I didn’t really start to enjoy wine until my mid-twenties and, even then, my selection process was largely based on what was the most heavily discounted with the prettiest label. This was blasphemy to my Dad, who was a sommelier back in the day, and so the education began. As with food, I was introduced to quality wines with a story – my Dad always has an interesting fact or ten about anything he serves at the dinner table. As my palate matured, the sour notes became a fresh citrus acidity and the bitter tangs suddenly tasted herbaceous and exciting. For the past few years, it has been a developing interest and then BOOM – Loire Valley Wines came a-knocking!
The Loire Valley is the heart of France, famous for its natural beauty, magnificent châteaux and great wine (France’s most diverse wine region, in fact). The region is rich in history and culture: Renaissance writer Rabelais was born here; Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in the Hundred Years’ War in the Loire; and, as the Cradle of the French Language, its residents speak the purest French. And, by some crazy good-fortune, I was invited to experience it first hand.
With a glorious troop of wine enthusiasts, all of varying expertise, we made our way to the heart of the Loire Valley. We strolled through the vineyards, went deep into the wine caves and ended each of the seven visits with a tasting at the nearest chateau. It was remarkable. Not only did I learn the fascinating craftsmanship of wine making, I finally tied the knot between my love of food and the ability wine has to perfectly balance out your dinner plate.
You know your interest in wine has entered the next level when you start to wonder what food goes with the wine you’re drinking. To help you get on board, I’ve created a beginner’s guide to food and wine pairing. You’ll be pleased to hear a lot of it is common sense.
The Loire Valley contains several distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations and styles. Let’s see how we get along pairing some of their most famous wines…
The Pays Nantais, on the Atlantic coast of Brittany, near the city of Nantes has been producing wine since the Roman era. The region is known for Muscadet, (made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape and not related in any way to Muscat) the largest white wine appellation in France, and the ultimate crisp, dry seaside wine.
Recommended wine: Muscadet, Celliers de la Roche Auguste Bonhomme Drouet Freres
Recommended food: Muscadet’s mineral quality is part of the reason it’s such a great match for seafood. It is often used in the much loved dish; moules-frites.
The ancient Duchy of Anjou was once a political power that rivalled the Kingdom of France for wealth and importance. Anjou produces many of the Loire Valley’s best sweet wines Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume, all made from Chenin Blanc. Anjou is also home to Savennières, a fascinating dry Chenin Blanc, as well as excellent red Anjou (made from Cabernet Franc) and the very popular, off-dry Rosé d’Anjou.
Recommended wine: Château de Mauny, Rosé d’Anjou
Recommended food: If you’ve ever wondered what wine to pair with more informal foods, Rosé d’Anjou is the answer: it’s a great match for pizza, salad and barbecue.
Saumur is a picturesque city dominated by one of the most famous castles in France. The castle, like many of the great châteaux of the Loire Valley, is built with the same tuffeau limestone that underlies the vineyards of the region. Excavations left from building castles and palaces left hundreds of miles of underground tunnels that now serve as cellars for Fines Bulles®, the Chenin Blanc based sparkling wines of the Loire. Saumur also produces Saumur-Champigny, one of the Loire Valley’s great Cabernet Franc red wines.
Recommended wine: Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire
Recommended food: Crémant’s name literally means ‘creamy’, a reference to the wonderful texture and fine bubbles typical of Crémant de Loire. I find this the perfect aperitif to prepare and stimulate your tastebuds for dinner time!
Touraine, sometimes called the “Garden of France.” was where kings and nobles built many of the chateaux that make the Loire Valley one of France’s most popular tourist destinations. Wine of the region include many famous appellations, including Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc and Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgeuil, all made from Cabernet Franc. The Touraine appellation also includes excellent examples of Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec (locally known as côt) that provide excellent quality with and competitive pricing
Recommended wine: Patrick Vauvy Domaine Bellevue Sauvignon Touraine
Recommended food: Many Touraine Sauvignon Blancs are barrel fermented and aged on lees (old yeast), giving a rich, creamy texture. Some are further aged on oak, adding more complex flavours. Throw aside the ports and try Sauvignon with your cheeseboard.
If you want to discover more about the wine and explore the regions, then why not join Loire Valley Wines for a Summer of adventure. They have several exciting bucket list events running throughout June, with free tickets up for grabs, too: https://www.loirebucketlist.com
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