Wine of the Week: My bike journey through France’s Loire Valley

Palatial châteaux are perched on verdant green hills overlooking a meandering river. Below, vineyards are dotted throughout the valley like multicolored sprinkles on an ice cream sundae. If this sounds a bit like a postcard from a fairy tale story, it’s not far off. The Loire Valley in France is one of the most picturesque places in Europe, and I recently had the privilege of exploring this lovely region from the seat of a bike.

I joined a group of friends for a six-day biking adventure through the rolling — sometimes challenging — hills of the Loire Valley while drinking in the beauty of the land, as well as the wines.

The Loire Valley is a strip of land that juts out from the middle of the country, just below Paris, and heads due west, toward Brittany and the Atlantic Ocean. The region has traditionally been known mostly for its white wines, but recently, production of Cabernet Franc has picked up.

The white varietals of Muscadet, sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc are mostly grown down near the river’s edge, while vineyards of Cabernet Franc are planted further up the banks.

Read part one: Biking — and drinking — my way through Loire Valley

There are three main viticulture regions, or “appellations,” in the valley. Starting along the Atlantic coast, the Muscadet region is home to Muscadet. Inland from Muscadet is Anjou and Chinon, where red wine made from Cabernet Franc rule the vineyard. Further inland are the regions of Vouvray and Sancerre. The white wines from Sancerre are made from sauvignon blanc and are typically dry, fresh and fruity. Vouvray, on the other hand, is made from chenin blanc and the wines tend toward a fuller, rounder feel with flavors of lemon, tropical fruits and wet stones. Moelleux is the richer style of Vouvray, which has a deeper golden color and has flavors of honey, caramel and pears.

There is also a vibrant sparkling wine culture in the valley, where Crémant de Loire accounts for the second largest sparkling wine produced in France, after Champagne, of course.

The wines of the Loire Valley have been actively sought out by knowledgeable collectors in Europe for decades. But, here in the U.S., they have been traditionally overshadowed by their French cousins from Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley.

And though I am not out to start a marketing revolution, I wouldn’t mind tipping the scales a bit by bringing some of these remarkable wines to your attention.

If you can’t manage to swing a bike trip to the Loire Valley to take in the breathtaking beauty personally, then maybe a trip to your local wine shop will do the trick. I suggest that you pick up a bottle or two of Loire Valley wine and then repeat after me: “There’s no place like the downhill side of a mountain, there’s no place like the downhill side of a mountain …”

Last week, I covered a couple of wines from Vouvray and Sancerre. This week, I want to share some of my favorite red wines from this remarkable region.

The Chinon appellation in the Loire Valley offers up a lot of delicious values, such as the 2016 Domaine De La Colline Chinon. It features scents of cherry cola and strawberries on the nose with a good amount of red cherries and red plums on the palate. The finish is easy and smooth, and would pair well with either roast pork loin or soft cheeses. $15

The 2015 Chateau de Fosse-Séche has a deep ruby color and a lovely nose of red cherries and oak. The palate offers up lots of intense red fruit such as cranberries and red raspberries, with hints of red licorice on the finish. This is definitely a great example of how full and rich this varietal can get. I think it would go great with duck. $19

Not all red wine in the Loire Valley is made from Cabernet Franc. The 2015 Domaine de la Chezatte Sancerre Rouge is actually produced from 100 percent pinot noir fruit, thus the name Sancerre Rouge. It has a complex nose of red fruit and a touch of roasted coffee. It provides abundant fruit on the palate, mainly red cherries, red plums and black raspberries. The medium finish has very good structure, and could benefit from an hour or two in a decanter before serving. $25

Cabernet Franc can also prove to be a big wine with aging potential. The 2015 Charles Joguet Chinon Cuvée de La Cure is an expansive wine that is complex and full bodied. The nose has hints of rose petals and red cherries. This wine shines on the palate with lots of jammy fruit, red currents and hints of cedar on the polished finish. It has great structure and could use a year or two in the cellar — if you can wait that long. This wine was made for lamb chops. $28

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