For sauvignon blanc lovers who have not experienced the delicious wines of France’s Loire Valley, exploring it can refreshingly appeal to a summer palate.
The Loire Valley lies in the northern half of France and is named after the country’s most famous river, the Loire River. The river valley runs east to west and ends at the Atlantic Ocean. As a result of varied climatic and soil differences, the region boasts several different styles of wine, including crisp dry whites, sweet whites, sparkling whites, rosés and reds.
The valley has a long history of viticulture dating back to the first century but really became prominent in the fifth century. Over time, the valley became known for both its grains and its wines. During abundant rains, agriculture dominated. Conversely, vineyards thrived during drought years. This was an early indicator that vines that struggle produce excellent wines.
Arguably the best, or at least most famous, are the wines from Sancerre. This region is renown for its racy and pungent sauvignon blanc. The appellation is suited to viticulture because of its steep hills and soils heavy in limestone and clay. Steep hillsides offer excellent drainage in addition to excellent sun exposure. The best wines come from a small area with chalky Kimmeridgean soils. In fact, the wines from Kimmeridgean soils resemble those of Chablis, which has similar soil. These wines are rare and rather expensive but are delightfully full of mineral notes. The wines of Sancerre are very crisp and always dry, which makes them excellent for pairing with seafood. The wines offer notes of gooseberry, lemon peel and flint with a racy and mineral finish. Prices for Sancerre start at $20.
Lesser known but equally impressive are the wines of Pouilly-Fumé. This village and appellation is across the Loire River to the east and benefits from the same limestone and flint soils. Here, the wines are similar but also offer a slightly different bouquet, with a floral note in addition to a more pronounced flinty smell. Similar food pairings apply. Because of this appellation’s smaller size, the prices of Pouilly-Fumé are more expensive, with prices starting around $30.
For more affordable options, look to Touraine. This region is further downstream. There, the climate is considerably warmer and this is reflected in the wine. The wines of Touraine are softer, lusher and more feminine than their upstream siblings. Touraine’s soils have more clay, sand and gravel. The sauvignon blancs of Touraine offer notes of melon, cantaloupe and orange zest. They are still crisp with some minerals but are considerably softer and make for excellent cocktail wines. Their affordability is also far more palatable, with prices starting at $12.
The Loire Valley sauvignon blancs differ from their New Zealand and California counterparts and present a new wine for sampling. Those of you who love the grapefruit style of New Zealand, try Sancerre. California sauvignon blanc fans will better appreciate the wines of Touraine.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.