Stretched along the mountains of central France, right out to the Atlantic, the Loire river winds its way through the fascinating wine region of the Loire Valley. The valley is split into four key sub-regions, the Nantais, nearest the Atlantic, Anjou-Saumur, in the heartland of the Loire, Touraine, 200 km inland, and the Central Vineyards, where the famous wines of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are made.
The key red grape varieties are Cabernet Franc and Gamay. Cabernet Franc really comes into its own in the Loire Valley and it can vary in style from the light wines of Chinon to the medium-bodied, oak-aged reds from Bourgueil. The key white grape varieties are Melon de Bourgogne and Chenin Blanc. Melon de Bourgogne is the key grape of Muscadet - grown primarily in the Nantais region, the style is bone dry, with refreshing acidity. Meanwhile, the region of Savennières produces some exceptional examples of Chenin Blanc - the wine often needs several years bottle ageing but develops intense fruit flavours and mineral complexity over time. Vouvray is also famous for its Chenin Blanc, where it is used to make dry and sparkling wines in cooler vintages. In warmer years, sweet wines are produced using grapes from noble rot, in a style similar to Sauternes.
The variety of climates and wine styles make it an exciting place for oenophiles to visit, but as it is such a vast region, it can be hard to narrow down your choice! To help you find the best tours in the Loire Valley, we’ve put together a list of our favourite chateaus and wineries to visit whilst you are there.
1. Bouvet Ladubay
Bouvet Ladubay, producer of fine sparkling wines, is the most visited winery in Saumur, a peaceuful region also known as 'the Garden of France'. The winery has received over 500 medals and awards, thanks to the consistently high quality of their wines. The winery welcomes visitors to discover its 8 kilometers of cellars dug into the local 'Tuffeau" stone. Wine lovers can visit the cellars on a vintage bike and discover the 'underground cathedral' - an ensemble of 35 monumental sculptures nestled in underground galleries - while learning about the bottle fermented "Méthode Traditionnelle" winemaking process.
2. Château des Vaults
Château des Vaults is situated in the heart of Anjou-Saumur in Savennières, a region renowned for its high-quality Chenin Blanc. The wine is full-bodied and dry with mineral complexity. Château de Vaults is an organic winery that forms part of a world heritage site. With its concerts, literature evenings, modern sculpture exhibitions and many other events, this winery is a popular destination for wine and art lovers. You can explore the beautiful biodiversity of the Loire Valley through a self-guided tour before enjoying a formal tasting of the wines, and if you’re bringing the kids, they won’t feel left out with their own grape juice tasting!
3. Pierre & Bertrand Couly
Pierre & Bertrand Couly is located in Chinon, in the Anjou-Saumur region. This winery’s cellar is impressively integrated into the hillside and covered with a roof of vines. Cabernet Franc thrives here and the limestone soil of the vineyards makes it perfect for producing ripe and fruity reds with silky tannins. The red elliptical tasting room offers a welcoming and comfortable area for wine tasting. You can even take a guided tour with Bertrand Couly himself!
4. Le Domaine des Vallettes
Le Domaine des Vallettes is a family-owned estate in Bourgueil in the Anjou-Saumur region. The winemaking technique has been passed down from father to son for eight generations, so they have had time to perfect their wines! As in Chinon, the Cabernet Franc grape is the star variety, producing fresh and lively rosé wines and delicious fruity reds.
5. Château Soucherie
Based in the Anjou sub-region, Château Soucherie prides itself on producing wines which truly reflect the excellent terroir, thanks to a minimum intervention approach. A speciality of the region, offered by the winery, is Anjou Blanc. This is made from fully ripe Chenin Blanc grapes and fermented and aged in new oak. The resulting wine is a refreshing blend of exotic fruits and white flowers. Many activities are offered at the Château, including tours and wine tastings, of course, and they even have a boutique hotel on site, where you can request your very own private chef to whip you up a gourmet meal!
6. Château de Minière
Château de Minière was built in the 17th century and covers 18 hectares of the Bourgeull region. The vineyard is certified organic for all of its wines, which include rosé and red wines made from Cabernet Franc. Historically, it was women who took charge of the estate, a tradition that today is continued by Kathleen Van den Berghe who maintains the best practices in winemaking, which respect both the terroir and the environment. Guests can enjoy a vineyard and park tour with a cellar visit and wine tasting.
7. Domaine Sauvète
Located in Monthou-sur-Cherin the Touraine region, Domaine Sauvète offers a nature break for anyone who visits. The winery is the work of four generations of a family who are truly passionate about producing natural, organic wines. They grow a number of varieties, from Sauvignon to Gamay, to produce many different styles of wine. Discover the vineyard and taste the amazing wines during themed workshops, tastings and story-telling evenings.
8. Les Caves du Père Auguste
Les Caves du Père Auguste is located in Civray-de-Touraine, in the Touraine region. The estate features cellars which were dug by hand underneath the hills of the vineyard over a century ago. For five generations, the owners of Les Caves du Père Auguste have handed down their passion for winemaking from father to son. An interesting variety of white, red, rosé and sparkling wines are made, with unusual ancestral varieties such as Côt. Join them for an introduction to the wines of the estate during a winery tour and tasting.
9. Domaine Coirier
Domaine Coirier is the most southerly of our Loire wineries, based in the region of Vendée, between Nantes and La Rochelle. The winery supports sustainable practices in viticulture and winemaking, using modern technology whilst retaining a respect for tradition. The varieties grown are a mixture of local and international varieties, such as Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Discover the unique selection of wines at a free tasting with the winegrower himself!
Need more information on where to go and things to do in the Loire Valley? Enjoy our free Food & Wine Travel Guide.
Title photo: thefrenchcellar.sg