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Wine routes, Loire Valley's insider take:

Wines are said to have been cultivated in the Loire since before Roman times, but it was fourth-century Saint Martin of Tours who took time out from evangelizing to teach the locals how to prune their vines. Today the wine region is vast, taking in over 60 appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOC), 49 of them in the heart of the region Anjou-Saumur-Touraine. Touring the vineyards and tasting the wines in situ, often in picturesque old cellars, is a great way to see the region and understand the French notion of terroir—the idea that soil type, geology, climate, and local know-how are as important as grape variety. For example, the dry, sweet, and sparkling whites of Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire, east of Tours, and the superb, more mineral flinty whites of Savennières, just west of Angers, are all produced from the same chenin blanc grape. The area also produces fine reds, including full-bodied Chinon and Saumur-Champigny, lighter Cheverny, and fruity St. Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. A well-indicated Route des Vignobles du Val de Loire runs through the principal vineyards. Consult the Web site for information on wine producers and cooperatives that are open to the public for tastings and sales, as well as wine museums and hiking trails, or visit the Maisons du Vin, such as the Maison du Vin de Saumur (Quai Lucien Gautier, Saumur).

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