Loire’s River of Wine and Food
Eat and drink your way from Nantes to Sancerre with this gourmet guide.
More than any of the world’s other major wine valleys, the Loire Valley is a cornucopia flowing with culinary treasures perfect for gourmands. From the Atlantic port city of Nantes to the hillside town of Sancerre, 120 miles upstream, there are superb foodstuffs to pairs perfectly with the four grapes varieties the region is famous for.
Melon de Bourgogne
Grown extensively near the mouth of the Loire, Melon de Bourgogne is a white that produces juice for Muscadet—arguably the ultimate shellfish wine. Oysters on the half shell are the classic pairing with the crisp, mineral wine, but scallops, simply prepared shrimp and crayfish are other tasty options. Visit La Grignotière, located in the little town of Bouaye, for their famously delicious frog legs prepared in garlic sauce. Pair them with a rich Muscadet that complements the spices.
Most notably grown in Savennières, just nine miles away from the river and southwest of Angers, Chenin Blanc is usually a crisp sip. At a favorite local restaurant, La Terrace, it’s paired with a Loire pike—sandre—which is prepared with a rich shallot butter sauce. In Vouvray, along the Loire’s north bank, both dry and lightly sweet Chenin Blancs are excellent matches for simple roasted chicken. At Le Thélème in Tours, daurade dipped in citrus and ginger sauce and served with quinoa (see recipe below) is an ideal pairing with sparkling Vouvray.
The primary red wine of the Loire, Cabernet Franc is seductive and fruit-forward, with relatively low alcohol and excellent acidity, making it a superb pairing for lamb, duck or the beef fillet served at L’Ardoise (www.lardoise-chinon.com) in Chinon. If you’d like a more casual dining experience, opt for the popular rosés d’Anjou—topnotch picnic wines when served with cold cuts or burgers.
Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Middle Loire, not too far south of Paris. Because of its great acidity and vegetal characteristics, it produces a versatile wine that calls for a variety of vegetable pairings. At La Pomme d’Or, in Sancerre, blended asparagus with a green pea cream and crab claw are served alongside the local wines. Yet, the wines are also big enough in flavor to stand up to roasted chicken and pork loin, other delicious dishes served at the restaurant.
Daurade with Citrus and Ginger Sauce
Adapted from Le Thélème restaurant
2 fillets daurade (or substitute sole or snapper)
Salt, pepper, olive oil to taste
1½ cups quinoa
1 teaspoon coriander
2 tablespoons chopped mint
¾ cup orange or passion fruit juice
1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon lime juice
Slices of grapefruit and orange to garnish
2 tablespoons pink peppercorns
To make the fish: Season fillets with salt, pepper and olive oil and place skin side down in a cast-iron skillet. Let cook for 3 minutes and then finish in oven (250°F to 300°F) for around 6 minutes. Garnish with quarter slices of grapefruit and orange sprinkled with a few pink peppercorns.
To make the quinoa: Cook in salted water for around 10 minutes, then rinse in cold water and reheat with a seasoning of olive oil, salt, pepper, coriander and chopped mint.
To make the sauce: Reduce the ¾ cup of orange juice or passion fruit juice on a low flame to half and then season it with olive oil, chopped ginger and lime juice.
Tuna Salad, Nantes-Style
Courtesy of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau
Vinaigrette (1 part lemon juice to 3 parts olive oil)
1 small can tuna in oil
1 cup white rice, cooked and cooled
1 bunch mâche (lamb’s lettuce), chopped or torn
1 small tomato, diced
Dash finely chopped chives
1 cucumber, sliced
To make the tuna salad: Combine the lemon juice and olive oil in the bottom of a salad bowl. Flake the tuna and add with the rice to the bowl. Finally, add the mâche, tomato, chives and cucumber. Toss well, season with salt and pepper, and toss again before serving.