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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Main grape varieties


Pinot Noir
A long established variety in the region, Pinot Noir and Gamay used to dominate Sancerre before phylloxera. An early ripening variety Pinot suits the northerly climate of this part of the Loire and does particularly well on limestone soils. It is the main variety for red and rosé wines in the Central Vineyards producing mainly light and easy drinking wines, though some more serious examples can bear comparison with at least village Burgundy.

Much more common in Touraine, although before appellation rules some was planted in Sancerre. Now only found in Coteaux de Giennois (blended with Pinot Noir) and Châteaumeillant where it gives generally light, easy drinking reds best served cool.


Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon is the dominant variety in the Central Vineyards and the one that has both made its reputation and brought wealth over the last 40 years to a previously poor region of France. Although originally a Bordeaux variety, it is very well adapted to the semi-continental climate and soils of the region. In general, the wines give classic aromas and flavours of gooseberry, grapefruit and lemon.

Only found in Pouilly-sur-Loire it faces extinction here and it’s difficult to see why, apart from historical curiosity, it should be saved - only 35ha remain - at best here it only produces ‘pleasant enough’ wines.

Pinot Gris
Used to make a pale rosé in Reuilly, which is often called Vin Gris. However, Pinot Gris is now losing out to the more popular Pinot Noir.

Planted in the Coteaux Charitois mainly at Les Pénitents making attractive mid-weight wines. The amount of Chardonnay here is likely to decline as the major producer Domaine Mellot is keen to plant more Pinot Noir.

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