Above: Cave des Dômes, Chenonceau - LEONARD DE SERRES

Three Unique Tasting Experiences in the Loire Valley

Cave des Dômes, Loire Valley - Leonard de Serres

Among the Loire’s charms is its wine. A tour of the valley’s 31 AOCs runs from Sancerre, esteemed for Sauvignon Blanc, westward through Chinon with its excellent Cabernet Franc, and into Vouvray for transcendent Chenin Blanc before hitting Muscadet near the coast. The 800-kilometer wine route is France’s longest and, arguably, most diverse. But with its slate, schist and limestone soils, and the river’s moderating influence on its climate, all of the Loire has terroir on its side. It also has history.

Wine has been produced here since the Romans settled in the first century. Four hundred years later, Benedictine and Augustinian orders had taken over, planting prodigiously and shipping barrels upstream. By the 12th century, French kings were serving Loire wines, a trend that accelerated during the Renaissance with the building spree in royal châteaux across the region. More than 350 cellars welcome visitors. My favorite tastings evoked the region’s history in unique ways.

Cave des Dômes

Wine barrels, Cave des Dômes, Chenonceau - Leonard de Serres

A popular attraction, Chenonceau lies half an hour’s drive southeast of Tours. Bridging the River Cher, a Loire tributary, the 16th-century château is known as the “Ladies’ Castle” for the powerful women who inhabited it, among them Henry II’s wife, Catherine de’ Medici.

I toured Chenonceau’s lavish rooms, including the river-spanning ballroom where the Italian-born queen held twice-weekly parties, so I wasn’t surprised to descend the stairs of an outbuilding afterward to find Cave des Dômes barrels resting beneath its 16th-century arched ceilings. Catherine de’ Medici entertained so often, she expanded the estate’s vineyards. Centuries of residents kept up production, and recently the château’s village, Chenonceaux, was designated its own appellation.

Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc are its grapes. Chenonceau’s AOC Tourraine Chenonceaux Blanc 2021 led my palate from herbaceousness through juicy white-peach notes and into a long, lemony finish. For the AOC Tourraine Chenonceaux Rouge 2020, Cabernet Franc was blended with Malbec (called “Côt” in the Loire). Inky dark, it was layered with lavender, blackberry and spice. A rosé from the little-known Grolleau grape offered exuberant strawberry flavor with a firm, acidic backbone.

Above: Cave des Dômes, Chenonceau - LEONARD DE SERRES

Read More from Our Trip:

New Loire Hotels — With a Twist