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Wine of the Week: Spring into Loire Valley Wines of France

Dwight Casimere | 4/20/2017, 11 a.m.
A welcome sign of spring is the arrival of new releases of the magnificent wines of the Loire Valley, France. ...

A welcome sign of spring is the arrival of new releases of the magnificent wines of the Loire Valley, France. They’re light, flavorful and refreshing. Perfect for spring, with just the right ripe fruit, melon and apple and pear flavors that are perfect with the soft cheeses, salads, seafood and charcuterie spreads that make dining al fresco this time of year so much fun. Ever tasted an Anjou pear? Well, this is where those delicious beauties originated, and there are plenty of wines that share its delightfully crisp, unctuous flavor. Love ripe melons or ripe wild strawberries? There are a number of wines from the Loire valley that embody those luscious flavors. Loire Valley's place in fable and in history is secure. This is where Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in there Hundred Years War and where the French language was born. It is the birthplace of the French Renaissance writer Rabelais. The hillsides are dotted with some of the most magnificent castles to be found in all of France.

I had a unique opportunity taste a collection of the new Loire Valley Wine releases while they were on national tour. Tasting sessions were held at The Illumination Factory in the post-industrial South Loop near Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center.

The Loire Valley is, in many ways, the heart and soul of France. Its regions are rife with lore and wine legend. The Pays Nantes on the Atlantic coast of Brittany is famous for the city of Nantes where wine has been produced steadily since the Roman era. The region is best known for Muscadet, a derivative of the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which has nothing to do with the more, well known Muscat grape, of a similar name. This is the largest white wine appellation of France and is recognized as the ultimate crisp, dry, seaside wine, perfect with oysters, scallops, mussels, lobsters and all other shellfish. The great thing about Loire Valley wines is that they not only taste great and pair well with today's lighter, and more exotic cuisines, they're also easy on the budget, with most under $20, and many in the $10-$15 dollar range. You can splurge at your local wine shop and get a mixed case containing a veritable spring bouquet of flavors and colors.

Anjou is the ancient Duchy of Anjou, once a seat of wealth and power in France, the region is best known for its sweet wines. Saumur is the picturesque setting of one of the most famous castlles in France, built with the same toffee limestone that underlies this vineyards giving the wine its unique flavor and acidity. Underground tunnels beneath the castles now serve as the caves and cellars for sparkling wines from the region, the Fines Bulles, the Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wines of the Loire. The region is also famous for Saumur-Champiogny, one of the valley's great red wines made with Cabernet Franc.

Touraine is known as the "Garden of Francer" where nobility built the many castles that make this one of the prime tourist attractions of France. Many of the chateaus are housed in them. Some of the most famous wines of the Loire are produced in Touraine; Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc and Chinon and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, both made from Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec also hail form the region and are known for their exceptional quality and competitive price.