France has several wine regions. Most of us know the big ones: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône Valley, Champagne, Alsace… But did you know that the Loire Valley is the third largest AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) wine area in France. Located less than 2 hours south of Paris, the grapes grow along the longest river of France: The Loire and its tributaries. The area covers 70,000 hectares and produces dry and sweet white wines, sparkling wines as well as light reds and rosés pleasant for summer drinking. Grapes varieties used in the valley of the King (and castles…more to come on our visit) are Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Since drinking and driving is not recommended in France, and the rules are stricter than in the US, we decided to drink and bike [Not sure it’s smarter, but certainly more fun]. We rented bicycles in Tours and rode to Vouvray, a small community located 7 Km from Tours. We first stopped at Château Moncontour. The vineyard, one of the oldest in the Touraine region, is ranked among the most prestigious wine properties in the Loire Valley. It stands on the hillside over the river. Besides tasting the wine, we wanted to visit the Wine Museum located on the property. Nearly 3,000 pieces carefully preserved and collected over the years are arranged in an educational manner in the Troglodyte cellars of the Château. Its unique collection of tools and objects related to the heritage, culture and winemaking hide no more secrets for us. The amount of pieces collected over the years is overwhelming. It took us close to 2 hours to go through the entire museum. We got thirsty. We were glad to exit the museum directly in the tasting room, and took full advantage of it.
We then rode back to town and stopped at the “Cave des Producteurs”[A winegrower co-op] created in 1953 by a small group of farmers. Today, close to 40 winemakers are responsible for picking, pressing and making the wine in their respective properties. They then provide a minimum of 50% of their wine to the co-op for sale to the public.
A couple of things to remember when visiting cellars:
- Check hours of operations and tours prior to getting there. We had to wait for an hour before doors opened.
- English guided tours are provided in season.
- There are cost associated with the visit of the Museum and the guided tours.
- There is no cost associated with the wine tasting.
- It is hard to bring bottles back on a bike. We had to drive back the following day. [And taste wines again, DARN!]
Bringing wine back to the US is pretty easy, as long as you have a way to transport it. We use a special suitcase with hard casing and wrap every bottle in a clear reusable bottle protector. [Wine TravelPak]. Make sure to declare the value on your customs’ form. You are authorized up to $800. You may have to pay taxes, but it is still worth it.
Here is a list of some of the wines made in the region, just to name a few some of them are available in the U.S.:
- Vouvray and Vouvray Pétillant
- Crémant de Loire
- Nicolas de Bourgueil
- Pouilly Fumé