Finding solid ‘go-to’ regions that offer affordable, reliable, and downright delicious wines is one of the first steps to becoming a savvy wine drinker. One thing I always remind our guests here at Verve Wine is that good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. More often than not, we pop wines to drink now, usually in a low-key setting among friends and family. So why break the bank when there’s a whole world of great, affordable juice just waiting to be discovered? I know what you’re thinking: How do I go about finding these hidden gems? Well, leaning on trusty go-to regions is a start, and the Loire Valley is most definitely one of the best in the game.
In the vast world of wine drinking, the Loire Valley might just offer one of the best quality-to-price ratios there is. Head to the Loire section of your local wine shop and see for yourself. Many bottles will have a relatively affordable price tag, and most fall under the $50 mark. What I love most about the affordable wines from this region is that you can count on them. They’re well-made, easy-drinking, and extremely versatile on the table. What more could you want for a no-frills weeknight wine?
A bit about the region: The Loire Valley is divided into three major sections, appropriately referred to as the Upper Loire, Middle Loire, and Lower Loire. The Upper Loire, which is the easternmost section of the region, is best known for the Sauvignon Blanc producing appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Here, silex soils create flinty notes of gunsmoke and wet rocks in regional whites. Small amounts of Pinot Noir are vinified here, too. As we approach the Middle Loire, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot start to fade, and are replaced by Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. A smattering of other fun red varieties are cultivated here too, including Pinot d’Aunis, Grolleau, Gamay, and Côt (Malbec in the local dialect). The famed appellations of Touraine, Anjou, Saumur, Chinon, and Vouvray are found here, the latter of which is also known for its sparkling and sweet wine production. The Lower Loire is where the region’s namesake river meets the salty Atlantic Ocean. Here, vineyards are planted with the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which create the thirst-quenching, marine-influenced wines referred to as Muscadet.
The Loire Valley’s 75,000 hectares have a relatively cool and continental mesoclimate, which keeps acidity in the region’s wines relatively high. Year-round temperatures are moderated by the Loire River and the Atlantic Ocean. Soil diversity is another defining characteristic of the region.
To the east, Lower Loire vineyards in the Pays Nantais are rooted in volcanic soils comprised of granite, gneiss, and abundant minerals. Around Anjou, slate and schist soils dominate the vineyards. Saumur and Touraine’s vineyards are characterized by the region’s famed tuffeau limestone soil, and in the Eastern Loire, limestone and siliceous clay reign king.
Overall, the Loire Valley has 87 appellations under the AOC and Vin de Pays systems. Whites, reds, and rosés are produced in both still and sparkling formats. The region’s sweet wine production is characterized by late-harvested and/or botrytized Chenin Blanc, which is centered around the areas of Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume, and Bonnezeaux. The Loire Valley has also become synonymous with a hands-off style of wine production, thanks to the region’s many farmers who cultivate their vineyards organically and biodynamically, as well as implement minimalist mentalities in the cellar. Honest and pure winemaking that translates into good wines at an affordable shelf price? The Loire’s certainly got my attention!
As the locals would say, santé!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ‘Granite’ 2017
Domaine de l’Ecu was one of the first estates to practice organic viticulture in the Loire Valley, proudly boasting 40+ years of certification. The winery has also been certified biodynamic for over two decades, as they believe that honest wines come from healthy, chemical-free vineyards. The folks at l’Ecu also believe that wines should be bottled based on soil type (as opposed to appellation), hence the inspiration behind the names of their individual cuvées. Fruit for this hand-harvested, varietal Melon de Bourgogne comes from a 3 hectare parcel of 45-55 year old vines and is fermented with indigenous yeasts. The wine undergoes extensive lees aging in under-ground vats. The final wine is crisp and textured, showing pronounced flavors of tart citrus, chalk, oyster shell, and flinty wet stones.
PAIRING IDEAS: Melon de Bourgogne and seafood go hand in hand. Whether mussels, scallops, or freshly shucked oysters are on the menu, look no further than this bottle of Muscadet.
Domaine Musset-Roullier ‘Le Moulin de Châteaupanne’ 2017
Domaine Musset-Roullier is a joint venture between Serge Roullier and Gilles Musset, both of whom represent the third generation of their respective winemaking families. Founded in 1994, the duo’s 14 hectare estate sits between Angers and Nantes, located in the small village of La Pommeraye. Here, blue schist and limestone soils are dotted with marine sediment and ancient fossils, dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Fruit for ‘Le Moulin de Châteaupanne’ is hand-harvested, fermented with native yeasts, and aged on the lees in steel tanks. Floral-driven notes of citrus, green apple, and almond dominate the palate, leading to a vibrant, satisfying finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This steel-aged Chenin Blanc is insanely fresh and fruit-forward, pairing perfectly with white fish dishes, porkchops, and Thai curry.
Domaine Laporte Sancerre ‘Le Rochoy’ 2017
Domaine Laporte was first founded in 1850 in the village of Saint-Satur and was operated by René Laporte until 1986. René was considered a serious pioneer of the Sancerre appellation, advocating for low yields and high-quality fruit. Respected neighboring vigneron Henri Bourgeois purchased the winery from Laporte, which is now maintained (and operated just as vigilantly) by his grandsons Arnaud and Cedric. The estate has 30 hectares of organic vines and sources additional fruit from Domaine du Rochoy, a monopole vineyard dug into a hillside on the banks of the Loire. The 2017 ‘Le Rochoy’ is crisp and weighty, showing flavors of grapefruit, lime, and green apples. The region’s signature silex soils add distinct notes of gunsmoke and flinty character to the wine’s long, lingering finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: The naturally high acidity found in Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre is the ideal match for fresh seafood and salads, as well as a variety of soft cheeses, especially goator Brie.
Charles Joguet Chinon ‘Cuvée Terroir’ 2017
Charles Joguet left his art career behind and took over his family’s domaine back in 1957, convincing them to halt fruit sales to négociants and instead bottle wines under their own name. Today, the winery is operated by Kevin Fontaine, who meticulously farms the estate’s 36 hectares of Cabernet Franc. Like Charles, Fontaine is a strong believer in lieu-dit bottling and emphasizing microclimates, leading to precise, terroir-driven bottles full of structure and complexity. ‘Cuvée Terroir’ is the winery’s entry-level red and highlights the unique, harmonious blend among the estate’s various growing sites. The must ferments for 10 days and is vinified entirely in steel, creating a food-friendly wine with flavors of black cherry, graphite, and earth.
PAIRING IDEAS: The earthy red fruit flavors found in this varietal Cab Franc make it a no-brainer for grilled meats, roasted portobello mushrooms, and vegan lentil chili. Serve with a slight chill.