Although many people think of the Loire as white wine country, a little under half of Loire wines are either red or rosé. Saumur Champigny, Bourgueil, Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and Chinon form the centre of the Loire’s red wine production. Based almost exclusively on Cabernet Franc, this is the source of the Loire’s finest reds, with the possible exception of top Sancerres made from Pinot Noir. There is a range of styles from easy-drinking reds bottled early to enjoy young to much more structured wines, usually planted on the limestone hillsides, that need time and in good vintages will last twenty years or more.
There are also some very good dry and sweet whites from Saumur, the best invariably made from 100% Chenin Blanc. Not forgetting that Saumur is the largest producer of sparkling wine in France outside Champagne with Crémant de Loire now the most important appellation.
The underlying limestone rock, known locally as tuffeau, also provides the region’s characteristic honey-coloured building material and in the excavations, cellars for ageing wine as well as troglodyte dwellings on hillsides were formed. The string of lovely châteaux – both world famous and unknown – found east of Tours continues to the west. Azay-le-Rideaux, Chinon, Ussé (the sleeping beauty château) and Villandry are the best known. There are also many beautiful villages and little hamlets that nestle in the gently undulating countryside.