Washington state is the number two producer of wines in the United States, with California leading the pack. Within a few short years, the state has become home to over 530 wineries. Marilee's Web page gives recognition to the wine industry in the state we both call home; I constantly taste the wines produced here and am impressed with the quality and commitment by the winemakers, but France and Italy produce 50 percent of the world's wines, so I want to introduce you to a few regions from both countries.
In my education I discovered my palate was more in sync with "Old World" wines -- wines from Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Austria. Most every other wine-producing country is "New World," including the United States. In this article I'm taking you on a trip to the Loire in France, and in the next few months we'll visit other wine regions in France, as well as Italy.
The Loire is one of the largest and most diverse wine regions in France. Virtually every type of wine is produced there -- still and sparkling, dry and sweet, red, white and rose. Yet it is a treasure trove for wine lovers because it remains largely unknown to Americans. The Loire River, France's longest, defines the Loire and remains one of the last great rivers of Europe not damned. The area was called the "Garden of France" during the Renaissance and is divided into three broad areas: the western Loire near the Atlantic coast, the eastern Loire, far inland, and the middle Loire. Two leading white grapes of the Loire are sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc. Sixty percent of the Loire production is white and their signature characteristic is zesty acidity.
The most western part of the Loire, (Nantais) which borders the Atlantic, is well-known for one wine alone - Muscadet. More Muscadet is produced than any other Loire wine. It is a dry, fairly neutral grape (it's a white relative to the gamay grape). This is the one wine from the Loire that is not particularly acidic but pairs great with seafood from the Atlantic.
The middle Loire is fascinating and the least well known part of the valley. The leading white grape is chenin blanc and the leading red is cabernet franc. The middle Loire is divided into two parts: Anjou-Saumur and Touraine. From Anjou-Saumur comes a most extraordinary dry, white wine, and possibly the greatest chenin blanc in the world - Savennieres. It is a dense flavored wine with intensity, grip, minerality and taut acidity that needs bottle ageing to become the complex wine for which it is known. The flavors are quince, chamomile, honey, cream and citrus. Also produced in Anjou-Saumur are other chenin blancs from medium-sweet to fully sweet wines with floral, peach, apricoty flavors. Outside of Champagne, the Loire's Anjou-Saumur region is France's main source of sparkling wine. From Touraine, the cabernet franc is the main red grape and the white grape chenin blanc from the wine appellation, Vouvray with dry to sweet styles and some sparkling wines.
The eastern Loire, Le Centre, is some 300 miles from Muscadet and is home to the famous dry white wines, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume from the sauvignon blanc grape. The Sancerre from the Loire is the world's model for crisp, focused, high-acid wine with flavors of nettles and gooseberry. Pouilly-Fume is a perfumed, fuller style wine from sauvignon blanc which is grown on limestone soil and can have a "smoky" aroma - thus the name.
There you have a very brief tour of the Loire. On our next trip we'll visit Alsace.
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