I AM fascinated by the connection between rivers and wine.
If you look at the great rivers of Europe: the Rhône, with wines ranging from the diversity of the local grape varieties of the Valais region of Switzerland, the sparkling wines of Seyssel, to the full-bodied reds of the Côtes du Rhône, such as Hermitage and Châteauneuf du Pape; the Duero/Douro, with Ribera del Duero and Rueda in Spain, and Port and Vinho Verde in Portugal; and the Danube with vineyards along both banks from Austria, downstream.
In France, the longest river, at 1012km, is the Loire, and the vineyards here are split into four groups: those of the Muscadet at its mouth, Anjou, Touraine, and the Centre. Three grape varieties rule: the Muscadet, the Chenin, and the Sauvignon Blanc. The particular merit of the Muscadet grape is that it is resistant to frost. It was introduced to the vineyards around the city of Nantes in the 18th century.
The wines make an ideal accompaniment to the local shellfish. The best ones generally come with the description “Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine”. One from here that I can recommend is Château Placelière 2014 (Oddbins, £10.50*).
The Chenin Blanc is supreme in Anjou, where it can produce wines from bone-dry to lusciously opulent. At the drier end, Oddbins has the Château de la Roulerie 2015 (£11); and Majestic has the Vouvray Domaine des Aubuisières Cuvée des Perruches 2015 (£11.99; £9.99 as part of a six-bottle order). On the sweet end of the scale is the Domaine des Forges Coteaux du Layon Saint Aubin 2015 (Tanners, £12.20).
Touraine is best known for its Sauvignon Blancs, and they generally represent good value for money for those unwilling to pay the price of Sancerre. Such a wine is Les Six Terroirs 2015 (Waitrose, £9.99). There are also smaller, more regional appellations. One of these is Cheverny, in the heart of the château country; Oddbins has the Vignes des Marnières 2015 at £12.50).
The most famous wines of the Centre are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, and good examples of these are widely available from something around £12 upwards — and upwards can be quite a way: Majestic offers the Ladoucette Baron de “L” 2010 Pouilly-Fumé for £60. There are outstanding wines for somewhat less, such as Alphonse Mellot le Manoir Sancerre 2015 (Waitrose, £21.99).
Once again, however, there are bargains in lesser appellations: including the Reuilly 2015 from Henri Beurdin (Majestic, £11.99); and the Coteaux du Giennois l’Oselier 2015 (Oddbins £13.75).
Years ago, the sweetish Rosés d’Anjou were very popular, but now they have all but disappeared from the shelves, supplanted by wines from California. Waitrose features one at £7.99, made predominantly from the local Grolleau variety — and variety is what it is all about when it comes to the wines of the Loire.
*Prices correct at time of going to press.