On the banks

03 March 2017

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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.

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