Loire Valley Wine Guide: Pinot Noir
It might seem a little strange to some that I should focus on Pinot Noir as a major Loire variety. After all, until very recently it was a variety whose reputation rested on its performance in just one region, Burgundy, although today it also does very well in California and New Zealand. Nobody has yet added the Loire Valley to that list of Pinot regions (and if I tried to do so no doubt there would be some stiff opposition). In addition, the area planted to Pinot Noir in the Loire Valley is quite small compared to Cabernet Franc and Gamay. There are about 420 hectares in Sancerre and something in the order of 160 hectares in Menetou-Salon, these being the two big players. Add the plantings in the Massif Central, around Tours where it has a role in the many Touraine appellations, in Cheverny, Valençay and so on, and you probably get a few hundred more hectares. Compare it to the region’s 15,000 hectares of Cabernet Franc and it is clear Pinot Noir is a bit player.
Having said that, what a bit player this is. The quality available in Sancerre today is nothing like the cool, lean and tart red Sancerres of old. These are, in my opinion, some of the most noble wines in the entire Loire Valley, and they are some of the most interesting to drink (I have been adding them to my cellar since first discovering this ‘new’ Sancerre Rouge perhaps eight or nine years ago). It is for this reason Pinot Noir deserves a page of its own in this guide.
On this page of my guide I will look at Pinot Noir’s wines, especially those delicious first discoveries, and the moment at when I realised my view of red Sancerre had to change. First though, some detail on the variety itself, its genetic diversity and origins, and how and where it can be found in the Loire Valley.