The River Loire is mainly known for the variety of delicious white wines that are made from vineyards sited all along the banks of one of France’s longest rivers. Starting in the west, there’s the crisp, dry Muscadet from near the Atlantic coast – generally much improved, if you haven’t tried a bottle recently. Then, upstream, the Chenin Blanc grape takes over in the districts around Vouvray and Saumur making wines that can be sparkling, dry, off-dry or, in the Layon, just to the south, some of the best value and most attractive sweet wines in the whole of France. Continuing your journey east through Touraine, you then move into Sauvignon Blanc country with, amongst others, the steely, minerally Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.
But not all Loire wines are white. There’s some Pinot Noir grown in Sancerre for reds and (fairly pricy!) rosés and there are also some rosés from Anjou, although the quality there can be quite variable. But it’s the surprisingly little-known reds from the area around Saumur that I really want to mention: names such as Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, St Nicolas de Bourgueil and Chinon. All made with 100% Cabernet Franc grapes and all benefitting greatly from the global warming we’ve seen over the last couple of decades helping this underrated variety to reach full ripeness.
It’s difficult to choose just one wine from this group but I’ve picked an absolute bargain – Domaine de la Noblaie’s ‘Le Temps des Cerises’ Chinon (Wine Society, £11.50). The name translates to ‘cherry time’ – completely appropriate for this fresh, medium-bodied red, full of bright cherry and raspberry flavours and with a long vibrant finish. Very drinkable, even on its own, but perfect teamed with some grilled lamb chops, so long as you leave the mint sauce in the cupboard – please! And, on a warm evening, we gave it a half hour in the fridge before opening it which worked fine.
So, whether you choose Chinon or one of the other local Appellations I’ve mentioned above, you’ll find some excellent producers and some delightful, moreish drinking.