As promised a few weeks ago, I’m giving over my column to the Loire Valley, a region I have holidayed in regularly since 1994.
If you are not flying, go via Brittany Ferries, from Cork to Roscoff.
You will feel you are in France as soon as you board — the buffet is legendary. Brittany is also wonderful and you need to stop at a crêperie, for a galette complète (with ham and egg) and a cup of cidre fermier, one of the great food/drink combinations.
Make sure you also seek out a Kouign Amann layered butter cake from a boulangerie, the food of the Gods and a great match for the dessert wines of the Loire.
South of Nantes is Muscadet and it is perfect with the seafood in that great city. In late August/September, watch out for the Bourru — the half-fermented cloudy and lightly sparkling first release of Muscadet.
The Guide Hachette des Vins is a good guide for visiting the Loire, as it rates the wines and gives opening hours and telephone numbers (some wineries like you to make an appointment).
I like to visit smaller regions in Anjou Villages, such as Anjou Côteaux de la Loire (eg, Château de Putille) and then make my way to Savennières, which has the best dry white wine in the region (see Baumard below).
Next, go to the Côteaux du Layon for dessert wine (definitely visit Domaine des Grande Vignes), and I recommend the Auberge de Cheval Blanc, in Thouracé, for lunch.
The reds in this part of the Loire are Cabernet Franc-based and besides the lovely towns of Saumur and Chinon, you should try to visit Bourgueil and St Nicholas de Bourgueil — Yannick Amirault is one renowned producer that was recommended to me by a reader, Barry O’Sullivan, and I concur — I also recommend Domaine des Forges.
Just past the city of Tours is Vouvray, for dry, sweet and sparkling, and then you are into Sauvignon territory and the famed prestigious regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.
For bargains, head to Quincy, Reuilly, and Menetou-Salon.
BEST VALUE UNDER €15
From the Robert and Marcel Caves in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg (just south of Saumur) in the heartland of Chenin Blanc/Cabernet Franc country.
This has aromas of straw and sweet lemon peel with good body and ripeness on the palate and steely balanced acidity on the finish.
Côteaux du Layon is the main Loire dessert wine appellation made along the Layon river, a tributary of the Loire.
A lighter style of dessert wine so suitable with cheese or light fruit desserts — honeyed and soft with sweet lemon and baked apple aromas, crisp and fresh with good acidity.
I realise this is over €15 but if you buy two bottles (or any other more expensive Rosé) you will get it for half price which is a steal. On limited allocation this is a relatively rare example of Pinot Noir Rosé from the Loire — ripe strawberry fruit aromas, crisp and fresh with great length and lingering chewy red fruit flavours.
BEST VALUE OVER €15
Henri Pellé is the most renowned producer in Menetou-Salon, which is just to the west of Sancerre.
The Bornés rouge (Pinot Noir) has lovely cherry fruits, while this has bright, minerally, lemon aromas, a pleasing, soft, citrus-and-apple infused palate and a lingering, bitter almond kick.
Savennières is based on three hills on the right (northern) bank of the Loire and is arguably the most interesting dry white on the river.
This had fine aromas of Parmesan cheese and lemon curd, with textured (lightly bruised) apple fruits and fruity intensity, with a lingering, chalky minerality. Their Anjou Chenin (€23) is also well worth a try.
Domaine des Baumard are based in the pretty village of Rochefort Sur Loire.
Intense, stony citrus aromas, with a hit of lime essence, textured and full-flavoured, with ripe pear and chalky citrus flavours and honeyed notes on the finish. The Clos du Papillon (€38) is even more fascinating.