France: Loire Valley

Central Vineyards of the Loire

The wines of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and their neighbours
By Jim Budd

This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2011
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Wine Travel Guide: France, Loire-Valley, Central-Vineyards-of-the-Loire

Autumn view over the Chavignol vineyards to the hilltop town of Sancerre. © Jim Budd

Wine Travel Guide: France, Loire-Valley, Central-Vineyards-of-the-Loire
Wine Travel Guide: France, Loire-Valley, Central-Vineyards-of-the-Loire
The map above does not cover the complete extent of this micro-region. On the left its position is indicated within the main wine region.

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Sauvignon Blanc's beautiful heartland

If spectacular and beautiful vineyards are what you are looking for then the Central Vineyards, in particular Sancerre, is the place for you. Sancerre’s steep vineyards have a grandeur that you will find nowhere else in the Loire. The best time to visit is in the autumn to catch the hills in a blaze of yellow, gold and red vine leaves. Here and on the other side of the Loire in Pouilly as well as the smaller appellations of this region is the heartland of crisp, dry and mineral Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has propelled Sancerre and this part of the Berry district in 50 years from a poor, backward part of France to the Loire’s best known and wealthiest vineyard.

Before the arrival of the scourge of phylloxera Sancerre was largely red wine country with Pinot Noir as the most important variety. There has been a gathering red revolution over the past 15 years as producers have started to take Pinot Noir seriously again. Although Sancerre rosé is often uninspiring and expensive, there are now some reds that offer competition to the village wines of Burgundy.

Also worth visiting are the more pastoral and rolling vineyards of Menetou-Salon as well as Quincy and Reuilly down in the Cher Valley and a trip to George Sand country (the French writer) should include Châteaumeillant. Also it is worth remembering that Chablis and the other Auxerrois vineyards are much closer to Pouilly than the vineyards of Touraine and Anjou. It may well make sense to combine these two areas rather than the more westerly Loire vineyards.


Pouilly and Sancerre are at the end of the Kimmeridgean (marly) soil crescent that runs down from the Aube and through Chablis, so the dominant rock is limestone. Plots vary considerably, from pure limestone (known locally as chaillotes), to clay and limestone on the steep, higher vineyards, and even areas of very flinty soil. Each soil type influences the wines: those from the chaillotes are the lightest and ready to drink earliest while from the clay-limestone (argilo-calcaire) the wines will age longest. Wines from flinty soils (silex) typically have a lightly smoky and mineral character.

The climate for much of the region is semi-continental. Sancerre and Pouilly are 400km from the sea and little or no oceanic influences permeate this far. Winters can be cold with spring starting considerably later than in Touraine. The Quincy and Reuilly appellations have a more moderate climate as some oceanic influences come up the Cher Valley, so both bud break and the harvest here are usually a week or so ahead of Menetou, Pouilly and Sancerre.

Basic information

How to get there

These are the Loire’s closest vineyards to Paris. By road Sancerre and Pouilly are around a two-hour drive (205km) via the A6 and A77 motorways. For Sancerre exit at Junction 24 and take D4 and D955. For Pouilly exit junction 25. The completion (December 2007) of the last section (St Aignan to Tours) of the A85 – Angers to Vierzon motorway has made it much easier to travel along the Loire. The A85 joins the A71 near Vierzon. By rail trains from the Gare du Lyon in Paris serve Gien, Cosne-sur-Loire and La Charité. Trains from Gare d’Austerlitz serve Vierzon and Bourges and it takes around two hours to Bourges and Vierzon. The nearest major international airports are Paris Orly and Paris Charles de Gaulle. There are flights from the UK to Tours.

Useful information

Sancerre Tourist Office,
Nouvelle Place, 18300 Sancerre

Tel: 02 48 54 08 21

Bourges Tourist Office,
21 Rue Victor Hugo, 18000 Bourges

Tel: 02 48 23 02 60

Loire Valley Tourism (for the Central Region).


Wines of the Loire Information.


Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Centre,
9 Route de Chavignol, 18300 Sancerre
Note: This does not include the wines of Pouilly-Fumé (see below).

Tel: 02 48 78 51 07 Fax: 02 48 78 51 08

Syndicat Viticole de l'Aire AOC de Pouilly,
Maison des Vignerons, 2 Rue des Ecoles, 58150 Pouilly-sur-Loire

Tel: 03 86 39 06 83 Fax: 03 86 39 06 88

Maison des Sancerre,
3 Rue du Méridien, 18300 Sancerre

Tel: 02 48 54 11 35 Fax: 02 48 54 19 96

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