This Episode's Region

Loire Valley

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley: Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé

The Loire Valley is located in central France along the middle of the Loire River, which originates in south-central France and empties into the Atlantic Ocean in northwest France near the town of St. Nazaire. The area is famous for its gently rolling hills dotted with centuries-old chateaux, charming towns, and picturesque parcels of land where asparagus, artichokes, cherries--and of course grapes--are grown.

Two outstanding appellations in the Centre-Loire region are Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Sancerre lies on the west bank of the Loire River in north-central France. Pouilly-Fumé is situated directly across from Sancerre, on the east bank. Both areas have a cooler, more continental climate than is typical in other parts of the Loire Valley. Summers tend to be short and hot, while winters there tend to be long and cold. The Loire River itself warms the zone by a few degrees, just enough to make the climate favorable to viticulture. The principle grapes found in this part of the Loire Valley are the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Noir. White, red, and rosé wines are produced in Sancerre. Pouilly-Fumé produces only white wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

Soil compositions in the Loire Valley are unusual and complex, contributing heavily to the diverse characteristics of wines produced there. Three main types of terroir exist in Sancerre alone. In the western part of the region, there is white earth, called terres blanches, which is chalky. Another terroir consists of gravel and limestone. In the eastern vineyards, the soil is flinty, causing it to impart a distinctive smoky flavor to the wine. Pouilly-Fumé has flint, limestone, and clay soils, and sometimes mixtures of soil types in varying combinations.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes naturally bud earlier and ripen later than other varieties. The cool climate of the Loire Valley slows the ripening of the fruit further, allowing more time to achieve balance between acidity and sugar levels, and to develop the wine's intensity and characteristic aromas, which reflect the terroir of each vineyard. Wines from these regions are often described as "fruity," "savory," and "zesty." They are characterized by smoky flavors and minerality.

For more on Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, click here.

Photo of Sancerre courtesy of BIVC.

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Tasting Notes From This Episode

•There is a long, documented history of wine-making in the areas now known as Sancere and Pouilly-Fumé. As far back as the first century A.D., Romans cultivated grapes around the distinctive chalk hill outcrops.  To learn more about the wines of the Loire valley visit www.loirevalleywine.com.

•In the late 19th century, phylloxera decimated the crops, almost all of them Pinot Noir and Gamay.  Some of the Pinot Noir survived, but replanting was primarily with the more disease-resistant Sauvignon Blanc vines which still dominate the area today.

•Cultivated primarily in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, the grape name “Sauvignon Blanc” comes from the French words sauvage, meaning “wild,” and blanc, meaning “white.”  Centuries ago, this green grape grew wild all over western France.

•The white soil (terres blanches) found in outcrops and valleys of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé is part of the larger chalk formation that stretches from England and across the heart of France.  This phenomenon is demonstrated well in the famous White Cliffs of Dover, which have a façade of white chalk (calcium carbonate) with streaks of black flint.

•In Pouilly-Fumé, the Sauvignon Blanc grape is called “Blanc Fumé.”  Although local wine often has a slightly smoky aroma derived from the flinty soil, the name was given because the grape skins of this variety literally have a gray, smoke-colored bloom on them.

•White wines from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are among the few that pair well with sushi.