TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

THE LOIRE TRAVERSES HALF OF FRANCE, FROM THE WARM SOUTH TO THE AT­LANTIC COAST.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - DRINKING -

Ris­ing from an an­cient aquifer deep in the south of France is the mighty Loire River. It starts as a trickle in the shadow of the vol­canic Mont Ger­bier de Jonc on the edge of the Rhône Val­ley and from there it flows north and then west, over 1000km in to­tal, mak­ing it this na­tion’s long­est river.

The Loire is the lifeblood to much of France with over 20 per cent of the coun­try de­pen­dent on its trib­u­taries. Some of the na­tions grand­est chateaux and mon­u­ments also dot its course, mak­ing the Loire also one of France’s most prized tourist des­ti­na­tions. It is a par­adise renowned for its life­style and fine food. And un­sur­pris­ingly, in a coun­try where wine is prized, the Loire is also home to a vast ar­ray of wines. The most prized of these are clus­tered in its north­ern sec­tor, start­ing close to where it takes a dra­matic turn west­wards to­ward the At­lantic coast.

The Loire emp­ties into the At­lantic Ocean close to the city of Nantes, near the north­ern edge of the Bay of Bis­cay. This northerly lat­i­tude makes the Loire a dis­tinctly cool-cli­mate wine re­gion. So much so that the finest vine­yards are lo­cated close to the river and its trib­u­taries – it is only with the heat ra­di­ated from the river that the grapes can reach op­ti­mal ripeness. And even though they ripen, the Loire Val­ley pro­duces wines with fresh­ness, ele­gance and bright acid­ity as their hall­marks, rather than high-al­co­hol styles.

Only a few grape va­ri­eties call the Loire Val­ley home. Near Nantes the sub­tle and un­der­stated Mus­cadet makes for light-boded dry white wines which pair per­fectly with the famed Belon oys­ters, which are har­vested nearby. Fur­ther in­land the red caber­net franc and white chenin blanc emerge. The reds are more re­served and acid-driven than the caber­nets from Bordeaux fur­ther south; the chenin blancs are waxy and lano­lin-scented, and the best of them are among France’s finest and most long-lived white wines.

As the vine­yards re­treat fur­ther from the coast the cli­mate changes dra­mat­i­cally. Gone are the mod­er­at­ing ef­fects of the ocean, re­placed by a drier and more con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate, char­ac­terised by warmer days and cooler nights. In many ways the cli­mate is closer to Ch­ablis than the rest of the Loire and the wines def­i­nitely show sim­i­lar­i­ties. It is here that two well-known grape va­ri­eties find their home in the Loire – pinot noir and sauvi­gnon blanc, most no­tably in the towns of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

The sauvi­gnon blancs and pinot noirs from the cen­tral Loire are re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent from those found else­where around the world. And much of their unique char­ac­ter comes from the soils found in key vine­yards char­ac­terised by chalk, lime­stone and flint. These free-drain­ing soils bring pu­rity to the wines of the cen­tral Loire.

Tra­di­tion­ally sauvi­gnon blanc has been the lead­ing light in this cor­ner of France but in re­cent years the dry reds and rosés made from pinot noir are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly sought-af­ter. They are lightly coloured and bod­ied but show per­fumed flo­ral and savoury fruits driven by crisp and bright acid­ity from their cool­cli­mate ori­gins. They are gen­er­ally not age­wor­thy styles and char­ac­terised by silky tan­nins but make for su­perb early drink­ing. They can, in some ways, re­sem­ble some lighter bod­ied new-world pinot styles.

The same can­not be said for the Loire sauvi­gnon blancs, which are as far re­moved from the New Zealand style as is imag­in­able. While the Ki­wis im­press with their un­bri­dled power of sweet fruits, Sancer­res and Pouilly-Fumés are pic­tures of sub­tlety. In the best of them, green ap­ple and guava fruits with sub­tle net­tle or hay, rich in herbal com­plex­ity, are com­pli­mented by strong stony, chalky, flinty char­ac­ters; Sancerre of­ten shows greater pu­rity than the smok­ier wines from Pouilly-Fumé.

The Roger fam­ily be­hind Do­maine du Car­rou have lived in the area for close to 300 years, Do­minique Roger’s fa­ther found­ing the do­maine in 1950. To­day the vine­yards are farmed with­out her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides, which, com­bined with metic­u­lous wine­mak­ing, has helped the es­tate rise to be­come one of the re­gion’s lead­ers. The wines from the do­maine are an ex­cel­lent in­tro­duc­tion to what Sancerre has to of­fer.

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