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 wine styles


Crisp, aromatic whites made from Sauvignon Blanc are the dominant wine style in the Central Vineyards. Most of the wines are made in stainless steel tanks, bottled young and designed for fairly early drinking. The best, however, can age for up to 10 years. When the autumns are particularly good a tiny amount of sweet wine is made. There are a small number of barrel fermented examples and these are generally richer and more concentrated. Sancerre remains a benchmark for dry Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit, gooseberry and occasionally tropical fruit are typical flavours. The wines shouldn’t be pungently vegetal – a reek of cats’ pee is a sign of unripe Loire Sauvignon Blanc. Menetou Salon is of a similar style but does not hit the heights that the best Sancerres can reach. Pouilly-Fumé tends to be a little rounder and less aromatic than Sancerre. Unfortunately the average quality of Pouilly is below that of Sancerre and it can frequently be disappointing. When first bottled Quincy and Reuilly can be attractively crisp and lemony. With a few months in bottle they take on a little more weight.


Throughout the region reds play a minor role with Pinot Noir the chief variety and Gamay also used in the Coteaux de Giennois and Châteaumeillant. Most reds are light and easy-drinking with raspberry and strawberry fruit and should be drunk young. Many are dilute, however a number of top producers, especially in Sancerre, but also a few in Menetou-Salon, have reduced their yields and are now producing serious reds that can bear comparison with at least village Burgundy, some even with Premier Crus.


Rosés here are dry and typically pale-coloured but rarely memorable. I can’t remember ever being excited by a Sancerre Rosé – often perfectly pleasant but not worth the extra money that the cachet of Sancerre and Pinot Noir commands. There are more interesting and better value rosés in other parts of the Loire. Most unusual are those made from Pinot Gris in Reuilly.

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