The Loire Valley in Central France is often called The Garden of France due to its many vineyards.
Celebrated for its architecture, wine, and historic destinations – many of which are UNESCO Heritage Sites – this is a beautiful area to visit if you love wine, nature, and don’t mind driving to get to either or both. That is because many of the towns that make up the valley, such as Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours, are not all easily accessible by train and to get a glimpse of their lovely castles and caves, as well as their vineyards and wines, you must do as I did and rent a car.
Driving in France may seem like a terrifying concept to some. I won’t deny I was nervous about driving in a country where the language is not one I am proficient in, but the area is easy to get around in and unlike Paris, I never experienced the level of aggression or speed on the roads.
I did often find myself completely in awe of the region, its many winding, narrow roads with vineyards and farms on each side, making a lot of the driving experience seem romantic and not at all as intimidating.
Once I started getting around, meeting the people and exploring the towns, I was left convinced that this should be on every wine lover’s travel list. Take a few days in between drives to enjoy the destinations and the wine without worry of having to drive later on.
Here are a few places to visit to learn about and taste the wines in Loire Valley (a road map of the wine trail I took is below):
Driving up to the grounds of Chateau Soucherie, you are wowed by the size of the space around it. The large fields of vineyards make a nice back drop when sipping on their Savennieres and Coteaux du Layon, both of which are aromatic with evidence of their fruity side, but balanced beautifully so that they are the perfect white wines to enjoy on a hot summer day.
I would’ve paired these with my husband’s grilled chicken and veggies. Though they stand well on their own too. Such a refreshing wine.
Soucherie has a beautiful event space where they host tastings and even weddings. Perfect for couples who enjoy wine tastings, don’t mind driving on their own to the surrounding villages and wineries, and want the privacy and views that the Chateau offers.
I’ve shared the historical details of this castle that make it a destination worth visiting (see Castles and Caves: Exploring The Loire Valley), but what I didn’t tell you was that after touring the castle you can also stop in their wine shop for a tasting of the wines from their very own vineyard.
I had the pleasure to taste the Crémant Blanc Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, a sparkling wine that’s light and airy and perfect for festive occasions or celebrations…or just because. Personally, I would want a nice bottle of their Crémant Rose, because who can deny the beauty of a rose-colored sparkling wine?
When drinking the wine from Chateau of Brézé, keep in mind that you are drinking the wines previously served to royal families starting in the 15th century. Their whites ones are particularly noted in history as being a favorite in France.
It is standard in this region to visit wineries that also happen to have massive caves underground where the wines are stored. These wines, particularly sparkling wines, store very well because of the stable conditions of these tunnels. But no tunnel I saw contained as many bottles as Marc Bredif, with some of them dating back as early as 1875 which I was assured taste amazing still and are sold.
I tasted several of their sparkling wines. Dry, yet refreshing, with hints of fruit and flower but not too sweet. I was sadden to not have had enough space in my bag to carry some back home with me. I would travel back if only for more tastings of their Vouvray and with plenty of room to take some with me. Not sure about the much, older bottles, but they sure are pretty to look at!
The Caves of Monmousseau
When I last mentioned the caves of Monmousseau, I highlighted how they make use of the tufa caves to not only store their wines, but also host art exhibits there. This is a fun visit, complimented by the tastings of their wines. The Touraine region produces a variety of wine colors, all sparkling that also store well, even when you don’t have a centuries old cave to do so.
When I drove into Sancerre the sun was slowly coming out from behind the raining clouds. The cobblestone streets were mainly clear of people, and it felt as if I had driven into a movie set, a beautiful one at that.
Sancerre’s Notre Dame church, the building of which begun in 1652 and completed in 1777, stands proud and tall in the center of town, ready to greet all.
But your visit should really begin at the Maison des Sancerre, a visitor’s information center which also serves as an even venue, both private and for the community. There’s a cute community garden in the back and a terrace for tastings. But the absolute best view is from above – which is not accessible to all, but which gave me a breathtaking view of the village of Sancerre and the surrounding vineyards. Even if the roof top view isn’t an option, this is a great place to get all the information and guidance you need about the specific vineyards, wine makers, and other places of interest in the area.
Also near Sancerre, I got to do the Pouilly-Fumé tour which invites you to use your senses to smell, see, hear, touch, and finally taste all the elements that go into the making of their signature wines. I learned a lot about the Pouilly-Fumé here and though I won’t give its secrets away, because I really think you will enjoy each discovery as you go along the tour, I will admit to getting a little teary-eyed at one point from one of the presentations.
An experience for your senses is offered at the tour.
The Pouilly-Fumé wine selections are rotated often so that guests may taste a different makers in the region.
Not too much further away is is the Domaine Jean Marie Berthier, a family owned winery lead by a team of a father and his two sons which are best known for their labels of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir Sancerre wines, as well as their newer labels Terre Marne, Terre de Caillote, and Terre de Silex (100% Sauvignon Blanc).
The Jean Marie Berthier wine collection.
A short distance away is Domaine Michel Redde et Fils known especially for their Blanc Fumé de Pouilly from Sancerre. I had never tasted this wine before, and I have to say the distinct quality of this it, specific to the region, is one I really enjoyed.
It’s best to take the Pouilly-Fumé tour to really understand the wine before tasting it and the selection of wines in this vineyard are some of the most varied I tried, not only in flavor but also in price.
Touring the vineyards is more than just an opportunity to taste the variety of flavors from a region or a site. It is an opportunity to learn about the land, the ways in which it is unique, even in this vast country of wine makers. If you are fortunate enough in your visit to meet and chat with the winemaker themselves, you might get an insight into how truly passionate they are about their work and the many traditions still honored even as the industry finds ways to continue to improve work flow and production. And though the concept of owning a vineyard seems very romantic to many of us, the intensity of the work behind it is not something many can easily take on.
But these winemakers love it and wouldn’t change a thing. The only female winemaker I met during my tour was Florence Veilex of Domaine de la Chapiniere. We talked about wines, and I got to taste her fabulous Touraine wines and I got to hear her story.
I asked her about the work and the fact that it requires so much of her time and allows for very little vacation days. Yet, she calls what she does her dream come true. Though it hasn’t always been easy to get away since she left her job and started producing wine 11 years ago, she wouldn’t have it any other way. She says:
“As owner, I can’t always go on vacation, but I don’t suffer because of it. This is work, but it’s my dream come true and I am just happy to wake up to do it.”
It may sound silly, but I swear you can taste the love in the wine.
As a mother, she also thinks about the children in her business, producing a non-alcoholic bubbly which she offers her younger guests when their parents come in for tastings.
The more I learn about wine, the more I love everything about it, but even more so the people I meet a behind the scenes.
Below is a map of all the wineries I visited in the Loire Valley to help you plan your wine trial when you visit. Click on GGT Loire Valley Wine Tour 2014 for more details. I started the route in Angers (read A Day in Angers for more information).
Places I stayed in during my time in the Loire Valley (which I loved) are:
- Hotel de la Loire, which I wrote a bit about it in my article “Wine-lover’s day trips from Paris on Expedia Viewfinder”.
- The Domaine de la Tortinière in Tours, which I wrote about in my post “Castles and Caves: Exploring The Loire Valley“.
- Hotel 41 Foch, which I wrote about in my post “A Day in Angers, Loire Valley“.
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Disclosure: I toured the Loire Valley as the guest and wine ambassador for Atout France and their partners. All opinions are my own.