The Loire river is 1,000km long, surfacing in southeast France, crossing half the country before reaching the Atlantic in Brittany. Holidaymakers know the final 500km stretch best for its beautiful countryside, spectacular châteaux, excellent food and of course, the wines. While we have taken the white wines of the Loire to our hearts – this is the home of Sauvignon Blanc Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Muscadet – we sometimes seem a little reluctant to try out the reds.
This started out as an article on the joys of Cabernet Franc, the main red grape of the Loire Valley, and somehow got hijacked by two other varieties, Pinot Noir and Gamay. I feature one Cabernet Franc, but will return to the subject. The other two grapes have improved hugely over the last decade; at one time, the Pinot Noirs were frequently thin and acidic, more like rosé wines than red, and dismissed as poor imitations of red Burgundy. Our tastes have changed, and so have the wines. Nowadays the best wines have a wonderful fragrance, and delicate just-ripe cherry fruits.
The best (and most expensive) Pinot Noirs of the Loire come from Sancerre, but many shops also stock a cheaper Vin de Pays. The catch-all Vin de France classification allows producers to blend Pinots from various parts of France, often with good results. Try the La Perrière Pinot Noir (€11.99) or Kiwi Cuvée (€9.99) from SuperValu.
Pinot Noir is also used to make some very good rosé wine, both in Sancerre and elsewhere. O’Briens has the very attractive fragrant Henri Bourgeois Pinot Noir Rosé (€15.95, second bottle ½ price).
Gamay is best known as the grape responsible for Beaujolais. In the past, Loire Gamay too could be tart and acidic, often with an unattractive earthiness. Frequently it was used to make inexpensive rosé wines. However, it too has changed.
Just about all of the Loire reds make for perfect summer drinking; Pinot Noir and Gamay are generally light in alcohol and low in tannins; they should be served at a cool temperature, 10-14 degrees Celsius. They go well with green spring vegetables and salads, soft goat’s cheese, and some fish, salmon and tuna, as well as white meats.
Other Gamays include the delicious biodynamic Domaine des Pothiers, Côte Roannaise (€19.50 from Terroirs in Donnybrook) and the organic Henri Marionnet Touraine Gamay (€16.65) from Le Caveau in Kilkenny and independents. For something completely different, try the ancient Pineau d’Aunis variety (try the stunning Rouge-Gorge Domaine de Bellivière, €39 SIYPS.com)
Terroirs in Donnybrook has an excellent selection of Loire wines, red and white, as does Searsons in Monkstown, Whelehans in Loughlinstown and SIYPS.com.
Gamay 2018, Touraine, Domaine a Deux
Easy rounded juicy rounded red fruits. Lovely summer wine. Serve cool with charcuterie and mild cheeses.
Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com
La Roncière Pinot Noir 2017, DB, IGP Vale de Loire, André Vatan
Very seductive soft sweet ripe strawberry and red cherry fruits; delicious by itself or The Sancerre Rouge (€24.50) from the same producer is even better. With cold salmon mayonnaise.
Stockists: Whelehan's Wines, Loughlinstown, whelehanswines.ie
Sancerre Rouge La Croix du Roy 2014, Lucien Crochet
Delicious soft fragrant mature delicate fruits – soft cherries a light herbal note and good acidity. Perfect with warm poached salmon.
Stockists: SIYPS.com; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Ely 64, Glasthule, Ely64.com; Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Galway, sheridanscheesemongers.com.
La Porte Saint Jean, Saumur 2015 , Sylvain Dittière
A superb, refined Cabernet Franc with intense ripe blackcurrants and red cherries, a touch of lead pencil, and a precise long elegant finish. With your finest organic roast chicken.
Stockists: Terroirs, Dublin 4, Terroirs.ie