Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris heads to France's largest wine region and discovers the delights of whites from the Loire Valley.
Loire Valley lovelies.
From the elegance of Sancerre to the crispness of Pouilly-Fume and the minerality of muscadet, the majestic Loire Valley stretches 400 miles along the River Loire from central France, to the west coast.
Known as the "Garden of France," the rolling green hills of this vast region are blanketed with vines and the variations in soil and climate produce a wide range of styles, especially its food-friendly whites.
Indeed, the Loire Valley vineyards are home to hundreds of fairytale chateaux and castles and its picturesque wine tours and tastings, paired with exquisite French cuisine, offer wine lovers an unforgettable experience.
To recreate this grape escape at home, oysters washed down with a chilled glass of muscadet is a classic regional combo.
Close to the Atlantic coast, Pays Nantais is the Loire's largest appellation, and Sevre-et-Main the best district for this minerally, dry white wine. Try Taste the Difference Muscadet De Sevre et Main Sur Lie 2010 (£6.99, Sainsbury's) which is bottled straight off the lees to give it some extra weight and brilliant freshness - a superb match with shellfish.
Not far from the historical and pretty town of Saumur (known for its sparkling wines), they also produce some super stills such as Abbesse de Loire 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (£6.99, www.laithwaites.co.uk). A tribute white to the nobility of Old France, and the nearby Abbaye de Fontevraud, it's grassy and nettly with ribbons of zingy peach and fresh passion fruit flavours.
Further east, sauvignon blanc from Touraine can offer excellent value compared to fine wine labels from Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume in the Upper Loire. Try La Grille Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (£5.99 from £7.99, until May 8, Waitrose). Crisp and fresh with lasting grapefruit and gooseberry flavours on the zippy, minerally finish, it's a great value vino while on special offer.
A notch up the scale, Touraine Domaine Octavie Sauvignon 2010 (£8.95, www.fromvineyardsdirect.com) is sharper and more complex. A floral nose and concentrated green fruits of gooseberry and greengage help to balance the refreshingly good acidity.
Cruising along the river banks to the Upper Loire, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume are the two prime appellations that produce sauvignon blanc and our thirst for this fashionable grape shows no sign of waning.
More restrained than its New World cousin, but just as crisp and refreshing, try Taste the Difference Pouilly Fume 2010 (£12.79, Sainsbury's). With a typical smoky edge (fume) and concentrated gooseberry and citrus fruits with hints of elderflower and a streak of minerality, it's terrific with warm goats' cheese salad.
On the left bank of the Loire across from Pouilly-Fume, the chalky clay soils of Sancerre produce wines with real poise such as Domaine du Nozay Sancerre 2010 (£14.95, www.corneyandbarrow.com). Fuller and richer with a stony, mineral character and ripe flavours of passion fruit and freshly cut grass, this award-winning wine is as classy as the princely chateau on the charming Old World label.
Best buy Southern style brew... Famous for mint juleps and bourbon, Jeremiah Weed Sour Mash Brew (£2.20, 4% abv, 50cl, Asda) and Jeremiah Weed Root Brew (£2.20, 4% abv, 50cl, Asda) are the latest exports from Kentucky, USA. A tasty summer alternative to beer or cider, there's a hint of ginger in the root brew, and bourbon in the mash. Serve over ice in a tall glass for a smashing taste of this bluegrass state.
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