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- How to use our interactive wine map
- Drinking up the diversity
- What is an appellation?
- What is a sub-appellation?
- What makes Loire Valley unique
- How to read a wine label
- A glossary of useful terms
2 of our favourite Loire valley holidays
Loire Prestige à Pied
Enchanting châteaux and picturesque villages
Live like a king on this luxurious holiday, which takes you through scenic countryside to some of the Loire’s most prestigious châteaux. The easy walk follows pathways alongside the river and through vineyards, to luxury hotels...
Loire Prestige en Vélo
Tranquil rivers and regal architecture
Explore quiet back roads and visit the fascinating old towns of Amboise and Blois with time to discover the classic wines of the region. Visit world famous châteaux and stay in luxury accommodation each night.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 Minutes
If there are two words that have you reaching for a corkscrew and glass, they're surely Loire and Valley. This key wine region stretches from the hills of the Auvergne, deep in the heart of France, to the Atlantic coast near Nantes. It generates huge quantities of wine each year, from the everyday and quaffable to some of the very finest in the world.
A trip to the Loire Valley is something of a treasure hunt, with gems such as Touraine, Sancerre, Anjou and Pouilly-Fumé hailing from the fertile lands along the river.
The Loire based holidays in the Belle France programme offer cycling and walking holidays but so many of customers ask about local wines and vineyards. On this specially designed, interactive map you'll find details of a range of vineyards, some close to our Loire routes and others not. Explore the different regions, appellations and grape varieties of this beautiful part of France to learn more about its elegant wines.
How to use our interactive wine map of the Loire Valley
The map is divided into four main regions: Pays Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and Upper Loire. Simply click on a region to discover in-depth information on its appellations and sub-appellations, as well as the grape varieties associated with them.
The circled numbers relate to the number of vineyards that are included in various Belle France tours. If you’re interested in taking a bottle of wine home to remind you of your travels at a later date, click on the grape to learn how and where in the Loire Valley it is grown.
Drinking up the diversity
The wines of the Loire Valley range from light, sharp Muscadet to honeyed Bonnezeaux. Vouvray’s white wines sparkle while Chinon and Saumur are known for their meaty, tannic reds. The town of Angers in Anjou is known mainly for its rosés, based on the Cabernet Franc grape, including Rosé d’Anjou and Cabernet d’Anjou.
The Loire proudly produces white wines with key grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Chardonnay. The quality of its reds is ever-increasing, with Cabernet Franc being the primary grape variety. Lighter-bodied wines are also made from Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Pay Nantais is best known and loved for its crisp Muscadets, while Anjou specialises in Chenin Blanc both sweet (Coteaux du Layon) and dry (Savennieres). Touraine’s Chinon Blanc makes for dry whites, complemented by its Cabernet-Franc based reds. The Upper Loire is the spiritual home of Sauvignon Blanc, while a meander further up the river finds Gamay and Pinot Noir reigning supreme.
Near the Atlantic, you’ll find blends of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, while in the Touraine the highly versatile Chardonnay grape will mix happily with Sauvignon Blanc.
Wherever your tastebuds are tempted to take you, our interactive map of the Loire Valley will ensure they’re not disappointed.
What exactly is an appellation?
In simple terms, an appellation is the geographical identification of where the grapes for a certain wine were grown. We all know Champagne can only be called Champagne if it’s grown in the region Champagne (about 100 miles east of Paris). The same rule applies before other wines can legally print an appellation name on the label of their bottle .
Other restrictions also apply, such as the types of grape that may be grown, their maximum yield, pruning and harvesting techniques, and alcoholic content. In this way quality is protected, as are vineyard practices and the marketing of wine.
The early part of the 20th century saw France producing a selection of wines that were poor by today's standards. Consequently in 1935, the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine was created to manage wine production and to this day, the INAO remains a passionate supporter of the ‘terroir’, in other words the peculiar soil, climate and vegetation that determine the character of wine.
In 1937, lawyer and winegrower Baron Pierre Le Roy Boiseaumarié from Châteauneuf-du-Pape campaigned and won to secure legal recognition of Côtes du Rhône’s appellation of origin. The AOC seal (standing for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which appears on the wine’s label, was created by French law in the 1950s.
Understanding the nature of appellations is especially vital in the vast and varied Loire Valley, where big producers sit alongside smaller establishments such as Cour-Cheverny (which only uses the obscure Romorantin grape) and Coteaux de Giennois.
Unlike New World wines, the variety of grape is rarely displayed on French wine labels, so it pays to know that a particular appellation requires a certain type of grape. If in doubt, check our interactive wine map of the Loire Valley for details.
What is a sub-appellation?
A sub-appellation is simply a further breakdown of the region of a wine’s origin. For example, the Loire Valley’s popular Muscadet appellation has three sub-appellations: Muscadet-Sevre et Maine, Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire and Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu. The benefit of a sub-appellation is that it is able to pinpoint the wine’s origin with great precision.
What does Vin de Pays mean?
Loosely translated, Vin de Pays means ‘country wine’. It’s another way of tying down production to a specific area and doesn’t necessarily indicate the wine is of inferior quality to one with AOC on its label. It may mean the winemaker has chosen not to abide by the appellation’s strict rules, but grapes still have to come from the region on the label. If grapes are sourced from various areas of the Loire Valley, it may only qualify for the more general Vin de Pays du Val de Loire classification.
If the grapes come from a more localised area, the label may state, for example, Vin de Pays de Vendée or Vin de Pays du Cher. The wine has to be submitted for analysis and pass a taste test, and there are also rules regarding sulphur and alcohol content.
What makes the Loire Valley unique?
The Loire Valley was primarily a country retreat for French royalty and aristocracy who, among other things, invested in the construction of grand châteaux. There are over 300 dotted around the region, earning a large stretch along the Loire river UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000. It is around this fascinating part of the region where Belle France’s hand-crafted walking and cycling tours are based.
The Loire Valley provides some of the best cycling opportunities in Europe, with many designated paths along the banks of the majestic river. Thanks to the largely flat terrain cycle rides are a leisurely affair, with plenty of opportunities to take in the sights.
Eight villages in the Loire Valley carry the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ award, including Montresor, where, according to a charming legend, a lizard helped a humble servant find gold so he could build a castle and marry the princess of his dreams.
Nature lovers, city sightseers, cyclists, canoeists and walkers will all find inspiration in the Loire Valley, not only in its architecture and wines, but also in its excellent cuisine. However the day is spent, a host of delicacies can be found on local menus, from simple, traditional fare to culinary masterpieces worthy of the old French nobles themselves.
Game from Sologne, the lamb of Touraine, sausages of Jargeau, and pâté from Chartres, served perhaps with Orleans mustard or a pinch of saffron, present a feast both for the eyes and the palate. The dish must inevitably be complemented by the appropraite wine: a vivacious Vouvray, perhaps, or an earthy Bourgueil, although a cider from the Perche may take your fancy on occasion.
The region’s pastry chefs round up a hearty meal with the perfect dessert. Tarte tatin, almondy Pithiviers cake or sablés biscuits…visitors won't struggle to find a sweet note on which to end.
How to read the label of your Loire Valley wine
As an indication of the strict quality control that makes France's wines so superb, there are precise labelling laws that producers must adhere to. Consumers are provided with all the essential information, enabling them to make informed decisions. Next time you're buying, take a look at the label, perhaps turning to our interactive wine map for support, and select a wine based on all your new-found expertise.
- Château / Estate: The name of the château/estate where that wine is from, this is often the brand name.
- Appellation / Sub-Region: The wine's administrative region or appelleation of origin. The appellation laws regulate many aspects of wine production, ensuring a standard of quality is being met.
- Image / Logo: The image or logo of the château. In order to follow regulations, if a building is displayed, it must be the actual château.
- Vintage: The year that the grapes were harvested. Many factors can affect the quality of the harvest such as the weather.
- Producer: The producer of the wine is the person, private owners or corporate entity that owns the wine. Producer information will list the maker for the wine.
- Region: The geographical region from which the wine origiants. The label may show the sub-region.
- Bottling Location: This is the location where the wine is bottled. Not all vineyards have facilities on their premises.
- Type of Wine: The type of wine. For example, dry red wine, sparkling wine etc.
- Volume / Bottle Size: The volume of the bottle. The standard size is 750 millilters (75cl or 750ml)
- Alcoholic Content: The alcoholic content of the wine, typically expressed as a percentage.
A glossary of useful terms
- Blanc: White
- Blanc de blancs: Sparkling wines made only from Chardonnay grapes.
- Brut: Dry, sparkling wine.
- Château or Domaine…: Wine estate (domaines are generally smaller)
- Clos: An enclosed vineyard
- Crémant: An AOC sparkling wine from a French region other than Champagne.
- Cru: A term aplied to classified vineyards, villages or wine estates.
- Cuvée: A blend of wines or batch of wine.
- Grand cru: A region’s highest quality vineyard.
- Grand cru classé: A wine estate classified as top property.
- Grand vin: An unregulated term that often means a vineyard’s best wine.
- Premier cru: A top vineyard area of wine estate, though less prestigious than a grand cru.
- Réserve: suggests good quality, but is an unregulated term.
- Rouge: Red
- Sec: Used in sparkling wine and denotes a slightly sweeter classification of brut.
- Vieilles vignes: Old vines, again an unregulated term.
- Vin de pays: A French country wine. The zone where the grapes grew will also be listed.
This interactive map is the product of both internal & external experts who conducted extensive research. Sources of that research include: Johnson, Hugh, Robinson, Jancis,The World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition (7 Oct 2013) | LoireValleyWine.com | Among others...