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A River Runs Through It

By Debra Meiburg MW

Just as the Yangtze River is China’s longest river, so the Loire River is the longest in France. These rivers have little in common, of course. The Yangtze is over 6000 kilometres long and the Loire clocks in at a mere 1,000 clicks. It in its way, the slow moving silt-laden Loire River more closely resembles our Pearl River except one key difference: the Pearl River is home to thousands of factories and the Loire River is home to thousands of vineyards.

The Loire begins its journey in southeastern France’s great mountainous plateau, the Massif Central. From there it races northward until reaching Orleans, France’s former dynastic capital, where the fickle river abruptly decelerates, making a grand leftward sweep to amble placidly through lush farmlands punctuated with fairytale châteaux until easing into the Atlantic Ocean some 500 kilometres later.

Many of France’s finest wine regions are clustered within this east-meets-west route with Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé being two of the Loire Valley’s most beloved sites. These northerly vineyards produce wines with such stiletto precision that for centuries they were unequivocally considered the world’s finest sauvignon blanc.

The French are maniacal about geo-specific labeling, with vineyard sites proudly displayed on bottles (and fiercely protected), but curiously a 1990’s ruling prevents Sancerre producers from presenting individual vineyard names on their labels. This greatly simplifies bottle selection and ensures good “brand awareness” of the Sancerre name.

Known for racy gunflint and herbal flavors, eastern Loire wines have long been considered a superlative match for seafood, which brings us back to the Pearl Delta. Somewhat like Macau and Hong Kong, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé are on opposite sides of the water. It was once said that Pouilly-Fumé was the smokier style of the two districts, hence the attachment “fumé”, which means smoke in French. With Hong Kong’s anti-smoking laws in place it seems Macau is the Pouilly-Fumé of the delta.

A local Loire Valley expression is “water divides us, wine unites us” and these days most experts agree there is very little difference between Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Some of the finest producers include Dagueneau, Fournier and Thibault. Other producers of note include Guy Saget, Chateau Favray and Jean Pabiot.

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