409, not the cleaner (no, I favor Seventh Generation myself), instead 409 represents the number of bottles I have left to taste, after experiencing eight wines from Loire in the Northwest of France on Tuesday night. The Loire Valley has never been a hot spot on my radar of wine consumption; besides purchasing the occasional seven-fifty of Chinon, I have been otherwise willfully ignorant. I knew the area better for pears (D’anjou) than wine. A locals-only region gobbled up by the French and having little impact relative to other regions from France (with regards to the export market) because of the quality-to-price-ratio is excellent, the wines are nevertheless inexpensive and fairly versatile.

The Loire Valley features the most famous of the Gallic rivers—Loire—and produces fine examples of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, adored by the Parisians and wine nerds in the know.

The red wines of Loire Valley are known to possess strong herbal and vegetative qualities, rife with bell peppers, graphite and eucalyptus branches; they’re certainly not for everyone. The white wines on the other hand bring great acidity, balance with deposits of minerality, to compliment seafood and other less exotic fare. Food friendly vino.

Due to the massive river and the Atlantic Ocean influence, the climate is varied depending where, inside the valleys the Loire meanders through, you are; there is a continental climate spanning distinct regions with warmer areas owing to the Gulf Stream. The soils are calcareous and loaded with schist, making it a very good growing area for wide variety of vines. As a result the Loire is also responsible for many different wine styles: Crémant, botrytized Chenin Blanc, Rosés of Cabernet and greener Cabernet Franc—Chinon, also known as Breton.

In class we tried an even split of wines, four red and four whites, they were:

08 Domaine du Bourg, Muscadet, Côtes de Grandlieu, Le Pavilion

08 François Chidaine, Les Argiles, Vouvray

06 Ch Pierre-Bise Savenières Roche aux Moines

09 Domaine Sylvain Bailly Sancerre Terroirs

08 Domaine Sylvain Bailly Sancerre Rouge Loucée

08 Ch. Pierre-Bise Anjou Village Sur Schistes

03 Ch. Bel-Air Bourgueil Grand Mont

09 Ch. Bel-Air Bourgueil Jour du Soif

The body of wines showed well, nothing flashy or over-the top, definitely no favorites among the bunch. Within the white wines there were variances in flavors ranging from the Sherry-esque profile expressing toasty and nutty characteristics without having the viscosity on the palate, to more pronounced stone fruit esters. They were replete with good acidity and sometimes, as was the case with the Muscadet, a slight effervescent mouth feel.

The red wines fit the bill as well, a synthesis of vegetal qualities, slight pencil lead notes integrated with softer fruit aromatics of cherry and raspberry. The class did not quite slake my curiosity about the potential of the Loire—especially since I have yet to try the Rosé of Cabernet or the Sweet wines from the region. I feel though that the Loire has taken root inside my brain—the wines are affordable and interesting—and I will begin to adjust and correct the willful omissions from my shopping basket when I peruse the French wines of my local wine shops.