The wines of Loire Valley
No tour of France would be complete without tastes of the wine and sights of the countryside. The Loire Valley, with its picturesque castles, villages and wineries, is a beautiful convergence of both. And while its rolling fields of green beg to be seen from the seat of a bicycle, it's important to take it easy with the light wines of the region.
There are 87 appellations - legally defined regions of a product's origin, e.g., champagne from Champagne, France - in the valley alone. It's a daunting number more easily understood in terms of the four grape varieties grown there, according to Wine Enthusiast Magazine. As you move east to west along the Loire River, you will pass through five distinct regions defined by the kinds of grapes they grow and the wines made there.
Sovereign of Sauvignon
Centre Loire is the most eastern region of the Loire Valley and first home of Sauvignon Blanc grapes and the wine made from them. Sauvignon Blanc, which is a fruity and often simple wine, reaches its pinnacle in the vineyards of the world-renowned appellation of Sancerre, though there are other respectable appellations in the area.
The "Garden of France"
Touraine is the home to many a beautiful chateau and a good deal of wines to boot. The dominating grapes here are the Chinon Blanc and the Cabernet Franc. The Chinon Blanc is a versatile yet sensitive grape that results in a diversity of wines from appellation to appellation. Sparkling, sweet, dry - it can all be found in the region. Here you can also find the famous Chinon Blanc appellation Vouvray.
Touraine is also home to some of the few red wine appellations in the Loire Valley. The reds are derived from the Cabernet Franc, and are only possible due to a microclimate in the area.
Small and sparkling, sweet and red
Saumur may be smaller than the other four regions of the area, but is home to a breathtaking castle and fine sparkling wines made from Chenin Blanc, making it a region not to be underestimated.
Anjou produces a popular rosé and a red, but mainly sweet wines derived from Chenin Blanc. Sweet appellations include Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon and Quarts de Chaume.
The lone grape
Pays Nantais borders the Atlantic and is one of the only places to find Melon de Bourgogne. The grape is responsible for an incredibly crisp and dry wine that is inseparable from its oceanic associations. The appellation of much note here is the Muscadet, France's largest white wine appellation.