White wines, amongst the greatest in the world, are dominant, though the rosés delight and, when conditions are right, the reds can be excellent and distinct. Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray and Saumur-Champigny are amongst the famous names of the region.
The vineyards stretch from east to west for over 200 miles, beginning at Sancerre and ending at Muscadet. These are two of the most famous names in the region, with instantly recognisable styles, but the Loire has variety to go with its length.
It is impossible to state, in so short a space, the styles that the Loire has perfected. Individual areas need to be examined to get to the bottom of these. However, to generalise, the whites and rosés of most years are crisp and acidic, but a warm vintage can create great depth of flavour and ageing potential. The reds are light, floral and fruity, sometimes complex, but can struggle to ripen and thus can disappoint. Sweet wines are often great value.
Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé), Chenin Blanc (Vouvray) and Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet) are the most important white varieties whilst Cabernet Franc is the dominant red. Pinot Noir and Gamay have both arrived from Burgundy to play a small role.
Both vary greatly along the wine-producing length of the river. Weather coming in off the Atlantic affects the wines of Muscadet and the west but has dispersed long before Vouvray and Sancerre, where the climate is continental and the soil very different. They are as varied as the styles of the Loire and defy explanation in so short a space.
One generalisation that can be made is about the latitude of the vineyards. They are on the northern extent of reliable, large-scale winemaking and unfavourable years will drastically affect yield and quality. Conversely, a good year can be truly magnificent.