Characterful wines from the Loire Valley

When it comes to ‘wine chateaux’, there are some in the central Loire Valley which surpass all others.

Chateau de chenonceau. Photograph: Marc Jauneaud
Chateau de chenonceau. Photograph: Marc Jauneaud

The magnificent multi-turreted stone buildings from the Renaissance period have a grandeur which can only be experienced in this region, home to the greatest concentration of historic chateaux in the world. Apart from the fascinating history and architectural charm, several of these chateaux have associations with local vineyards, producing delicious wines of great character.

The general wine region is the Touraine, and Sauvignon de Touraine abounds. Within this region are several more defined areas with their own appellations. One of the latest is Touraine Chenonceau, with vineyards surrounding the Château de Chenonceau, which spans the river Cher, tributary of the Loire. Since its inception in 2011, the surface area has grown by a factor of three, with more than 50 producers of mainly white, but some red, wines. Elegant, refined fruity, whites from Sauvignon Blanc sit alongside structured, supple reds made from Cabernet Franc and Cot – otherwise known as Malbec.

Touraine Chenonceau wines have a true sense of identity, combining the individuality of the Cher valley terroir with the dedication of the artisan winemakers, who strive to express the characteristics of the vineyards in their wines of great charm. Another famous chateau with wine associations is Chateau de Cheverny, inhabited by the same family for more than six centuries. The vineyards of Appellation Cheverny and CourCheverny are close by, white wine being mainly from a blend of sauvignon and chardonnay.

Cellars at Chateau de Chenonceau. Photograph: Marc Jauneaud

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The vineyards of the Appellation Touraine-Amboise surround the royal Château d’Amboise, perched above the Loire River upstream from Tours. Louis XI is known to have been enthusiastic about Touraine d’Amboise wine and declared in 1463 that as the quality was so high, it should be sold on the Tours market ahead of any other wine. Touraine Amboise wines first came to court in the reign of François I.

Château de Valmer is situated in the Vouvray Appellation and is a true wine producing chateau. Less grand than the foregoing Loire chateaux, the extensive gardens are spectacular, surrounded by a sea of green countryside and vineyards. Producing high quality Vouvray wines from 90 acres of pure Chenin Blanc for centuries, current production is around 280,000 bottles, stored and aged in centuries’ old cellars carved into the Tuffeau rock. Jean de Saint Venant, proud owner of the chateau, expertly oversees the vineyards and winemaking, resulting in a range of dry, medium and sweet wines together with a delicious sparkler. When I was a wine importer, as the exclusive agent, Vouvray Château de Valmer was one of my biggest sellers, but now you must visit the chateau and buy direct – another good excuse for a trip to the Loire Valley.

Further south is another grand, although lesser known chateau – that of Valencay, again lending its name to the vineyards of Appellation Valen ç ay . Jean-Francois Roy is a leading producer of Valen ç ay wines, with first-class pale rosé and dry, flinty white. Having just returned from the Loire Valley, I urge any of my readers to book a visit. The combination of grand, historic Renaissance chateaux, exquisite, classical gardens and mouth-watering wines is unforgettable.

Richard Esling is a wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. He runs agency and consultancy WineWyse, is founder and principal of Sussex Wine Academy and is chairman of Arundel Wine Society