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The vineyards of the Loire Valley
The vineyards of the Loire valley follow France's longest river for around 400km from Sancerre to Nantes on the Atlantic coast.
You might expect that in covering such a distance you'd be in store for a diverse range of wines and you wouldn't be wrong.
The region's 'route des vignobles' covers a whopping 800km of road and following it would allow you to sample everything from dry to sweet, still to sparkling and ros to red.
It's been said before that the kings who came to the Loire valley knew a good thing when they saw it. The seemingly endless turreted, fairy-tale edifices that scatter the landscape are an indomitable reminder of their enthusiasm for the place.
It is worth remembering that these glistening structures give an important clue as to the rock which underlies the soil on which the vines surrounding Blois, Tours and Chinon are planted.
Tuffeau is the local rock from which many of the buildings were constructed and the cavernous passageways that resulted from the excavations have proved ideal cellars for the wines being produced here.
More importantly still is the ease with which the white chenin blanc and red cabernet franc thrive on the sandy, chalky yellow tuffeau soils.
Chenin is a grape that reflects heavily the ground on which it's been grown and where its roots are in limestone - as is the case here in the Loire valley - the wines will be delicate with a racy, palate-drying acidity.
Cabernet franc meanwhile relishes the free-draining nature of the soils here and chalk helps bring finesse and delicacy to the wines.
For one of the clearest examples of the role that soil has to play on the resulting wines you need look no further than Sancerre.
The whites here are made from sauvignon blanc and no matter how impressive the examples may be from New Zealand I still err to the Loire for the finest examples.
The vineyards planted to the west of the town are planted in clay and limestone soils. For me, wines that have a clay influence have more weight and power and so it is true of the wines of Sancerre.
If you plump for a wine whose grapes have been harvested from the more gravel and chalk dominated soils slightly further east, you will not fail to notice how much lighter and more delicate the wines are.
The vines that nestle up against the town of Sancerre itself have a significantly higher proportion of silex (or flint).
These are generally the longest-lived and the most aromatic of the Sancerre wines and have a quality that some in the trade refer to as a 'gunflint edge'.
The vineyards of Muscadet are at the opposite end of the Loire from Sancerre and everything feels dramatically different here.
The vineyards stretch in an arc around the town of Nantes and chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc are nowhere to be seen.
Melon de Bourgogne (or Muscadet is it's more commonly known) arrived here in the seventeenth century when the Dutch traders persuaded the locals to grow it for brandy distillation.
Four centuries on and melon de bourgogne has established itself a reputation much greater than as a variety for distillation.
Vineyards are frequently planted on granite soils that seemingly emphasise the grapes natural freshness and vitality.
Darker, more volcanic sites in the north east give wines with more depth and ageing potential. Yes, it's true, there are more than a few single vineyard muscadet wines around these days and several have the quality for long term cellaring.
Clearly the winemaker has a role to play but it is the qualities of the grape that determine what choices a winemaker has.
The wines of the Loire have a dedicated and loyal following and the regional wine brotherhoods are dedicated to spreading the word.
Those who are seeking to join the 'Confr rie des Chevaliers du Sacaviní' in Angers are encouraged to live by the words of Fran ois Rabelais: "Quand mon verre sera plein, Je le videray.
Et quand il sera vide, je le pleindray"
The neat translation of which is: "I'll empty my glass when it is full and when it is empty I'll fill it." Rabelais was clearly a smart chap - now, where do I sign up for the wine sisterhood?