Guide to Loire Valley Wineries
The Loire Valley is known for its glorious châteaux, goat cheese, rolling green pastures, and unique, food-friendly wines. Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc hail queen & king of Loire Valley grapes, but producers make a range of styles from sparkling to sweet. We spent a long weekend exploring the Touraine & Anjou-Saumur wineries and prepared your guide Loire Valley winery guide.
Things to Know About the Loire Valley
The Loire River is the longest in France, so the area covers an enormous 280 kilometers. There are four distinct Loire Valley wine regions that stretch from central France to the Atlantic Ocean (from East to West): Central Vineyards, Touraine, Anjou-Saumur, and Pays Nantais. We only had time to visit the Touraine & Anjou-Saumur. There they produce the area’s most famous grapes, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. Central Vineyards are best known for Sauvignon Blanc made in Sancerre, and the Pays Nantais is known for Muscadet Sevre et Maine.
The Loire is an agricultural region with green pastures and cattle, as well as a historical region. Many empires fought for its riches, from the Romans to the Hun, and you can now visit the area’s many fortified castles that once belonged to area aristocrats. The Loire Valley became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. In addition to the countryside and château, the Loire Valley is home to several chic cities, including Orléans, Tours, Saumur, Angers, and Nantes.
Due to its size and plethora of sites, it’s best to choose a small area to cover. We stayed in Chinon, the area’s most famous red wine village, and about 45 minutes West of Tours. You’ll definitely need a car to get around, although any of the cities listed in the last paragraph will have a train station at which you can rent one.
The Guide to Best Wineries in the Loire Valley
Vouvray & Montlouis-sur-Loire Guide
Vouvray is one of France’s leading white wine villages, known for the aromatic and textured Chenin Blanc grape. Winemakers in the area do quite a bit with the grape, from petillant (semi-sparkling) to moelleux and liquereux (lusciously sweet). Montlouis-Sur-Loire is just across the river from Vouvray and is very similar in style, but perhaps with less intensity.
Domaine Huet was founded in the 1920s but is now owned by an Asian-American family. It produces some of Vouvray’s most prized wines with a particular emphasis on single-vineyard sites. When the founding family built the Domaine, they used unique chalky limestone soils from the area called tuffeau to structure the cellar. It’s naturally temperature-controlled and humid (learn more about vineyard soil types here). There’s such a close connection between earth and cellar at the Domaine that you can literally see the vines’ roots as you walk through the vineyards.
Domaine Huet only produces Chenin Blanc, but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-trick pony. Each vineyard plot has its characteristics, and Chenin is a grape capable of making everything from brut zero to lusciously sweet dessert wine.
The winemakers at Huet let the vintage guide their hand, so in some years, most of the wines are off-dry, whereas others hardly make any sweet wine at all. Their sparkling wines are riddled by hand and age beautifully. In their youth, the wines are lively with grapefruit and ginger aromatics and develop more saffron and honey notes over time.
Winemaker Jacky Blot makes precise & elegant organic wines from 25 hectares in Montlouis-Sur-Loire and Vouvray. The man welcomed us himself for a Saturday-morning group tasting with other professionals. He managed to keep around 15 of us engaged with stories of his philosophy and various plots, including several monopoles (single vineyard sites owned by the domain).
Taille aux Loups is known as well for its sparkling wines, but it was the monopole Le Clos de Mosny, a Chenin Blanc monopole with intensity and round texture, that stole the show. He produces his whites from Montlouis under the label Domaine Taille Aux Loups—a brand that I often favored for wine pairings as a sommelier in San Francisco—and his reds from Bougeil under the label Domaine de la Butte.
Other Vouvray/Montlouis-Sur-Loire Wineries
Chinon is Loire’s most famous town for red wine from Cabernet Franc, although producers are also permitted to make white from Chenin Blanc. Cabernet Franc turns out intense raspberry and tobacco aromas from the appellation, and the texture of the wine varies depending on the soil type on which it was grown. I find that the clay soils produce a more brooding, deep style; the tuffeau limestone tends to be elegant and lifted, whereas the sandy-alluvial earth named varennes has a brighter, aromatic style. Bourgeuil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgeuil across the Loire river from Chinon also make Cab Franc.
Set in the southern side of the Chinon appellation in the picturesque Val de Breton, Domaine Noblaie dates back several winemaking generations, dating back to the mid-1700s. The current family acquired the property in the 1950s, but you can still see the historic caves, including a 100-year-old vat in the tasting room.
We were incredibly late and arrived about 45 minutes before the 6 pm curfew during COVID, but we were welcomed with open arms. It seemed that the family lived on-site, as dogs and children were playing at the top of the hill overlooking the vast stretch of vineyards boarded by trees.
Noblaie was one of the warmest visits and equally one of the most beautiful domains that we visited, so I recommend spending more time than we had. Noblaie is Ecocert, meaning the winery operates both with organic standards in the vineyards and sustainable practices at the winery. Their wines pack a lot of quality for the price; one of my favorites was their oak-aged Chenin, Part des Anges.
We almost missed our tasting with Pascal Lambert but the passionate winemaker welcomed us to his 18h property in Cravant les Coteaux et Chinon at 9 am on a Sunday. (Unlike the USA, wineries are typically closed for tastings on Sundays in France). The biodynamic and organic vineyards had a healthy growth of green grass between the vines. He makes a considerable amount of red, white, and rosé from his land—we spent four hours tasting through them!
Pascal has no problem expressing himself and experiments with winemaking in amphoras from the Roman era. His daughter is a graphic designer, so the labels are as expressive as the wines themselves. The range leads in with an entry-level Chinon rosé and ascends to age-worthy reds, aromatic Chenins, and even amphora-aged orange wine!
Other Bourgeuil & Chinon wineries
- Château de la Grille
- Pierre and Bertrand COULY
- Domaine Yannick Amirault
- Domaine Saut au Loup (formerly Domaine Dozon)
The Anjou-Saumur is Loire’s largest and most diverse region. It creeps closer to the Atlantic ocean, so there is more maritime influence than in the Touraine. The temperatures are a bit milder, and I find the wines lighter and more approachable than those of Chinon. AOP whites must be Chenin Blanc, but in addition to Cab Franc, winemakers can use Cabernet Sauvignon or Grolleau in their reds. Most of the Loire’s crémant, or sparkling wines, come from Saumur.
Château Targé is a proper castle in the Saumur region, passed through generations of a winemaking family. Paul, the current winemaker, is young and forward-thinking; he is currently transitioning the estate to organic and experimenting with new styles and labels. The family built their long cellar into the hillside using the tuffeau soils; it’s as practical as it is impressive. The vineyards above it stretch across the plateau Parnay and seem to get decent sun exposure.
I was impressed with the range, especially for the price point. Château de Targé over-delivers for the price and ages gracefully.
If you want the flexibility of a drop-in tasting or an easy stop from downtown Saumur, the Maison aux Vins offers tasting flights with the region’s many styles. I discovered a few new producers here; the tasting staff was both knowledgeable and patient. It’s also an excellent place to find some value, with great wines as low as 7€/bottle.
Other Anjou-Saumur wineries
While Vouvray is famous for its round and often off-dry Chenin Blanc, Savennières is its dry cousin in the Anjou-Saumur. The complex whites develop honey and quince aromas with time and often show slight nutty oxidation. Unlike many of Loire’s applications, the steep vineyards in Savennières are composed of blue schist mixed with volcanic debris. There aren’t many wineries in Savennières, but quality is high. It is also rather far from Tours, but found it to be a necessary stop for our Loire Valley winery guide!
Winemaker Nicolas Joly is a global thought leader in biodynamic wines and may be the most prolific winemaker in all of the Loire Valley. His historic 12h Savennières estate, Château Roche aux Moines, sits high above the Loire’s north bank. Its long history and unique terroir granted it as one of France’s three AOP monopoles for white wines. Another, Coulée des Serrants, is Joly’s strictly biodynamic vineyard also produced at the estate. Initially planted by Cicerstian Monks, 2020 was the vineyard’s 890th consecutive vintage (not a typo).
The property is perfectly picture-worthy, with opportunities to stroll through the vibrant vineyards and scope out a view of the Château Roche aux Moines. The tasting itself was incredibly brief. After we drove nearly two hours from Montlouis-Sur-Loire, we were welcomed with about 10 minutes of tasting and little information about the winery. Still, the history of the mad-scientist winemaker’s vines is enough to warrant a visit. If you’re lucky, Joly himself will tell you everything you want to know (and then some) about biodynamic winemaking.
Other Savennières wineries
Loire Valley Winery Guide: When to Visit
The Loire Valley is beautiful year-round. We went in early spring when pastures were green and wineries had a bit more time on their hands. I imagine there isn’t a wrong time to visit the Loire Valley, but it does get cold in the winter and busy around harvest in August/September. As many of the wineries are relatively small, you are often lucky enough to taste with the winemaker—but that means that they might be busy making wine when you want to visit! Between castle visits and cheese tours, you’ll luckily have plenty to keep yourself busy when you’re not tasting wine.