Loire Valley Wines: Don't Forget The Reds!

Although France's Loire Valley is best known for its whites — like oyster-perfect Muscadet, quality sparklers from Saumur, and the perennial favorite, Sancerre — the region has some reds that should not be ignored. As it happens, red grapes once dominated this area, a former stomping ground of kings who set up residence in the Loire's grand chateaux. Whites eventually emerged as the region's signature wines, but the Loire's reds are up-and-coming — and delightfully affordable. Many of these wines, with the Loire's characteristic freshness and acidity, are best enjoyed young — though some do benefit from cellaring for a number of years. Give the following pours a swirl.

Touraine: Sixty percent of the red-grape harvest in this region is Gamay, a grape we know from light-bodied, easy-drinking beaujolais. Many wines are 100 percent Gamay, which produces soft, gentle wines, while others blend in Cabernet Franc and Malbec (known in these parts as Cot) for greater body and structure. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pineau d'Anuis, and Pinot Noir are sometimes part of a red Touraine blend as well.

To try: Touraine Rouge "Les Côts Hauts" by Mikaël Bouges: a Malbec whose ripe berry flavors and tannic qualities make it great with grilled foods, available through Astor Wines & Spirits.

Chinon: Cabernet Franc is the grape here, one we know from Bordeaux and Napa — but here it usually stands alone (though a blend with up to 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is permitted). These are the reds to buy for your cellar — many can be kept for 10 to 20 years. The younger, fruitier Chinons go well with grilled white meat while more the complex wines are perfect with game.

To try: Baronne Madeleine by Domaine Couly Dutheil: a peppery, well-structured wine with hints of tobacco, available through K&L Wine Merchants.

Sancerre: Who doesn't love Pinot Noir? The versatile, food-friendly grape is the only one used in Sancerre's red wines, which earned their own appellation in 1959. Before phylloxera hit in the late 19th century, Pinot and Gamay dominated the Sancerre region. Now reds make up only a small part of production, but these cherry-tasting vinos with lip-smacking freshness are worth seeking out.

To try: Sincerité Pinot Noir Rouge by Joseph Mellot: this wine is a gorgeous ruby color with a delicious fruity nose and taste, available through Millesima.

Earlier: Spending A Weekend In Sancerre | A Goat Cheese With A Serious Pedigree | The Art Of The Apéritif | Matching Muscadet With Oysters | Stay In The Caves | A Weekend Getaway From Paris | Exploring The Wine Region By Boat, Horse and Balloon | 10 Things You Didn't Know About Sancerre