Liquid specialities: Muscadet, Cointreau... - Atlantic Loire Valley, France
Open some bottles from the Pays de la Loire region which, along with its famous wines, produces excellent ciders, liqueurs and eau-de-vies! Here's a little overview of the specialities in each department.
Forget all the clichés you've heard about muscadet! For several years now, the wine-making area around Nantes has seen a remarkable shift up-market. As a result, this white wine with glimmers of green and floral aromas appears on the list of the most prestigious restaurants, such as Noma, voted the world's best restaurant several times. The gros-plant variety, prized for its slightly lemony, sharp character, has also made a comeback and is wonderful with shellfish. As for an aperitif, be tempted by a Nantillais, a preparation based on white wine and cane sugar with red fruit, grapefruit or even yuzu.
Anjou is a major producer of rosé, but above all it's a champion of sweet white wines! This is where Bonnezeaux, Coteaux-du-Layon, Coteaux-de-l'Aubance and even Quart-de-Chaume come from. As for dry wines, Savennières is incredibly elegant, while among the reds, Saumur-Champigny is wonderfully soft. Saumur is also home to some fine sparkling wines, with such prestigious brands as Ackerman, Veuve Amiot, Bouvet Ladubay and Gratien & Meyer. Finally, when it comes to spirits, Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou keeps the world stocked up with orange liqueur thanks to its Cointreau. Giffard Menthe Pastille and Guignolet are also made nearby.
There are no vineyards here, but there are plenty of orchards that produce the authentic Maine cider! Fuller-flavoured than its Normandy neighbour and less acidic than its Breton cousin, this amazingly fruity beverage can be distilled to obtain an eau-de-vie called Fine de Maine, which taste very similar to Calvados. When blended with apple must it can also be used to make Pommeau du Maine, which is aged in oak barrels to intensify its character.
The small wine-making area of the Vendée excels in passionate winemakers, some of whom champion organic farming. One of these is Thierry Michon, who proudly flies the flag for the fiefs-vendéens area, and exports his incredibly well-structured wine to the world's best restaurants. Among the aperitifs and digestifs is troussepinette, a local speciality made from red wine, eau-de-vie, sugar and young sloe shoots.
Although beloved by top French chefs, served at the Elysée and exported to New York and Tokyo, Jasnières remains little-known in its own country, and production of this dry, fruit white wine with an impressive finesse remains low-scale. Its little brother, Coteaux-du-Loir, is also a hidden treasure thanks to its exquisite minerality. In the Sarthe, there are also some places that make an excellent farmhouse cider.