Vouvray is one of the more expensive wine producing regions in the Loire Valley. Geographically, it could be considered part of Touraine, but its distinctive wines merit their own discussion and classification. Vouvray wines lack the reputation of Sauternes or Champagne, and it is true that they are not as impressive — however, they are also substantially more affordable.

Vouvray produces only white wines. All Vouvray wines are covered by an Appellation d'Origine Côntrolée which guarantees their composition, production methods and style; there are three such appellations, which are used for differing styles.

The basic Vouvray appellation covers dry, moderately dry and sweet whites made exclusively from Chenin Blanc (known locally as Pineau de la Loire). Telling apart these wines merely from a wine list entry is impossible unless a suitable description is provided. Most wines have the style marked on the label (sec is dry, demi sec is moderately dry and moelleux is sweet), or failing that the sweeter wines are usually in taller, narrower bottles with slender necks.

Most vineyards usually produce dry or moderately dry styles, and only make the sweet wines when they are hit by the noble rot. Some producers have been known go to considerable lengths to 'encourage' the rot to kick in, whilst others let nature decide.

The dry wines should be aged for around five years, although some styles can improve for up to two decades. They go well with foods based around white sauce; chicken or veal are the most appropriate meats. The taste is varyingly described as pear or apple, and is quite tame (but not boringly so, like Soave). There is nothing particularly special about these, with regular Touraine wines being better value.

The sweeter wines are where things get interesting. They have varying ageing potential; some should be aged for no more than five years, whilst others have been known to last for a century or more. The latter kind requires very careful storage and handling, and should only be attempted after receiving expert advice. They are most commonly served as a dessert wine or with cheese; taste-wise, they resemble honey or almonds. They do not particularly resemble Sauternes, France's more famous sweet white style; opinions vary as to which style is more desirable.

The Vouvray Mousseux appellation is used on sparkling sweet whites produced in a similar style to Champagne. The flavour tends to have slightly more of an edge to it than most sparkling wines, making it an interesting choice for an aperitif. It should be served lightly chilled, and aged for one to three years.

Vouvray Petillant is another sparkling style, although it is only lightly carbonated rather than very fizzy. As with all other Vouvray wines, it is made exclusively from Chenin. Serving this wine is somewhat tricky — it lacks the bubbliness normally associated with aperitif wines, yet it is sufficiently distracting to make it a poor accompaniment to food. It is probably best as a lazy afternoon or evening wine. It should be drunk young and served lightly chilled.

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

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