Loire-Inspired Wine & Food Pairings
The Loire is both a river and a way of life. On its long course from the mountains of central France to the Atlantic Ocean, it passes through some of the country’s most fabled landscapes and history. Known as the “Garden of France” because of its fertile soil and balanced climate, the Loire Valley has long been a source of the ingredients for classic French cooking.
In fact, it’s where classical French cooking was created. When Catherine de Medici arrived from Florence, Italy, in the 16th century to marry French King Henry II, she brought Italian chefs and their sophisticated cooking to the uncouth French court. De Medici, like many of the French royalty and nobility, lived in the fabulous chateaus that line the banks of the Loire, rather than dangerous and fetid Paris.
It was that example which inspired French cuisine. In a later era, this was the cooking that Julia Child made famous. Like much of Child’s cooking, the cooks of the Loire and northern France used butter from nearby Normandy instead of olive oil.
Wine developed along with the food. The range of wine styles is unsurpassed. Dry whites, sweet whites, sparkling and red wines come from the profusion of vineyards that take advantage of the Loire’s easy climate. Many are produced by an exciting new generation of growers, often from small family estates. Increasingly, they work organically and naturally. They reinforce the Loire Valley’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Loire Valley’s best spring vegetables, fruit, river fish and meat inspire the pairings that follow, and are an easy way to eat and drink French history.
Oysters are a tasty symbol of the Pays Nantais region, on the Atlantic coast near Brittany. There, oysters are paired with Muscadet or sometimes Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, though briefly cooking the shellfish widens the pairing possibilities.
Château de la Ragotiere 2014 Sélection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie (Muscadet Sèvre et Maine)
- 12 oysters, freshly shucked and drained, liquid reserved, bottom shells washed and dried
- 1 fennel bulb, white and pale-green parts only, cored and finely diced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
In small pan, boil reserved oyster liquor until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Let cool. In large sauté pan over medium-high heat, combine fennel, butter, salt and sugar. Cook until fennel is soft and almost caramelized, about 8 minutes. Let cool. Whip cream to soft peaks. Whisk in lemon juice and oyster liquor.
Preheat oven to 500°F. Arrange oyster shells in shallow, ovenproof dish covered with rock salt (to keep the shells upright). In each shell, place heaping teaspoon of fennel, one oyster and enough cream to cover shell. Bake until cream starts to brown (it will partially melt into shell), about 10 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 2–4.
Muscadet is the natural partner with oysters. It’s light, fresh and low in alcohol (typically 12%), so you can drink more than one glass as you sit on the deck. It also has the same salty character that you naturally find in oysters.
Look for the classic Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. Make sure it has been aged sur lie (on the lees), a traditional method that gives the wine extra depth, which in this case will provide ample weight to match with the fennel. A classic example is Château de la Ragotière’s 2014 Sélection Vieilles Vignes.
This quick, iconic sauce originated in the Loire Valley, where it’s commonly served with the local river fish: perch, pike and zander, also called “pike perch” (though it’s neither pike nor perch). The small amount of cream helps ensure the sauce doesn’t break.
- 4 tablespoons dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons shallots
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces, plus 2 additional tablespoons
- 4 skin-on zander fillets (can substitute walleye, branzino or brook trout)
To start sauce, boil wine, vinegar and shallots in saucepan or small skillet until liquid is almost evaporated. Add cream. Boil 1 minute to reduce slightly. (This may be done up to three days ahead. Bring to simmer before continuing.)
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add fish, skin-side down, in single layer. Cook until skin is crisp and brown, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Flip fish, and cook about 2 minutes, or until the flesh flakes easily with fork and is opaque throughout.
To finish sauce, remove saucepan from heat and whisk in remaining butter little by little. If necessary, place pan over low heat to barely melt butter (if the sauce gets too hot, it will separate). Salt to taste. To serve, plate the fish and lightly drizzle with sauce. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
While a Muscadet would pair nicely with this ever-popular dish, a dry Chenin Blanc will really shine. With its nutty character and intense acidity, this style of wine cuts right through the rich beurre blanc and comes up dancing.
The finest dry Chenin Blanc comes from Savennières in Anjou. These wines are typically bone dry and long-lasting (up to 20 years) although they can also be enjoyed younger. Seek out Château de Chamboureau’s 2012 Domaine FL La Croix Picot for a perfect match.
This dish is a classic in the Touraine AOC, where plum orchards flourish among Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc plantings. Serve with tagliatelle, egg noodles or mashed or roast potatoes to soak up the flavorful sauce.
- 15 pitted prunes, halved
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 4 boneless loin chops, 1-inch thick, pounded with a meat tenderizer or mallet until ½-inch thick
- 2 tablespoons shallots
- ¾ cup créme fraîche
In saucepan over high heat, bring prunes, wine and mustard to boil. Cook until liquid reduces by about half, about 5 minutes. Reduce to simmer.
While sauce reduces, heat oil in sauté or grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of pork. Add to pan in single layer, cooking in batches, if necessary. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until nicely browned. Remove pork, then add shallots to pan. Cook until soft and browned, about 5 minutes. Add sauce, créme fraîche and reserved pork with any accumulated juices. Bring to gentle boil. Cook until sauce thickens and pork is cooked through, about 5–10 minutes. Serves 4.
The western end of Touraine is home to the fine Cabernet Franc wines of Bourgueil and Chinon, both of which would make excellent choices to partner with this pork dish.
The Cabernet Franc in Chinon has wonderful smoky aromas, the taste of truffles and dried fruit. There’s always a dry undertow that makes the wines good to partner with rich meat dishes like this pork, especially a selection like Domaine de Béguineries’s 2012 Réserve de Satis.
Both simpler and more impressive than apple pie, Tarte Tatin was developed in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters of Lamotte-Beuvron, just south of Orléans. Use a mix of apples, or try it with an equal amount of pears.
Domaine des Baumard 2011 Clos de Sainte Catherine Chenin Blanc (Coteaux du Layon)
- 6 baking apples, like Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Gala and Jonagold, peeled, quartered and cored
- 8 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 pâte brisée (pie dough), unbaked
- Whipped cream or créme fraîche, for serving
In large bowl, sprinkle apples with 2 tablespoons sugar. Toss to coat. Let sit for at least 1 hour, draining accumulated liquid. In 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, melt butter and remaining sugar, swirling gently to evenly coat pan (don’t stir). Add apples in tight concentric circles, balancing on their edges. Fit as snugly as possible (reserve 1–2 quarters to cut into smaller chunks to fill gaps). Let cook, without stirring, until juices thicken, darken and smell “caramelly” without smelling burnt, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Roll dough into circle about 12 inches in diameter. Drape over apples, folding and tucking around edges to fully contain apples. Bake until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Place serving plate atop tart. Carefully turn over pan to release tart onto plate (if any apples stick, rearrange by hand). Serve warm, or at room temperature with whipped cream or créme fraîche. Serves 8.
Loire Valley sweet wines are the product of misty mornings and sunny autumn afternoons, which produce noble rot. They have just the right balance of sweetness, dry noble rot character and intense acidity. While they do age, it’s hard to resist the delicious fruit of a young wine.
Pairing this tarte tatin with a selection like Domaine des Baumard’s 2011 Clos de Sainte Catherine from Coteaux du Layon is an exercise in food-and-wine harmony, where each mirrors the flavors of the other while displaying simultaneous richness and freshness.
- 1Huîtres Gratinées au Fenouil (Broiled Oysters with Fennel)
- 2Poisson de Rivière au Beurre Blanc (River Fish with Butter Sauce)
- 3Porc aux Pruneaux (Pork with Prunes)
- 4Tarte Tatin (Caramelized Apple Tart)