Master of Wine Susan R. Lin discusses the adaptability of Loire Valley wines, and why they are a staple on her table.

The Loire Valley has been a beloved region for wine savants and food lovers since the Renaissance, when European philosophers, poets, and aristocrats flocked to this picturesque region of Northern France to unwind and enjoy the area’s legendary products.

Today, though most wineries have embraced modern technology, the area’s same vines are known for producing a vast array of world-class wines. Thanks to the cool climate, these bottlings naturally boast high acidity, making them versatile with local cuisines, plus modern fusion dishes and even takeout.

This week, we sat down with Master of Wine Susan R. Lin, a devoted Loire enthusiast, and learned that Loire Valley wines are her proverbial secret weapon for winning over clients and casual acquaintances at the table.

Read our Q&A with Susan to discover how Loire Valley Wines can present opportunities for perfect wine pairings for everything from Thanksgiving dinner to nonchalant weeknights

Loire Valley Wines (LV): How did you first discover the wines of the Loire Valley?

Susan R. Lin (SL): When I first visited the Loire Valley, I wasn’t even seriously studying wine at the time! I took a trip to see the châteaux and the gardens, and that’s when I was first introduced to the wines. They were in perfect juxtaposition with the beautiful scenery, and I was bowled over by the culture around the wines. Even though I didn’t know much about the wines at that point, the variety of wines on offer and the memory of how wonderful they were on hot summer days and cool nights stayed with me. When I transitioned from the tech industry into wine, I began to understand and appreciate the incredible diversity of the Loire, with all its categories and price points and styles. The Loire Valley truly offers a treasure trove of wines – there’s something for everyone..

LV: When you’re working with consumers or other beverage professionals, are there any tips for simplifying the Loire’s diversity to help people get acquainted with the area?

SL:  For me, coming from a musical background, I feel that the Loire Valley is like a pool of amazing and talented musicians who come together in a wonderful ensemble, like a chamber orchestra. Each voice – or wine – is individual, and yet when the region comes together as a whole, it’s just WOW. 

In a practical sense, one can think of the Loire Valley as a unified region with various terroirs like neighborhoods, each with a diversity of climates, soils, geo-influences, and grape varieties. Each ‘neighborhood’ creates wines of its own character, which makes the Loire Valley incredibly fascinating as a wine region. This abundance is why they call the Loire Valley the Garden of France, right?

LV: In addition to the diversity of the Loire, what do you think sets the region apart from its peers around the world?

SL: If you are looking for budget-friendly wines in a range of styles, look for wines from the Loire Valley. From fresh and fruity whites to rosés and red wines, there’s so much appeal with Loire Valley wines. If you want a wine that you can afford – and maybe buy a case of and not break your bank – and something you won’t feel bad about just opening it at any one night and saying, ‘I’m going to elevate my Tuesday evening and make it a little more special because I’m going to have this beautiful wine from France,’ you can’t beat Loire Valley wines. There are so many wines from France that are getting to be increasingly expensive, but there is still so much affordability from within the Loire Valley.

LV: Do you have a favorite food pairing for Loire Valley Wines?

SL: There are too many! Loire Valley wines are great as an aperitif by themselves, and youcan pair them with so many different types of foods – with your pizza, with your calzone, even with your Thanksgiving meal.

I prepared an all-Loire Valley wines Thanksgiving dinner this past year, and our table included a lively combination of Shanghainese, Taiwanese, French and Italian style cuisine.

We had four styles of wines from the Loire Valley. We started with a Crémant de Loire, next an Anjou Chenin Blanc, then a Savennieres – which was paired beautifully with the complexity of flavors and volume of the dishes served – and finally a Cabernet Franc. It was absolutely perfect, and the wines brought out the wonderful textures and flavors of the various cuisines.

The idea that “what grows together goes together,” applies in the Loire Valley, of course. But here these wines are really food-friendly, and the wines can pair well with anything from beautiful cream sauces to like fried food to barbecue, or even noodles.  

LV: What’s your strategy for pairing the red wines of the Loire Valley with food?

SL: When I’m hosting a dinner or if I’m bringing a bottle over to someone’s home, a Loire Valley red wine is top of mind because they are so versatile. I know that some of my friends don’t prefer a white or rosé wine with dinner, so I’ll reach for Cabernet Franc from the Loire because I know that as a red wine, it will work with anything – even lighter first courses.

Whether someone is serving chicken, seafood, or something more hefty, Cabernet Franc has a bright red berry element and a little spiciness or herbaceous quality that is wonderful and that makes the wine so versatile. Especially with savory dishes – maybe with mackerel or other oily fish or umami elements – the fruit character of the wine is highlighted beautifully. Because there are so many dimensions to Cabernet Franc, I think it is so fun to experiment with that variety from the Loire, with its different flavors and textures.

One of my favorite pairings of the past year was an everyday dish – gussied up fried rice with eggs, sausage, diced carrot, ginger, and onions – and a very affordable Cab Franc. It was a winner on all fronts.

Even a nice salad with a little bit of chicken or tuna is great with a Loire Valley red wine. I think these wines can bring out the textures of the different vegetables. I know it sounds a little weird, but I really love these wines with light dishes because the wines are so vibrant and lifted.

LV: What do you think is unique about the Loire Valley that sometimes gets forgotten?

SL: I think sometimes people forget the Loire’s incredible history and how producers here weren’t only making wines for themselves throughout the centuries. These wines were also being made for the royalty and nobles who loved to spend their summers in magnificent chäteaux along the Loire.  I think it’s really unique that Loire Valley vintners have been able to craft wines they love and also create wines that graced the tables of nobles and royals, wines that were being shared with important people from around Europe during diplomatic or trading activities.

LV: Is there a common myth about the Loire that you’d like to dispel?

SL: That it is white wine-centric! I fell in love with the Loire because of Cabernet Franc. Red wines here can run the gamut from beautiful, light, and ethereal to spicy, more medium bodied wines with red berry character. The spectrum expands all the way into extremely complex, textured, and ageable reds from Cabernet Franc with incredible tannins, structure, and flavor complexity. Beyond Cabernet Franc, there’s Côt (Malbec), plus Pinot Noir!

When I first tried a Loire Cabernet Franc I thought, ‘This is absolutely amazing.’ Now, I love to recommend any number of Cabernet Franc wines to friends, family, clients – to anybody looking for a characterful red wine with density and structure that is simultaneously light on its feet. These are just beautiful wines.