Loire Valley Wine Dinner Outer Space and Monday Bakery Chef Preparation
Loire Valley Wines – What You Really Need To Know

I got a fever, and the only prescription is more Loire Valley.

Enjoyed by all wine geeks like me. A new frontier to those less involved but with a healthy wine curiosity. That’s Loire Valley wines. They have a lot to offer. Their variety and learning-curve can overwhelm if you go down its rabbit hole, but you don’t have to take that plunge to understand Loire Valley wines. Today I’ll tell you the most important regions and grapes to know (call it Loire 101) and point out next steps if you want to move forward (Loire 102).


Wine Guy and Food Dude

This is Dan Dawson, aka Dan The Food & Wine Man. I used to be “just” Dan The Wine Man, but I’m making a change by putting food and wine on equal footing in my blogs (or column, as the case may be). I’m putting the two together and finding the most tasty and intriguing intersections of the two. I often finish my columns with an invitation my wine shop/wine bar, Outer Space Wines, where I put my recommendations to the test. Putting my mouth where my keypad is, if you will.

After reading this article I hope you’re inspired to attend the Loire Valley wine dinners I’m producing with Monday Bakery & Café on March 5 and 6. Details at the end.


A Loire Valley Wine Tour

To get this Loire Valley wine lesson firmly in your mind we need a map. I’m looking at one on but you can search “Loire Valley Wine Map” and pick one of the many. (Wine Folly is great. Endless useful wine information there.) We’ll move from west to east: mouth of the Loire River on The Atlantic to the heart of France, 120 miles south of Paris. Loire Valley is in Northern France, a cooler region for winemaking. You probably know cooler wine regions tend to produce higher acid wines. If you don’t, now you do.


The Muscadet region is south and east of the city of Nantes (Muscadet is both the wine appellation and the wine itself: foundation of French wine 101). The grape grown to make Muscadet wine is Melon de Bourgogne (in the region the grape is called Muscadet…why not). Muscadet should be very tangy/almost tart, low alcohol (11-12%) and taste of yellow citrus fruits and fresh green apples. Cool, unmitigated Atlantic air, 15 miles to the west, moderates ripening, opening the door to non-fruity “crunchy” sensations wine guys like me describe as oyster shells and rocky. More, much more, on that as we progress. Important to note because I get this a lot at Outer Space Wines: Muscadet has not relationship to Muscat. None. Zilch. Unfortunate naming. Food pairing: oysters, mussels and clams oh my are classic. Ceviche is ce-delish-ay, especially with chunks of avocado in it. I really like avocado generously seasoned with lime and salt, with Muscadet. And good news: Muscadet is, or should be, inexpensive: $12-$25 retail. Find one you like and make it your house white. Buy the Jo Landron Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine “Amphibolite 2021 at Outer Space Wines.


Loire Valley Wines Chinon Sancerre Vouvray Muscadet Savennieres


Let’s go 100 miles east to the town of Chinon where the red wine is made from Cabernet Franc. If you want a wine that tastes like France, I suggest Chinon. Its peppery berry, garden herbs, licoricey smells & flavors speak to the place and make me yearn for French Café food and an Édith Piaf playlist. A broader spectrum of styles than Muscadet due to different soils and microclimates, and because it’s red, Chinon asks you to try a few different ones to decide what you like. Heck, like them all, from the dark, bloody, robust ones to the bright red and floral styles…but always with a cool climate acidity to make food pairings a joy. And no cookbooks needed either. Grilled teriyaki chicken, pork or fish and fried rice with Chinon make great matches. Try Domaine des Freres Chinon “Les Moulins de Beau Puy” 2021 $35 at Outer Space Wines.


Loire 102: After Chinon find yourself a bottle of Saumur-Champigny. It’s just west of Chinon, also made from Cabernet Franc, and typically lighter, like a peppery Pinot Noir. Better with hot dogs.

Next stop, 30 miles east and through the city of Tours, is Vouvray, where Chenin Blanc is the grape. I so love these wines, their honey-apple fragrance, citrusy snap and potato chip crunch. And all styles from super-dry (called “sec” on the bottle) to gorgeous dessert wines best with fresh fruit and strong cheese. For everyday enjoyment, dry is the way to go. It’s a good evening news wine (that’s what I call wines good without food) and even better with battered and fried fish and French fries. Oh what I wouldn’t give right now for a Fish & Chips platter and a cold bottle of Vouvray like the Nicolas Brunet Vouvray Sec “Coeur de Silex” 2019. Somebody help me.


Loire 102: Vouvray’s versatility goes beyond the still stuff. Sparkling Vouvray, also made from Chenin Blanc, is joy in your glass. For a good time have it with fried cream cheese won tons or Samosas from your friends at Trader Joe’s.


Final stop on our journey, a full 250 miles from the Atlantic, is Sancerre, considered by most to be the quintessential wine of the Loire Valley. The grape is Sauvignon Blanc and Sancerre makes the most transparent version of the grape, bar none. Usually unoaked or neutral oak aged, Sancerre tastes of lemons, grapefruits, kiwi, honeydew melon and lemongrass. The best ones have an intensity that command attention. They should be enjoyed with food. Goat cheese is another prideful Sancerre industry. Crumble fresh goat cheese over a green salad, or go très authentique and pan-fry a breaded crottin of goat cheese for that green salad and a French baguette. Don’t forget the Sancerre!  Sadly the price of Sancerre has jumped the last few years so be prepared to pay $30+ for good one. At Outer Space Wines I have one for $29 I think competes with any out there. (Domaine des Vieux Pruniers Sancerre 2021)


Loire 102: Red Sancerre is made from Pinot Noir, is quite rare but you can find it. The price is usually too high for what you get, in my opinion. Buy Burgundy or Beaujolais instead.


Loire Valley Wine Dinner with Monday Bakery & Cafe

Now that I have your Loire juices flowing, want to join me for a Loire Valley Wine Dinner? I’m hosting two of them in partnership with Monday Bakery & Café on Sunday, March 5 and Monday, March 6. We start in Outer Space at 6 for Muscadet and Sancerre with passed apps then go to Monday Bakery for a three course dinner paired with Vouvray, Chinon and finally Savennières for dessert. Go here for the menu and to purchase tickets ($125/person). Phone call or drop by Outer Space works too. It’s been a pleasure!


Dan Dawson has been a wine and food professional in The Napa Valley since 1992. He is the owner/operator of Outer Space Wines, a wine shop, wine bar and event space at 974 Franklin Street in Downtown Napa. Come visit – space suit not required.  

This column published in The Napa Valley Register on Friday, February 17, 2023.