The Loire is one of France’s most distinctive wine regions. From its interior around Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre, the mighty river flows past the limestone cliffs of Vouvray and on through Tours, Saumur and Angers, until it reaches Nantes and the Atlantic, carving a graceful arc through Northern France.
This is white wine country. Every other bottle produced along the river bank is white, with muscadet dominating on the coast before chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc take over further inland. While the Loire’s reputation may have been forged on its whites, the area also has a long history of producing reds – which account for around a quarter of production – and rosés, which make up a further eighth.
Two of the Loire’s most famous appellations – or wine-making areas – are Rose d’Anjou, which produces pink wines, and Touraine, where sauvignon blanc is queen. And it was these two appellations that were on show when the Vins du Val de Loire marketing agency rolled into Edinburgh and served up a selection of wines at Café St Honore, with wine expert Tom Cannavan on hand to guide guests through the bottles served at the dinner and Phoebe Weller – better known as the “roving fromage” – pairing the wines with a delicious array of cheeses.
Eric Legrand Rosé d’Anjou 2014, £8 (Marks & Spencer)
Our evening opened with a glass of Rose d’Anjou to get the juices flowing and this example from M&S rose to the occasion. It had a richer raspberry shade than the two paler rosés that followed, with its higher levels of residual sugar balancing out the fresh acidity that got our taste buds going for what was to follow. Light strawberry and raspberry flavours made it an ideal aperitif.
La Jaglerie Rosé d’Anjou 2014, £7.99 (Oxford Wine Company)
Just like Eric Legrand’s rosé, this example is made from a blend of the grolleau and cabernet franc black grape varieties, which together have produced a wine with bright red cherry and redcurrant flavours, plus some of the herbier aromas associated with pink wines from Provenance in the South of France. Paler in colour but still packed full of fruity flavours, it was the bright acidity that really stood out for me, which also made it an ideal match for the chicken and ham hock terrine. I love rosés with charcuterie and cold meat, with the acidity of the La Jaglerie cutting through the fatty meats and the mayonnaise in the accompanying celeriac remoulade.
Domaine des Essarts Rosé d’Anjou 2014, £8.52 (Christopher Piper Wines)
My favourite of the three rosés on show, with a more rounded mouthfeel coming from the higher residual sugar. Yet there was still plenty of acidity on show to balance the sweetness and match with the fruity strawberry, raspberry and redcurrant flavours. Very nicely poised and a great match for several of the cheeses, including Chabis – a goat’s cheese from Golden Cross in Sussex – and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire.
Domaine de l’Aumonier Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2014, £9.95 (Stone, Vine & Sun)
This richer and riper style of sauvignon blanc really appealed to me, with the asparagus and green pepper aromas tempered by ripe pears and green apple, with the fruiter flavours coming through stronger on the palate. The riper fruit paired well with the Argyll sea trout tartare, softening the freshness of the fish and the accompanying cucumber and crème fraiche. An even better match came from the sauvignon blanc and Bonnet, a hard goats’ cheese made by Dunlop Dairy in Ayrshire.
Domaine Jacky Marteau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2014, £9.40 (Marks & Spencer)
With all its asparagus and gooseberry aromas and flavours and that familiar whiff often described as “cat’s pee”, you’d think from the nose that this sauvignon blanc came from further up the Loire valley in Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. There were warmer touches of peach and plenty of refreshing acidity, which made it a classy match for a dish of North Sea hake, served on crushed heritage potatoes, spinach, mussels and bisque. The sharp acidity cut nicely through the rich salty bisque and the buttery potatoes, reinforcing the classic pairing of sauvignon blanc with fish.
Les Marcottes Touraine Gamay 2012, £9.95 (Lea & Sanderman)
The dark horse of the tasting; a red among whites and rosés. Gamay is best known as the backbone of Beaujolais, but here in the Loire it has been used to create the ultimate antidote to the sea of bland mass-produced brands. Tom described Les Marcottes as “funky”, invariably a sign that drinkers will either love it or loath it. And indeed it split the room 50:50, with its bubble-gum and red cherry aromas appealing to many, but its deeper notes of wet dog and warm farmyard odour putting others off. It made an interesting accompaniment to some of the cheeses though, especially the Landana Rosso goats’ cheese from the Netherlands, with its full aroma and nutty taste.