The Loire is France’s longest river and the last wild river in Europe. On its meandering 600+ mile path from its headwaters in the Massif Central to its mouth on the Atlantic Coast, the Loire River nurtures a number of distinct wine regions. The most notable appellations exist in a nearly unbroken chain from Pays Nantais on the Atlantic Coast to the Central Vineyards of the Upper Loire, which stand at the geographical center of France. The Loire Valley is a patchwork of agriculture, history, and natural beauty and was designated a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Winemaking in the Loire dates to at least the first century CE. Viticulture in Touraine was chronicled in the sixth century, and Chenin Blanc may have appeared by 845 just south of Angers, although conclusive evidence of the grape's presence in the Loire Valley does not arrive until the 16th century. Cabernet Franc also has a long history in the region. Despite its Basque origin, Cabernet Franc's long migration to Loire vineyards was confirmed by the French writer François Rabelais in a 1534 publication, and it may have arrived in the region as early as the 11th century. Loire wines have always been an important commodity in the cafes of Paris, and they were exported via Nantes to England by the 11th century. The wines of Sancerre, Anjou, and Saint-Pourçain succeeded each other in national repute during the High and Late Middle Ages, when the Loire Valley was the focus of French society. This focus shifted with King Louis XIV’s coronation at Reims and his development of Versailles. The pastoral Loire Valley faded from view as the Industrial Age blossomed and swifter transit brought new wines to Paris. Crippled by phylloxera in the 1880s and supplanted by the wines of Bordeaux and others, the Loire Valley was almost forgotten as a viticultural region. As wine enthusiasts are gradually learning, the Loire today offers an incredible range of food-friendly wines, typically lighter in style but remarkable for their honesty and charm.
The Loire Valley produces more white wine than any other French region and is second only to Champagne in sparkling wine production.While the Loire’s white wines can overshadow the reds, the valley is nonetheless an important source for lighter-bodied, high acid red wines. Cabernet Franc—known locally as Breton—is the most important varietal, followed by Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Pineau d’Aunis, and Grolleau.