Grant and I recently returned from a fabulous travel adventure in France. The primary reason for our trip was taking a small group of our Edmonton customers on a 7 day Viking River Cruise on the rivers of Bordeaux. In addition to an amazing week cruising (another story I’m working on) Grant and I visited the magical Loire Valley as well.
Fourth most popular tourist destination (after Paris, the Riviera and Provence), it is also the country’s largest white wine region and the third largest producer of AOC wines.
The Loire Valley is an aristocratic place. With more than 300 Chateaux or castles, beautiful gardens, expanses of agricultural lands, quaint villages and the long lazy river itself, it’s not hard to see how it became known as “Le Jardin de la France” (Garden of France).
Full of history, the romantic Loire Valley captured my imagination. From the natural beauty of the thousand kilometre river, expansive forests and lush landscape to the delightful Medieval and Renaissance architecture of buildings and castles, I found myself falling through time.
I imagined the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry Plantagenet in 1152 who would later become King Henry II of England. Being present in Chinon in 1429, when Joan of Arc persuaded the future King Charles VII to accept the French crown and defy the English, establishing France as an independent nation. Or in the 1500’s secretly listening to the heated conversations between Diana de Poitiers, mistress of King Henri II of France and Catherine de Medici, his Italian born wife in the magnificent hallways and rooms at Chateau Chenonceau. By this time, the Loire Valley was THE place for the aristocracy to enjoy their chateaux and hunting lodges with summer parties entertaining the glittering society of the day.
One could spend a lifetime exploring and learning about the colourful history of this beautiful part of France. But, one of the obvious reasons we visited The Loire Valley was to learn more about the wines of this area.
It was the Romans who organized viticulture in this region as early as 1 AD. A favourable climate and good river traffic, ensured success for a variety of grapes to grow and be sold to market. The area became a key supplier of wines to England and the Netherlands in the 1600’s in spite of frequent wars.
Dutch traders were key players in the wine industry here, influencing locals to plant vineyards with Muscadet and Folle Blanche in order to produce their new beverage “brandewijn” literally “burnt wine” which would eventually evolve into the popular French Brandy industry.
One winery we visited in particular, captivated me. Chateau de Parnay in Saumur. It used to be a fortress in the Middle-Ages, later becoming the property of the Duke of Anjou in the 15th century. It was subsequently attacked and burned during the Revolution. Afterwards, the Château was renovated back to the Renaissance style and then bought in 1887 by a revolutionary viticulturalist, Antoine Cristal who developed a very different type of vineyard on the property.
In 2006, the Château de Parnay was purchased by Mathias Levron and Regis Vincenot, very rich land owners and successful winemakers in the area. Since then, they have strictly followed the traditional wine making of the Loire region, which includes perfect control of the vine growing and wine making. Mathias and Regis also made the decision to convert their production into an organic wine process in respect of their values of quality, excellence and the environment. They now produce their wines as a First Growth quality level. Château de Parnay’s wines benefit from the ageing of every vintage in Troglodyte cellars located on the property.
The vineyard is made up of 26 hectares located in the area called Saumur-Champigny. The terroir of the Château de Parnay is made up of four plots of land that are all located in an exceptional calcareous clay soil. The first three plots of land are situated in a sector called “La Côte” (the Coast), between the municipalities of Parnay and Souzay-Champigny. The other plot of land is located in the municipalities of Dampierre Sur Loire called “la Butte de la Folie”. It is well known for the panorama and the early budding of the vines.
Grant and I drove into a small village just off the river following the signs to the tasting room which was literally carved into one of the many caves in this area. We were greeted by an immense and jovial man, Nicholas who spoke wonderful English. He immediately asked us to accompany him in his jeep as he had a very special place to show us.
After about 5 minutes bouncing along on tractor ruts through the endless vineyards, we stopped in front of a stone wall and stepped out. Nicolas beckoned us inside the walls where we found ourselves looking at rows upon rows of more walls with mature grape vines literally growing through the walls. Nicolas explained:
“Back in the late 1800’s, the viticulturalist, Antoine Cristal constructed 11 walls in a row at the same 2-meter height running east to west. The feet of the vines were planted on the north side, while the new growth is oriented on the south side through the wall. The idea behind this method was to give the vines the greatest protection and energy for optimal fruit maturity. He believed that the vines would produce better fruit due to heat radiated by the walls after absorbing it all day and releasing it at night. “
The “Clos d’Entre les Murs” of Château de Parnay is the only vineyard in France of its kind. It produces a white wine in the appellation Saumur Blanc using the Chenin Blanc grape on clay and limestone soils. Antoine Cristal wanted to make wines from the Clos d’Entre des Murs that rivaled those of Bordeaux and Burgundy, especially those from the Hospice de Beaune. With this in mind, in 1929 he bequeath many of the wines from Château de Parnay to the Hospice de Saumur. This method of cultivating is now outlawed in France.
The vineyard was indeed, fascinating. It has been lovingly maintained by the winemakers at Chateau de Parnay over the years and continues to produce delicious Chenin Blanc. We returned to the quaint tasting room to sample the Chenin Blancs and Cabernet Francs produced here, including a delightful Cremant de Loire, and a Rose de Loire in the Saumur Champigny style. The Clos d’Entre Les Murs wine from the special walled vineyard is available and in stock at Aligra Wine & Spirits.
Loire Wine Characteristics
White Wines of the Loire can be crisp and dry, or rich and aromatic. Their fruity aromas and refreshing acidity make them ideal food wines and the absence of oak makes them especially refreshing.
Rosé Wines The rosé wines of the Loire Valley are refreshing, full of flavor and are excellent for barbecues or picnics, and they pair very well with Asian cuisine. They can be dry or off-dry and the sweeter wines are the perfect transition wine for “white Zinfandel” drinkers who want to learn more about wine.
Red Wines The red wines of the Loire Valley from Cabernet Franc, range from fresh and fruity to rich and earthy, but they are never overpowering. The lighter ones can be served chilled at a summer barbecue, and the fuller bodied are excellent for companions for hearty dishes.
Sparkling wines The sparkling wines of the Loire have all the elegance one could want for celebrations, without the high price demanded of most Champagnes. Made in the Method Champagnois, (traditional method), these sparklers are a wonderful and affordable alternative to expensive Champagnes.
Sweet Wines The sweet wines of the Loire Valley are among the world’s best. They are affordable luxury — dessert in a bottle — that further demonstrate the amazing versatility of Chenin Blanc, harvested as a Botrytised late harvest style.
There is a very limited availability of Loire Valley Wines in Alberta. Some Anjou Roses, Vouvrays, Sancerres, Cabernet Franc and even a delicious dessert style wine -Bonnezeau is available. If you are interested in purchasing any, please contact us at the store.