenomenon was started by vineyard workers as a way to celebrate the end of harvest. Gradually the wine began appearing in local cafés and eventually even in Paris. Today, tens of millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau are distributed to more than 100 countries in time for its official release date of the third Thursday of November.
Beaujolais Nouveau is young and simple with a very low tannin content and high acidity.
This is the most basic level of Beaujolais. Wines are light bodied, with plenty of fresh fruit flavours. The majority of wine produced in this appellation is sold as Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais Villages AOC
There are 38 designated villages in the region that can make Beaujolais Villages wines. The majority are red wine but there are also small amounts of white and rosé wines. Producers have the option of adding the name of the village to the label if the grapes come solely from a specific location, but most of the wines that fit the criteria are destined to be classified as Cru Beaujolais, leaving the villages themselves with little name recognition.
Beaujolais Villages wines are smooth and balanced, with ripe red and black fruit flavours.
Crus Beaujolais offer wine with unique character and history. Though highly regarded, wines from this quality level only account for 15 percent of the region’s total production.
Beaujolais wines are available in a variety of body types, depending on the cru from which they come.
Light and Perfumed
Brouilly: The largest cru totaling 20 percent of the Beaujolais Cru area.
Chiroubles: Home to vineyards located in the region’s highest altitudes.
Elegant and Medium-Bodied
Fleurie: The most widely exported to Canada and the United States and a good vintage that is age-worthy up to 10 years.
Saint-Amour: The most northerly cru which is known for its spicy character and ability to be aged up to 10 years in a good vintage.
Côte de Brouilly: Sits within the Brouilly cru, with vineyards on higher slopes of the extinct Mont Brouilly volcano.
Rich and Full-Bodied
Juliénas: Named after Julius Caesar and said to be one of the first wine producing areas of Beaujolais, dating back more than 2,000 years.
Régnié: It is the newest cru, being recognized in 1988.
Chénas: The smallest cru in Beaujolais (under one square mile of vineyards).
Morgon: Earthy wines with a deep and rich Burgundian character that can age up to 20 years.
Moulin-à-Vent: The most likely cru to use oak witch adds tannins and structure. Wines from this cru are the boldest in the region. In good vintages they can age up to 20 years.
Beaujolais Food Pairings
Beaujolais pairs well with traditional French foods such as Brie or Camembert cheese, or with a rich pâté. Given its low level of tannins, Beaujolais is also a great partner to lighter fare like grain salads or white fish.
Medium-bodied Beaujolais will pair well with a barbecued burger or a veggie-loaded pizza.
The Champagne region is located 145 kilometres northeast of Paris and is one of the world’s most northerly fine-wine regions. It is generally divided into three parts – the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.
The region contains 75,000 acres of vineyards. It’s interesting to note that most and the greatest vineyards of Champagne are not owned by great landowners but by thousands of growers, often working part-time.
The vineyards are situated on deep chalk soils, part of the same great basin that forms the famous white cliffs of Dover in southern England. The chalk serves as a natural moisture regulator, providing good drainage and reflects the sunlight and its heat.
Regulations dictate which of the three permitted grapes may be planted where.
The slopes of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs provide the best vineyards. The greatest concentration of villages designated as Grand and Premier Cru are found in these two areas.
The Montagne de Reims is planted mainly with Pinot Noir. The Montagne is a forested plateau south of Reims. Its wines give the great champagnes their backbone – their weight and richness.
Along both banks of the River Marne is the Vallée de la Marne. This zone produces the fullest, ripest wines, predominately from Pinot Meunier, and to a lesser extent Pinot Noir grapes.
Extending south from Epernay for about 21 km. is the Côte des Blancs. This area produces fine Chardonnay that give freshness to the blend and provides the sparkle to the wine.
The Côte de Sézanne is a relatively new region. It is planted almost exclusively with Chardonnay.
The classification system in Champagne is based by vineyard and is established by the Comité Interprofessional du Vin de Champagne (C.I.V.C.). The land is given a grade based on its suitability for growing white grapes or black grapes. A grade of 100% percent has been given to the 17 Grand Cru villages. The 38 Premier Cru villages have grades from 90 to 99%. The rest have a grade ranging from 80 to 89%. Champagne houses use the average percentage rating of the grapes used in their blends to establish the quality of their raw materials.
The richness of champagne wines is largely due to the cold climate of northern France. The bubbles in champagne are a natural phenomenon.
Three grape varieties are used to make Champagne — Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Meunier is the most prevalent, making up about 40% of grape production. It is easier to grow and is less prone to frost damage. Pinot Meunier makes up the base wine for all but the very finest champagnes.
Pinot Noir makes up about 35% of the blend. It is responsible for the depth of fruit and longevity of the wine.
Chardonnay accounts for the remaining 25% and adds lightness and elegance to the blend.
The lack color in most champagne is the result of a gentle pressing, so as to extract the juice but not the color of the dark grape skins.
The main difference between the various Champagne brands or houses, is in the making of the cuvéee, or the blend. A house builds a reputation based on the particular style of blend of its non-vintage wines. So each year the wine must be consistent. The large houses store millions of gallons of wine from various vineyards and grapes for blending purposes. As a result, once you find a house style you like, it will be available year after year as long as that house exists.
In especially good years, some vintage champagne is produced. Some feel that the extra depth in taste is well worth the extra cost of these wines. Eighty percent of the contents of vintage champagne must contain grapes from the declared year.
Champagnes are labeled based on their sugar content; Extra Brut, Brut Sauvage, Ultra Brut, Brut Intégral or Brut Zéro. These wines are bone dry with less than 0.6% of residual sugar per litre. This wine is rarely made.
This is the most popular style of champagne. The best blends are always reserved for the brut and is the mainstay of the business. It has less than 1.5% residual sugar and is very dry.
Extra Dry, Extra Sec
Sweetened with 1.2 to 2% residual sugar per litre, it is still dry and goes well with desserts .
Although it means “dry” in French, it means “moderately dry” or “slightly sweet” as it pertains to champagne. It has 1.7 to 3.5% residual sugar per litre.
This style is distinctly sweet or medium. It contains between 3.3 to 5% residual sugar per litre.
This is the sweetest style of champagne. It is very sweet and is more of a dessert-style wine. It has a minimum of 5% residual sugar per litre.
Blanc de Noirs
Occasionally you will find Blanc de Noirs. This style is made entirely from black grapes but is white. It offers a wine that is fuller than those with Chardonnay in the blend.
Blanc de Blancs
This wine is made exclusively from the Chardonnay grape and is the most delicate of champagnes. Since only 25% of Champagne is planted with Chardonnay grapes, it is generally a more expensive option.
COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on Champagne’s economy. With weddings and other celebratory events being cancelled or postponed all around the world there has been a massive reduction in demand for the famous bubbly.
However, keep in mind that Champagne is not just for toasting and celebrations; it is much more versatile. Brut pairs well with fish and seafood, or moderately spiced Asian cuisine. The sweeter varieties make an excellent choice to serve with desserts, such as fresh berries. Champagne can also be served on its own as a pre-dinner drink or for no particular reason at all.
Now may be a good time to discover/rediscover Champagne. Prices may never be better and you could develop a new appreciation for this magical bubbly.
The Loire Valley is referred to as “the garden of France”. It is as famous for its castles as it is for its wines. This picturesque place is the home of Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s from here that the grape has spread around the world.
In addition to Sauvignon Blanc there are refreshing rosés, reds that favour fruit over force, and sumptuous sweet and sparkling wines that even rival the neighbouring region of Champagne. There are a high proportion of small-scale winemakers devoted to farming organically and an expanding list of excellent winemakers.
The Loire Valley begins not too far west of Paris, and extends all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is a cool-climate region, which means that the reds tend to be on the lighter side and lower in alcohol. While regions like Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Alsace have long been renowned for their Grand Cru sites, the Loire Valley has been considered to be much more humble. However, in the 1990’s younger producers began stepping up quality, converting their vineyards to organic and devoting themselves to discovering the potential of their land. The result is super-tasty wine that’s far more affordable than France’s more famed regions.
There is a wonderful food food-friendly nature to the wines, as well as a modest price tag on most bottles.
Here is a quick rundown on some of the appellations.
SANCERRE / POUILLY-FUMÉ / MENETOU-SALON / QUINCY
Main grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir
One of the more famous of the Loire appellations is Sancerre, which is known for its elegant and expensive Sauvignon Blanc wines. The neighbouring appellations of Pouilly-Fumé and Menetou-Salon also provide wonderful Sauvignons but often at a much more affordable price.
There is a small amount of Pinot Noir grown in these appellations, and it has a wonderful, light quality with notes of crushed strawberries and soft tannins.
CHEVERNY / COUR-CHEVERNY
Main grapes: Romorantin, Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc
Odds are that none of us will ever come across a bottle of wine from these two small appellations without travelling to the region. But if you do ever have the opportunity to taste a Cour-Cheverny wine, I have heard that it is a wonderful experience.
The wine consists of the incredible rare, ancestral variety Romorantin grape. Only about 60 hectares are left in France. Romorantin carries aromas of white peaches and honeysuckle, yet delivers a refreshing tartness.
There are also great red and white blends and rosés from Cheverny that are affordable and pair well with food.
Main grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis, Côt, Menu Pineau
Along with Romorantin, the ancestral Pineau d’Aunis grape is one to look for from the Loire Valley. There are about 400 hectares left in France and it produces light, peppery reds and delicious berry-hued rosés.
Overall, Touraine offers great value. Its Gamay wines are very good, with just a hint of tannins.
Main grape: Chenin Blanc
Vouvray is where Chenin Blanc is grown. Vouvray is perhaps as well-known as Sancerre, although its wines haven’t yet become as expensive. In Vouvray, only Chenin Blanc is produced, and it delivers a special minerality. There are also some delicious sparkling crémant wines made of Chenin Blanc in Vouvray.
In Anjou, a much larger neighbouring appellation, the Chenin Blanc tend to be smoky and mineral but also somewhat full-bodied. The whites are usually 100 percent Chenin, but some have a small portion of Sauvignon blended in.
Red wines from Anjou are nicely balanced, with just enough roundness to complement the minerality. If you are a fan of sweet wines, the Coteaux du Layon appellation, located within Anjou produces a late-harvest wine made from Chenin.
Main grape: Chenin Blanc
This tiny appellation produces only Chenin Blanc grapes. It’s a highly regarded area whose wines tend to age very well.
CHINON / BOURGEUIL / SAUMUR / SAUMUR CHAMPIGNY
Main grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc
Cabernet Franc is a beautiful, elegant, and sometimes powerful red grape that defines these neighboring appellations. The style here is to not let oak overpower the wine. There are light and fresh Cabernet Franc that’s perfect to toss in the fridge and then sip on the patio or pair with pizza, as well as serious, aged Cabernet Franc that deserves a decanter and contemplation.
Main grape: Melon de Bourgogne
The unique white variety known as Melon de Bourgogne is mainly found in this coastal region. “Muscadet” is a nickname that developed to refer specifically to this white wine from this region. It is always dry, floral, easy to drink, and well-priced. It pairs well with oysters, seafood, or linguini with clams.
Personally, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was investigating opportunities to take a river cruise through the Loire Valley and experience the region firsthand. Hopefully, once life returns to “normal” I will get to visit one day.