White wines star in this meandering river valley, which produces more of them than any other French region. They range from the flinty, citrusy Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé to complex Chenin Blancs in Vouvray to brisk, oyster-friendly bottlings at the coast, where the Loire River meets the cold Atlantic just past Muscadet. But don’t overlook Loire red wines: Thanks to the valley’s cooler climate, reds here are refreshingly crisp and food-friendly.
Château de la Ragotière
The three Couillaud brothers purchased this sprawling, ancient Muscadet estate 30-odd years ago and have spent the decades since transforming it into an impressive quality leader. Their innovative Chardonnays have shown that grape’s surprising affinity for the region’s soil, but it’s their classic, zesty Muscadets that are most worth a hunt.
Domaine de Ladoucette
Based in a turreted château in Pouilly-Fumé that could serve as an inspiration for a Disney castle, this family-owned winery is one of the Loire’s largest, offering terrific wines under a handful of labels from across the valley’s appellations, including De Ladoucette (Pouilly-Fumé), Comte LaFond (Sancerre), Les Deux Tours (Touraine), Marc Brédif (Vouvray) and La Poussie (a single stellar Sancerre site), plus another cuvée from the home estate in Pouilly-Fumé, Baron de L.
Domaine des Aubuisières
Since inheriting this estate from his father in 1982, Bernard Fouquet has elevated Aubuisières to one of Vouvray’s best. His dry, off-dry and sparkling wines are all made from Chenin Blanc but come from two types of soil, each yielding fruit with distinctive flavors. With some wines aged in steel and others in oak, Fouquet’s range showcases the chameleon character of Chenin Blanc—at great value.
Domaine des Corbillières
Domaine des Corbillières produces some of the greatest values coming out of the Touraine region today. The estate’s ridiculously affordable and delicious wines obtain their rare intensity from old vines and their finesse from skilled proprietors Dominique and Véronique Barbou.
Domaine Didier Dagueneau
Didier Dagueneau, the prodigiously bearded wild man of the Loire, made some of the best Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres ever. He died when his ultralight plane crashed in 2008, but his son, Benjamin, has kept the wines at the same level. Extremely low vineyard yields and, most unusual, aging in oak barrels result in some of world’s greatest Sauvignons.
Domaine du Closel/Château des Vaults
This benchmark Savennières estate has been known as Château des Vaults for more than 500 years and in more recent decades has gone by both names. Owned today by Evelyne de Jessey, it boasts organically cultivated vineyards that include a substantial portion of the exalted Clos du Papillon site. The winery’s classic Savennières bottlings rank among the world’s finest examples of Chenin Blanc.
Domaine François Chidaine
The Chidaine family comes from Montlouis, regarded in Vouvray as the wrong side of the Loire River. Yet François Chidaine makes some of the region’s freshest, most compelling whites, both from family vineyards and more recently acquired sites in a handful of the Loire’s top subzones. Biodynamic farming and a light hand in the cellar give Chidaine’s wines a freshness and minerality evident even in his basic Touraine bottlings.
Domaine Pascal Jolivet
Pascal Jolivet comes from a winemaking family, but he started his own wine business from scratch in the 1980s, buying grapes from all over Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These regions are still his portfolio’s focus, but now Jolivet also owns substantial vineyard acreage, allowing him to fine-tune the farming of his grapes.
Since taking over this respected Sancerre estate from their fathers, Vacheron cousins Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique have made it one to watch. Low yields, biodynamic farming, and handpicked fruit are among the factors that keep upping quality. Vacheron sources grapes from 100 acres of prime vineyards—mainly old vines and mostly located on flint-rich rock.
This 10th-generation négociant defies stereotypes: Despite its considerable size, it makes high-quality wines across a range of prices; despite its age, it’s one of the region’s most progressive estates. Owner Jean-Marie Bourgeois led the company’s foray into screw-caps, and even founded a winery in New Zealand.
Making stellar Cabernet Franc in the Loire every year is incredibly hard. Yet Yannick Amirault’s wines are good no matter what the vintage. Since taking over his family estate at 22, the prodigiously talented Amirault has improved existing vineyards and added new ones, sourcing grapes from both of the top Cabernet Franc zones: St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil and Bourgueil.