Vouvray is the most famous and most respected appellation of the Loire Valley's Touraine growing region. The title covers white wines of various styles (sweet wine, dry, still and sparkling), from eight villages around the medieval town of Vouvray, on the northern banks of the Loire river.
Vouvray is the flagship wine of the Chenin Blanc grape (or Pineau de la Loire as it is known there), followed ever-closer by Savennieres and the sweet whites of Anjou. Few wine regions in the world use Chenin to the same extent. None showcase the variety's aromas and flavours with such focus and diversity. South Africa's annual Chenin Blanc production far exceeds that of France. However only the very best South African Chenin Blancs have anything like the textural balance or aromatic depth of Vouvray.
One key characteristic of quality Vouvray wines is their remarkable long life. Many bottles more than 30 years old often show stunning freshness and life. This is largely down to Chenin Blanc's naturally high level of acidity, which acts as a preservative and allows the wine to develop for decades. Also vital is Chenin's intense aromatic composition, which is sufficiently robust to survive extended ageing.
In their youth Vouvrays are characterized by aromas of acacia blossom, quince and green apples. Over time these evolve into tertiary aromas of honeysuckle, quince and lanolin. Much top Vouvray is unapproachable and unforgiving in the first few years of its life. Many examples only begin to open up and relax into drinkable maturity after five years or so. The rewards of a mature, good-quality Vouvray are well worth waiting for. This makes Vouvray ideal for those with the patience and facilities to store wines, but either a mystery or disappointment to those who don't. The situation is similar with several of Europe's top white wines, including the wines of Montlouis, Vouvray's sister appellation just across the Loire. It is only after several years' patience that the best wines retreat from their aggressive, steely youth into the complex, honeyed liquids they ultimately become.
The vineyards around Vouvray have been producing quality white wines since the Middle Ages. Unsurprisingly, 'Vouvray' was one of France's very earliest official appellation titles, created just after the INAO was founded back in 1936. With such a long history, it's surprising that the Vouvray appellation has managed to remain a single title, given the array of styles it covers. After all, the raison d'être of the appellation system is to communicate to consumers precisely what wine style they're buying.
Vouvray may be one of the Loire's most revered appellations, but it's almost certainly one of the most confusing, particularly when it comes to sweetness levels. Although its winemakers can use several official terms to indicate their wine's sweetness level (Sec, Sec-Tendre, Demi-Sec and Moelleux), these are rarely used on labels. Buying Vouvray can be something of a gamble. The only legally enforced label term here is Sec, which must appear on sparkling Vouvray labels when the wine contains less than 8 grams per litre of residual sugar.