The garden of France

by MAURICE LEE [email protected]

Maurice Lee has lived in the Algarve for five years but has been visiting for 20 years. He is a retired Cellar Master and is part of a local wine society. He is often invited to be a guest speaker to discuss wines and regularly holds tastings.

If you ever drove down to the Algarve from Calais, you will most likely have crossed the River Loire somewhere along the way.

If you missed it by going through Burgundy, then the next time you drive down make sure you take in the Loire Valley (Val de Loire).

The River Loire is the longest river in France and vineyards are planted on its banks for almost two-thirds of the 650 miles. With the exception of a few well-known wines, Val de Loire is not the best known French wine region, which is a shame. The most popular wines to be found here are Muscadet, Anjou, Saumur, Vouvray, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

Muscadet is a district near the mouth of the river where all wine bearing that name has to be made. It also has to be 100 per cent Muscadet grape.

The basic Muscadet can be made anywhere in the district. Then there is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. The grapes for this wine have to be grown between two rivers, the Sèvre and the Maine, which join the River Loire near Nantes.

The third Muscadet is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie. After fermentation has finished, the wine is left on the ‘lees’ (Sur Lie). The ‘lees’ are the dead yeasts left in the barrel and, as the wine is not transferred to a clean cask (racking), it matures on the ‘lees’. However, it has to be bottled, unfiltered before the following Easter. If Easter is very early, then it may be left until the end of April. This is probably the best Muscadet and will be a little dearer than the others, so it is very important that you read the label.

Moving upstream, Anjou, famous for Rosé D’Anjou, is the next wine district we get to. It’s a basic Rosé but if you really enjoy those lighter wines then go for Cabernet D’Anjou. The custom is to make their white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape although Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc may now be added.

As you continue east, Saumur, renowned for its sparkling wines, is well worth stopping at. ‘Still’ whites, reds and Rosés are also produced here, and Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon fans will feel at home. While in Saumur, try their Saumur-Champigny, possibly one of the best reds from Loire.

Just east of Tours are the vineyards of Vouvray where the two main white grapes are Chenin Blanc and Arbois. Grapes for their reds are usually Cabernet Franc (Breton) and Malbec (Cot). Styles of white wines are Sweet, Dry/Semi Dry. Take care when buying the whites as not all producers mention the level of sweetness. If the bottle is clear glass, you can see whether the colour of the wine is golden or pale straw. Golden will be sweet(ish). Sparkling wine will be dry and semi-sparkling dry/sweet. These are usually in green glass bottles.

At Orléans, the river turns south where you will find probably the two most famous wines produced in the Loire Valley. They are Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The whites are 100 per cent Sauvignon Blanc grape and, when drinking either of these wines, you get the true flavour of the grape.

Don’t confuse Pouilly Fumé with Pouilly Fuissé from Burgundy and made from the Chardonnay grape. They are very different wines.

There are many more wines produced in the Loire Valley but they may not be easily found in the Algarve.

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