If you visit France, you spend at least a few days in the Loire Valley, which encapsulates just about everything good France offers.
Francois L ruled from the Loire rather than Paris in 1494. The ambiance has long appealed to royalty. There are more than 1,000 castles and Renaissance chateaus dotting the landscape.
The valley is tranquil, and the green countryside, vineyards, orchards and farm land is known as the Garden of France. The Loire river is the longest waterway in France. It flows eastward through Orleans to the Atlantic Ocean.
Of course, one of the most important reasons to visit the Loire Valley is for its wines. It’s probably the most diverse wine production area in France producing sweet, dry white, rose and red wines, as well as exceptional sparkling wines. Food lovers will find fresh seafood, meats and fruit and vegetables. There are an abundance of Michelin starred restaurants in the area.
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The diversity of Loire Valley wines is extraordinary considering they’re made from three white grapes –sauvignon blanc, chenin clanc and melon de bourgogne – and a single red grape: cabernet franc. While the wines can be complex and flavorful, they’re light to moderate in body and alcohol content. We found all the wines reasonably priced.
▪ Sauvignon blanc. The French label their wines by the place names where they’re produced. Sauvignon blanc vines prosper in Loire Valley. The best know examples come from Sancerre and the area across the river Pouilly-sur-Loire. These are complex wines with herbaceous and citrus aromas, and flavors of grapefruit, lemon, gooseberry with mineral notes. Individual wines reflect the land with the wines from Pouilly-sur-Loire being a bit richer because of more clay in the soil.
▪ Chenin blanc. This grape reflects individual growing conditions perhaps more than most other grapes. It produces better fruit here than anywhere in the world. The resulting wines vary from location and year. It’s a versatile grape that can produce excellent dry, sweet, semi-sweet and sparkling wines. The best known examples come from Vouvray, near Tours in the central Loire Valley, and are crisp and clean with aromas of citrus, minerals and tropical fruit. Slightly farther down the river near Saumur, sparkling wines that rival Champagne are produced.
▪ Melon de bourgogne. Almost all of these grapes are grown near Nantes, the port city where the Loire flows into the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the few places in the world where this grape thrives. It’s made into a wine called Muscadet, not to be confused with Muscat. While Muscadet can be produced in several styles, most are flavorful, crisp and bone dry with subtle mineral and citrus flavors. These are perfect wines to pair with seafood. We enjoyed it with scallops, lobster and shellfish when we dined in Nantes.
▪ Cabernet franc. The area near the town of Chinon has a microclimate accommodating to the red grape. This grape produces bright red wines with aromas of tobacco, spices and floral notes with flavors of raspberry and black currant. The town is a charming village with a fortress chateau. Chinon is where Joan of Arc met Charles VII of France and persuaded him to give her an army.
Chateaus are seemingly everywhere in the Loire Valley, and another great attraction. Kings and royalty loved the area so much they tried to out do one another with their lavish chateaus. Then, as now, they’re a status symbol. Mick Jagger owns one. You can visit them and stay in some of them. We stayed at the Chateau d’Esclimont in the village of Saint Symphorien. It has a moat, but no drawbridge, a restaurant and 148 acres of gardens, parks and walkways. We felt like royalty.
Jim and Marie Oskins live in the Lake Wylie area. They can be reached at email@example.com.