(French placename, derived from the original Celtic dwellers in the region, the Turones)

Former county and province in Western France, approximately equivalent to the present-day département Indre-et-Loire, with its capital at the city of Tours. The approximate area of Touraine was 6000 km2.

Touraine is often called "the garden of France" because of its fertile soil. An intensive cultivation of flowers, fruit, vegetables] and wine takes place in Touraine, and the wines Bourgeuil, Chinon and Vouvray are produced there.

Originally inhabited by the Turones (Latin form of an unrecorded Celtic tribal name), the province became part of the Visigothic realm in the 5th century. Later a Frankish county, it was annexed in 1203 by the French monarchy. In 1360, it became a hereditary duchy, and during the Hundred Years' War, it was the main base of operations of King Charles VII of France. From 1584 onwards, Touraine was a regular residence of the French monarchs, but it ceased to be a province following the French Revolution.

At the centre of the Loire Valley, Touraine epitomises the Loire wine styles. Producing red, white and rosé, it offers a variety of flavours whilst remaining true to the traditional tastes of the region. Although rarely as distinctive as Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé or Saumur, Touraine wines are none-the-less highly enjoyable.

Touraine has AOC status, with a basic general appellation and six regional denominations. Thus, any respectable wine will be marked with an Appellation d'Origine Côntrolée label; wines without one of these marks should be used for cooking and cleaning your sink.

The basic Touraine appellation allows three styles:

Touraine Blanc

A dry white made from 75% Sauvignon Blanc, with the remainder being made from Chenin (known locally as Pineau de Loire), Menu Pineau and (forming at most one fifth of the volume) Chardonnay. This forms a light, fresh, clean wine, lacking the edge of a typical Sancerre, the depth of a Chablis or the annoying sweetness of an Anjou. It goes well with fish and chicken dishes.

Touraine Rouge

A light and fruity red. May contain Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc and Côt, with smaller quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir; most wines are made principally from Gamay in a style similar but slightly heavier than a Beaujolais. Goes well with cold meats and lighter dishes.

Touraine Rosé

A medium rosé, again somewhere between Anjou and Sancerre. May contain the same grapes as the rouge, plus Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau Noir.

The Touraine Primeur Rosé and Touraine Primeur Rouge designations are also part of the basic Touraine appellation, and are used for newer vineyards that did not achieve AOC in the original assessments.

Then there are the regional appellations, which is where things start to get complicated. These designate wines produced in particular areas using the grapes best suited for those areas, and two also cover carbonated wine. There is considerable variety in style, especially amongst the whites, which leads to confusion amongst the uninitiated and more choice and fodder for arguments amongst the cognoscenti.

The Touraine Amboise regional appellation provides three styles, but with different composition rules than regular Touraine:

Touraine Amboise Blanc

May contain only Chenin. Sometimes slightly sweeter than the basic Touraine white.

Touraine Amboise Rouge and Rosé

May contain only Côt, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay Noir. The rosé is delicate, and the rouge fruity.

The Touraine Azay-le-Rideau regional appellation allows only white and rosé. The whites contain only Chenin, and are dry or semi-sweet. The rosé is dry, and contains at least 60% Grolleau with any remainder being made from the normal Touraine grapes.

The Touraine Mesland regional appellation uses principally Gamay Noir for the reds and rosé, and Chenin for the whites (small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are permitted but seldom used). Mesland tends to produce more subtle flavours.

Touraine Mousseux tends not to be very well known. The whites are Sauvignon Blanc and possibly Chenin, and sometimes sparkling. The rosé is fresh, dry and made mainly from Gamay (except when it is sparkling, where it is usually sweeter), as is the more reserved red.

Touraine Noble Joue is only used on rosé and is not widely exported. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier are used to produce an interesting flavour that eschews traditional classifications. This is a recent appellation, having been authorised in 2001.

Finally, Touraine Petillant. This is a lightly sparkling wine produced in all three colours. None are particularly special.

The Vouvray, Montlouis, Chinon and Bourgueil appellations are also in Touraine geographically, but are usually discussed separately because of their significantly different styles.

Touraine whites should usually be aged for two to three years. The rosé should be drunk immediately, whilst good reds can last for up to five to seven years.

Reference: The INAO appellation guides for Touraine, available online (in French) at http://www.inao.gouv.fr/public/produits/appellations.php?keyword=touraine

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