The Loire River stretches 630 miles from central France to the Atlantic—the distance from Cincinnati to Manhattan—and its valley is made up of 87 growing regions along both sides. A map of the area looks oddly like an ill-formed Rorschach test. Tidy, it’s not. But it does produce a complex and varied group of world-class wines that work in harmony to offer something for everyone.
Famous for its sauvignon blancs, the Loire’s greatest are from Sancerre (A) and Pouilly-Fumé (B). Both are vivid and equally grand, but Sancerre is curvier and more obvious, while Pouilly-Fumé is refined and seductive. Case in point: Pascal Jolivet Sancerre ($30) and Francis Blanchet Pouilly-Fumé Vieilles Vignes ($18). Both are fantastic with a variety of foods, but especially heavenly with goat cheese. Sancerre is also available in red, made from the pinot noir grape. While not the normal growing partner of sauvignon blanc (that would be cab), it was historically most likely to ripen in Sancerre’s climate. Now that global warming has taken hold, the rouge is just as routinely beautiful, especially in the André Neveu Sancerre Rouge ($27), with its penetrating flavors of wild cherries and rosehips.
If cab is more your thing, you’ll want to head downstream to Chinon (C). It soars with red meats and a variety of cheeses. The Noiré Chinon Soif de Tendresse ($18) is a perfumed beauty with deliciously sleek black and blue fruits. For a grander version, try the Domaine de Pallus Chinon Les Pensées de Pallus ($25), which is a veritable silky titan of black fruit.
This disparate team of wines is anchored by the quintessential, shellfish-friendly wine known as Muscadet (D), from the region at the mouth of the Loire river. It’s incredibly flexible and deserves to be enjoyed alongside more than just seafood. I love the Domaine Guindon Muscadet ($11) with a stir-fry of chicken and straw mushrooms, but it’s also useful if you’re a night owl looking for a less potent late night companion.