Looking for the best Sancerre to buy? Want to know more about Loire Valley wine? Read our expert guide then check out our favourite vineyards in the UK for tours, tastings and overnight stays among the vines.
What is Loire Valley wine?
The Loire is the longest river in France, covering 625 miles from its source in the mountains of the Massif Central to Saint-Nazaire on the wild Atlantic coast. Known as the ‘garden of France’, its dreamy, bucolic valley is dotted with hundreds of turreted châteaux, dating from the late 15th century when the royal court was based here, as well as thousands of vineyards producing great-value wines.
Crisp muscadet whites are made from the melon de bourgogne grape and are dream matches for the oysters and other seafood found on the nearby Atlantic coast, while sauvignon blanc is used in the classy dry wines from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé at the eastern end of the valley, and in the central Touraine region where better value is often found.
Sancerre’s whites are famed for the finesse and purity of their elderflower and grassy notes, as well as their racy minerality that comes from the limestone and flinty soils found in the area. Land is expensive here, hence the more hefty price tags, but a good sauv blanc from Sancerre is really hard to beat, especially if it’s matched with goat’s cheese or grilled asparagus.
Chardonnay is also grown, but chenin blanc is the Loire’s flagship white grape, and is the one currently exciting me most. Chenin’s inherent acidity gives it great versatility, so it’s used successfully to make sparkling wines (look for crémants de Loire, made the same way as champagne) and all styles of still wines, from bone dry to lusciously sweet, sometimes fermented and/or aged in oak for extra complexity. Some, most famously from Vouvray, are often made off-dry, a style also known as sec tendre. These can be tricky to get to know but are well worth attention; many of us shy away from sweetness in table wine, and it’s true that cheap vouvray can be unpleasantly cloying, but the best of these are a revelation with creamy or cheesy dishes that are often hard to match with wine – mac ’n’ cheese or fish pie are perfect partners.
When it comes to reds, trendy cabernet franc is the star attraction, medium-bodied and prettily perfumed, with crunchy berry fruits given structure by an energetic minerality rather than by burly tannins. Pinot noir and gamay also appear, soft and whispery, and lovely for spring drinking, especially if slightly chilled.
Sancerre’s reds and rosés are less well known than its whites – they make up only 20% of its total production – but are well worth seeking out. Made from pinot noir, the refined elegance of the reds can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those from Burgundy, while the rosés make a pleasing, often more fruity, change from the more ubiquitous Provençale styles, and are an ace match for summery dishes such as poached salmon.
The complexity of the Loire’s different appellations and the many wine styles they produce can be confusing, and often labels aren’t much help – levels of sweetness are rarely indicated, for example – so it’s worth doing a little research before dipping your toes in its lesser-known waters.
Best Sancerre to buy
Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Rouge ‘Les Bonnes Bouches’ 2016, £25.99 or £16.99 for a mixed six case, Majestic
Perky pinot noir wrapped around a supple, silky core and given roundness with some oak ageing. Worth splashing out on, especially if bought as part of a mixed-six case.
This ticks all the classic sancerre boxes of pristine citric zest and herbaceous lip-smacking freshness. Perfect for a lazy springtime lunch; our asparagus and anchovy pasta with fennel seed pangrattato would be a happy partner.
Prettily pale but with plenty of vibrant raspberry and redcurrant fruits, a great example of Sancerre rośe that comes with the region’s trademark crisp minerality. Try it with our spiced fish cakes with carrot and cucumber salad.
Best Loire Valley wine to buy
Sauv blancs from the Loire tend to be more mineral-driven and less tropical than those from Australasia, and this is a textbook example at a very smart price.
A wonderful biodynamic cabernet franc, earthy but vibrant, with crunchy bramble fruits and peppery spice. Try slightly chilled with roast chicken with coffee and chocolate mole.
Balanced sweetness and acidity with seductive notes of honey and dried apricots. Brilliant with blue cheese, and a brave but successful match with chicken stroganoff.
Cabernet franc and gamay are blended in this bargain rosé. Full of summery berries and sunshine, it’s a top match for honey masala chicken with tangy corn and mango.
A smart choice for lovers of blanc de blancs champagnes (meaning they’re made with 100% chardonnay grapes) – fantastic value for some very classy bubbles.
As its name suggests, cherries take the front seat in this joyous, juicy cabernet franc. Very versatile with food, it’s really good with gently spiced dishes, such as cumin, coriander & lemon lamb koftas with jewelled rice.