A Quick Tour of the Loire Valley

The Drunken Cyclist
By Jeffrey M. Kralik, Ph.D.
www.thedrunkencyclist.com –

Royal Fortress of Chinon.

Understanding French wine is not easy. Sure, there are regions like Burgundy where it is rather straight forward: red is Pinot Noir and white is Chardonnay. But then there are regions like, say, Châteauneuf-du-Pape where there are six varieties allowed in the white version and 13 in the more widely available red. And don’t even get me started on the Languedoc, where there are no hard and fast rules.

Somewhere in between on the difficult-to-understand scale is the Loire Valley where, for the most part, Melon de Bourgogne is in the far west, Chenin Blanc is mostly in the center, and Sauvignon Blanc dominates the Eastern third of the appellation. Similarly, Cabernet Franc is grown in the center of the appellation while Pinot Noir and, increasingly, Gamay, can be found in the East (the Western third of the appellation does not produce red wines).

I recently made a bike trip through the Loire Valley, focusing on the towns and vineyards in the East and central parts of the appellation, and visited a few castles along the way.


My trip started in Blois in the Eastern third of the region, and while we did not make it to Sancerre, almost every review of the Loire Valley starts with Sancerre for good reason: some of the best Sauvignon Blanc on the planet comes from the hilltop region in the Eastern third of the appellation. The last time I was in Sancerre; however, I visited Henri Bourgeois, one of my favorite producers, and when I saw this bottle at my local Spec’s, I wasted little time.

2021 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Les Baronnes, Loire Valley, France: Retail $30. Under screw cap. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. The combination of fruit and racy acidity defines for me the queen of Sauvignon Blanc. Outstanding. 93 Points.


Perhaps more than any other variety, Pinot reveals the place where it is grown. Loire Valley Pinot is not Burgundy, it is not Oregon, and it is certainly not California. While some might see it as “austere,” I prefer to see it as mineral driven and tart, a real wine-lover’s Pinot. While the “best” version of Pinot in the Loire Valley might come from Sancerre, I prefer those from the much lesser known appellation of Cheverny. The town is no doubt better known for it’s 18th Century Château, but its wines are sneaky good.

2021 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Delaille, Loire Valley, France: Retail $22. 55% Pinot Noir, 43% Gamay, 2% Côt. Two words on the bottle convinced my to buy this wine from a producer that I did not know: “Kermit Lynch,” one of the best importers of French wine in the US. Tart, “dirty” cherry dominates, but the balance is fantastic and when paired with some food? This is close to other worldly. Excellent. 92 Points.


Vouvray, almost smack dab in the middle of the region can be a bit of a mine field but in a good way. For centuries now, Vouvray has been known for producing some of the best Chenin Blancs in the world, from bone dry to cloyingly sweet. The problem is that there is often no way of knowing how sweet the wine is by merely looking at the bottle, but I see that as part of the allure of the region.

2019 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette, Loire Valley, France: Retail $20. 100% Chenin Blanc. A classic wine from a noted producer this is, in many ways, the essence of Vouvray. Racy and fruity, but also a bit sweet, this has been the soul of Vouvray for centuries. The key to balance the sweetness, of course, is a zingy acidity, and this wine has it in spades, along with tree fruit a go-go. Excellent. 91 Points.


Our next stop was perhaps my favorite town in the Loire Valley: Chinon. The town dates back to the Middle Ages and proudly promotes its history, which notably includes a trip to the town by none other than Joan of Arc, the patron saint of France, who came to Chinon to meet with the soon-to-be Charles VII in 1429. It also is home to one of my absolute favorite Loire Valley producers, Couly-Dutheil.

2017 Couly-Dutheil Chinon La Baronnie Madeleine, Loire Valley, France: Retail $22. 100% Cabernet Franc. This wine is spectacular, particularly after some time open. Dark in the glass in both color and aroma, it is loaded with plum, blackberry and a whole rack of spice. One of my go-to Cab Francs. Outstanding. 93 Points.


The last stop on our trip was Saumur, which has an ominous medieval castle dating from the 12th Century. While sparkling wine is produced throughout France (sparkling wine in France made outside of Champagne, in a nutshell, is called “Crémant” ), those from the Loire are some of the best. And among the hierarchy of sparkling wines within the Loire, many see Saumur at the top.

NV De Valloie Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé, Saumur, France: Pale to medium pink in the glass with oodles of red raspberry. The fruit dominates initially, but then the tartness comes in on the mid-palate, as does an ever-so-slight level of sweetness. Excellent 91 Points.