Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Exploring Loire Valley: Wineries near Saumur

Living in California, I have a definite bias toward California and Pacific Northwest wineries. I adore American wines - they are close to me and familiar. After traveling in Italy, I was able to round out my wine tastes with some Italian wines that I enjoy. French wines have remained a mystery to me, mainly due to their astonishing price point here in the U.S. and the fact that I know very little about them.

Now with friends living in France and a couple of friends in the wine business, a rather ad-hoc trip to the Loire Valley sprang up over the summer. Not only were we headed to France, but we were going to the lesser known (in the U.S.) wine region. So - let the adventure begin!

Loire Valley is mainly a cabernet franc and sparkling wine (Cremant de Loire) region. Chenin Blanc turns up (especially in the Cremant), depending on the area. We spent most of our time in the Anjou region of the Loire - this Valley is much, much larger than I expected!

Mmm... look at all those bottles aging and waiting...
So let's start with our first day: We left the Mill and went into Saumur on the Loire river to visit Les Caves de Louis de Grenelle. Not much of a looker from the outside - it is in town - but the staff were very helpful and the sparkling wines were superb. Then came the surprise - the actual caves. Dug out of limestone for building the chateau, they are massive and very, very extensive. I could have wondered in here for days, but we had more places to visit....

Next up was Chateau du Hureau, where cabernet franc is the ruling grape. The Chateau sits up on a hill with the caves dug into the cliffside. It is a beautiful place that produces bold, robust wines. Cabernet franc is not an easy grape to grow and seems to be one that needs to be aged to bring out the subtleties in it. For American palettes, accustomed to cabernet franc turning up only as a blending grape, these French wines may be a bit startling. A good cab franc really needs food to bring out the nuances and showcase what is best about it.

Our final stop along our Saumur path was Chateau de Villeneuve. This winery focuses on organic growing and produces superb Saumer-Champigny reds and an excellent dessert wine.

The wineries of Saumur were an unique experience for me. The red wines being used in the tasting rooms were all young. While drinkable right away, you could tell they would benefit from aging. The sparkling wines of the region were a delightful surprise. The best part of it all: the most expensive bottle was 17 euros. Most bottles were under 10 euros. Now if it weren't for those pesky customs rules coming back to the US....

-- Happy Sniffing, Swirling, Sipping!


  1. I was positively impressed by Loire Valley wines: here you can find my report http://www.cellartours.com/blog/france/french-travel/wine-tours-and-tastings-in-the-loire-valley-part-1

  2. Loire Valley is fantastic. There are so many vineyards on offer here. This will give my guests tips and ideas on the vineyards to visit as we are located on 30 mins away. Thanks for the tips.