Loire

Appellations

Situated in the Western Loire, Anjou reaches it's fullest potential in the production of Chenin Blanc on Schist soils in and around Coteaux du Layon.
Sitting on the North banks of the Loire the generally south facing vineyards of Bourgeuil are predominantly planted with Cabernet Franc and can produce some of France's most interesting and best value medium bodied red wines.
Chablis is Burgundy's northern most region spanning 3,000 hectares centred around the town of Chablis itself in the départment of the Yonne near Auxerre. Though considered part of Burgundy, in terms of geography it is as close to Sancerre and Pouilly Sur Loire as it is to the Côte d'Or, and in terms of soils and climate is actually closer. The vineyard area rolls around Chablis itself and 19 other villages. There are four levels of wine: Petit Chablis; Chablis;Chablis 1er Cru and Chablis Grand Cru, the latter of which there are seven which sit prominently above the town of Chablis itself on sun-blanched south-facing slopes.

Soil is a very important factor in the quality and unique style of Chablis and can roughly be divided into two types, firstly Kimmeridgean. This is a kind of clay limestone with a large proportion of fossilized oyster shells. Chablis is on the edge of the Paris rock basin the other side of which is the Dorset village of Kimmeridge from which the soil takes its name. The other soil type is Portlandien, a similar clay limestone structure without the same complexity, giving wines of slightly less sophistication and finesse. The former is the base of the Grands Crus and all of the best Premiers Crus and Chablis Villages vineyards, the latter, generally speaking, is the base for most of the outlying Petit Chablis area.

The northerly climate obviously means that vintages can vary quite starkly, summers are mostly hot and sunny, though, with the variation in weather coming more into to play towards the end of the season. The greatest danger during the season is from frost, which can be devastating, so much of the vine-growers early season activity is spent devising ways to protect the vines. One of the more traditional is lighting "smudge pots" throughout the vineyards, in an effort to get warm air circulating around the vines. The quantity and quality of wine produced can therefore vary from year to year. Chablis is obviously a large area and now a very big commercial brand so there are swathe's of rather poor quality and not very good value example around. Fortunately though there are plenty of fine examples, too. At its best Chablis is a unqieuly steely mineral wine that can age extremely well. "Classic" Chablis as we know it today is aged and fermented in steel tanks. However there are a number of growers experimenting with oak, mainly used barrels, not to give any oak flavour to the wine but to improve its texture and complexity. These can make for some of the very finest examples of Burgundy there are. Some of the finest exponents are Vincent Dauvissat, Francois Raveneau, Laurent Tribut, Droin and Moreau Naudet.
A vineyard that predominantly lies below Chambertin, also encompassing the Mazoyères-Chamertin (which is below Latricières), next door to Morey-St-Denis. At 31.6 ha it is Gevrey-Chambertin's biggest Grand Cru and, as is the case with Clos de Vougeot and Échezeaux, this size and the fact that part of the vineyard goes as far down the slope as the low-lying route national, can mean variable quality. When its good, though, its very good. At best it should be the most feminine, fragrant and fruity of the Gevrey Grands Crus, with a soft, supple, tannic structure but sufficient intensity and length of flavour.
Chinon sits in the Touraine district of the Loire and is primarily a region known for the production of medium bodied reds made from Cabernet Franc. A small amount of Rose is also produced, along with very small quantites of white from Chenin Blanc. The best reds, such as those of Charles Joguet, have the ability to age in bottle, and are a delightful combination of an intensity of fruit, finesse and refreshing acidity.
The finest region within Anjou producing mouthwatering sweet and often botrytised Chenin Blanc from schist and limestone soils. A source of excellent value sweet wine.
Jurancon lies in the south west of France and produces both dry (Jurancon Sec) and sweet (Jurancon) wines primarily from Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu. The sweet wines of Jurancon are produced from grapes left to dry partially on the vine, and can be particularly long lived.
Loire is a region rapidly gaining recognition for producing exceptional wines of all kinds - with expressions of Sauvignon Blanc unlike those found anywhere else in the world and Rosé to die for.
Perhaps overshadowed by its neighbour Vouvray, Montlouis has the ability to produce some of the most exciting and delicious Chenin Blanc, from the totally dry to Botrytised sweet examples. These are taut mineral wines with exceptional acidities and ability to age beautifully in bottle.
Muscadet is a region which extends south-east of Nantes towards the mouth of the Loire river. The most important region within is undoubtedly Muscadet-Sevre et Maine, home to the Sur Lie wines that rest on their lees giving greater character to the dominant grape variety Melon de Bourgogne. Unsprisingly given their proximity to the sea these wines can prove to be excellent partners to shellfish and simple fish dishes.
A white wine appellation in the Mâconnais region of Burgundy. The appellation encompasses 850 ha spread accross the communes of Fuissé, Solutré, Pouilly, Vergisson, and Chaintré. The climate is warmer and the harvest earlier than further north in the Côte de Beaune, the wines are some of the richest examples of White Burgundy to be found and when well balanced with fresh acidity or complex minerality can make for excellent quality. Though not as fine as the best of the Côte de Beaune, they are a fraction of the price and therefore make for excellent value. There is no Premier Cru system here, though single vineyard names can and do appear on labels.
The vineyards are based around the stunning rocks of Solutré and Vergisson which dominate the landscape here, they are the last outposts of the limestone plateau on which all Burgundy is based. The soil is distinctly rich in colour and can be a very deep dark red in parts, it is said that the soil was enriched thousands of years ago by animals being driven off the cliff tops by Stone Age hunters.
Pouilly-Fume can only be made from Sauvignon Blanc grown in the region surrounding the town of Pouilly-sur-Loire, and alonside Sancerre, represents the potential for the finest and most complext of all of France's Sauvignon Blancs. The wines are often characterised by a flinty characteristic attributed to the high flint (Silex) content in the local limestone soils.
A tiny appellation within the Coteaux du Layon region of Anjou that in fine vintages produces exceptional sweet botrytized Chenin Blancs that, thanks to their impressive acidities, can have great longevity.
Even after discounting the big names - Bordeaux, Burgundy etc - France is still full of excellent quality winemakers who are doing great things now and are simultaneously showing bags of potential. Areas like Côtes de Roussillon and the Languedoc have been producing highly-drinkable, thoroughly enjoyable wines for a very long time.
Saumur is a medium-sized town at the heart of the Loire Valley. Located on the south bank of the Loire River, it is best known for producing highly sought after Cab. Franc blends and delicious Chenin Blanc single varietals.
On the opposite banks of the Loire from Pouilly sits Sancerre. Whilst much of what is grown in Sancerre can be of variable quality, there are enough good growers to ensure it is also home to some of the greatest of France's Sauvignon Blancs. Cotat, Crochet, Pinard all domonstrate this, with the last two also producing some particularly fine and haunting red sancerre from Pinot Noir.
A region within the western Loire known primarily for the production of light-medium bodied but extremely pretty examples of Cabernet Franc.
A region within Anjou in the Loire that produces some of the most taut and concentrated examples of dry Chenin Blanc, often possessing such high acidity in their youth that patience is required.
A sub-region of Bourgeuil whose wines are somewhat lighter and more delicate that those of straight Bourgeuil designation.
An appellation in the Côte de Beaune between Meursault on the south side and Pommard on the north side. The wines are distinctly different from those of Pommard, lighter in colour and more elegant. They have always been known as delicate, fruity feminine and very fine wines, even a century ago the wines were described as "partridge-eye" pink in colour and the finest of all the wines of the Côte de Beaune. Whilst often displaying great charm and fruit in their youth the best Volnay often have considerable power too and can be very ageworthy.

More than half Volnay's vineyards are of premier cru status and one of these, Les Santenots, has a foot in two communes - its red wines are Volnay and its whites are Meursault. Aswell as the Santenots du Milieu Volnay has a plethora of other fine vineyards: Le Cailleret, Clos des Chênes, Champans, Taillepieds, the Clos de la Bousse d'Or, monopole of Domaine de la Pousse d'Or, and perhaps the most lauded of them all, the Clos des Ducs, a monopole of Marquis d'Angerville, one of the pioneering estates of Domaine-bottled Burgundy in the 1930s. Volnay's finest producers include Marquis d'Angerville, Michel Lafarge and de Montille.
The most famous Chenin Blanc producing region in the Loire and home to the famous cave cellars dug into the Tuffeau banks of the Loire. The wines from Vouvray, almost exclusively Chenin Blanc, can be produced in styles ranging from the utterly dry, through demi sec, (medium-dry) to the sweet moelleux. The latter is produced by numerous passages through the vineyards, and only in exceptional years. Due to the exceptional acidities present in these wines they have an ability to age only matched, in white wines, by German Riesling.