Wine Tourism in the Loire: the Côte Roannaise
Easy to locate, this wine-growing region is situated in the Upper Loire, near the town of... Roanne, in the Loire department (42). AOC Côte Roannaise is therefore part of the Loire vineyard, as are 3 other appellations also located in the Auvergne region - Saint Pourçain, Côtes du Forez, Côtes d'Auvergne. Have you ever heard of the 'Volcanic Loire'? This association gathers about winemakers from these 4 AOCs; its aim is to promote the region's vineyards and wines, which remained unknown for a long time but which, over the past ten years, have been sold and served more and more frequently in wine shops and restaurants. Here is a small overview of what the Côte Roannaise, a region of wine tourism, but also of gastronomy, nature and culture, has to offer visitors.
Wine tourism: what to do in the Côte Roannaise
As wine tourism is my core business, this is what motivated my trip to this region. It is therefore with this theme that I wanted to begin this presentation.
AOC Côte Roannaise
AOC Côte Roannaise, created in 1994, is a small appellation of 215 hectares (about 537 acres), planted on granite soils, on a strip of 25 kilometers long and 14 villages west of the city of Roanne. 25 wine estates produce 85% red wines and 15% rosé wines, with only one grape variety, as there is only one allowed by the AOC: Gamay Saint Romain (named after the village of Saint-Romain-La-Motte, located at the heart of the vineyard). It is a native grape variety that is only found in this part of the Loire. A variant of Gamay Noir, its small tight bunches produce a spicy (white pepper), dense, extremely fruity and fragrant juice. White wines are also produced in the region, under the name IGP (Geographically Protected Indication) Urfé, with Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris grapes. Some vinegrowers are also trying to plant new grape varieties, such as Chenin Blanc or Riesling.
Wineries : a few addresses
Here is a very small selection of wine estates in the Côte Roannaise whose wines I had the opportunity to taste. This is a very subjective selection, and I have no doubt that you will develop your own opinion about the estates and wines of the region by meeting the winegrowers yourselves.
A special mention for Domaine Sérol, which is the estate thanks to which I discovered AOC Côte Roannaise a few years ago. The wines of Stéphane Sérol, who took over from his father Robert and who now works with his wife Carine, are distributed by many wine shops in France. The 36 hectares of vines are cultivated biodynamically. In 2018, Stéphane Sérol planted 2 hectares of Chenin. We loved the cuvée 'Nos premiers Chenins de macération', which is fresh, crisp and fruity, with muscat aromas. Stéphane and Carine Sérol gave us a warm welcome during our visit to the estate, we thank them for that.
I had the opportunity to taste the wines of Romain Paire, from Domaine des Pothiers, at the 'La Levée de la Loire' - which is a professional wine fair - in April 2022. I was amazed by the quality and originality of the wines I got to taste. At the restaurant Le Central in Roanne (see below for more information about this address), the cuvée 'Fou de Chêne' (IGP Urfé made with 100% Chardonnay) pleasantly accompanied the veal dish I had chosen. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the estate during my stay in the Côte Roannaise, but their wines are sold by various wine shops in the Touraine region, so I will have the opportunity to taste them again. If you come across a bottle produced at the estate, don't hesitate, it's a safe bet from the Côte Roannaise.
Finally, Le Retour aux Sources, in Saint-Alban-les-Eaux, is a young estate, that has been run by the Pluchot brothers since 2005. They grow 8 hectares of
vines that they are converting to organic grape-growing. I've already had the opportunity to try their wines as they are sold by a Loire Valley wine wholesaler I regularly work
"Les rencontres vigneronnes": let's meet the winemakers!
During the summer, from June to September, about fifteen vinegrowers welcome you at their wineries to have you you discover their estates and their wines. "Les rencontres vigneronnes" last about 1h30 and end with a tasting of the estate wines served with regional specialties (charcuteries and cheeses). For about 15 euros, you can learn more about the vinegrower and winemaker's jobs and discover the specificities of the AOC Côte Roannaise.
Treasure hunt in the vineyard
The Roannais Tourist Office has teamed up with winegrowers of the area to create a treasure hunt in the vineyard. The objective: to find out who has been uprooting the vines of the Côte Roannaise for a few weeks. A brochure including directions about the route to follow also gives you clues to help you solve the mystery by identifying the culprit and find the treasure. The treeasure hunt allows visitors to travel through the whole vineyard, from Ambierle in the north to Saint-Jean-Saint-Maurice in the south. The treasure hunt kit (price: €5) is available in the different estates of the area, at the Tourist Office of Roanne, at the 'Maison de Pays' in Ambierle and at 'La Cure' in Saint Jean Saint Maurice. It is also possible to order it online and have it delivered by post. We found this was an original and fun way to discover the vineyard, which allows to get off the beaten track and enjoy beautiful views of the vines.
A video to discover the Côte Roannaise
And if you don't go there for the vineyard and the wines
The region has much more to offer than vineyards and wines: magnificent river and mountain landscapes, charming villages with a rich heritage... There is enough to keep tourists busy for several days.
What to do by the riverside
The picturesque villages of the region
I will only mention three, which I visited, but the Côte Roannaise offers many villages of character.
It was the monks of Cluny, in Burgundy, who lived in the Abbey of Ambierle, who started vine and grape growing in the region. This village is the most northerly of the vineyard, and it has pretty buildings, including the church with its glazed tile roof. The cloister of the former abbey is open to the public. Before leaving the village, a detour via the Madone promontory is a must, to enjoy the superb panorama on the village and the surrounding area.
We enjoyed wandering the streets of Saint-Haon-le-Châtel, a village surrounded by walls and located at the heart of the vineyard. You can admire many beautiful buildings there, and the peace and quiet of the place makes the stroll very soothing.
In Saint-Jean-Saint-Maurice-sur-Loire, south of the Côte Roannaise, climbing the keep, a vestige of the old fortress, allows to enjoy a superb view on the Loire river and the medieval village, whose small streets conceal many houses of character and craftsmen's workshops.
Local specialties and gastronomy
Montbrison is located in the Loire department, 65 km south of Roanne. An AOC cheese called 'fourme' is produced there: the fourme de Montbrison is much less known than its cousin the fourme d'Ambert, due to a more confidential production. Its body is also more yellow, its texture a little firmer and less creamy, and it is slightly more full-bodied, while being less powerful than a bleu d'Auvergne or a bleu des Causses.
The praluline is the specialty of Maison Pralus, founded in 1948 in Roanne, and which has since then opened many shops in Lyon, Saint Etienne, Paris, Dijon... The praluline, created in 1955, is a brioche made with butter, hazelnuts, almonds and homemade pralines. It's sweet, it's melting, crunchy too... and it's a delight for breakfast, dessert or in my opinion, even more for tea time.
The Troisgros restaurants
What an institution! The Troisgros family's restaurant, in Ouches, is considered as one of the best restaurants in France, with 3 stars in the Michelin Guide. It alone deserves the detour in the region. Count no less than €340 for the menu, €130 if you come for lunch. So if your budget is toot tight, you can go and eat at Le Central, opposite the Roanne train station. This restaurant also belongs to the Troisgros family and allows you to enjoy lovely and tasty food for much more affordable prices. Remember to book, because the restaurant room was full the night we came and the waiters refused last-minute reservations.
I hope this presentation has been appetizing enough for you to feel like visiting Roanne and the Côte Roannaise region. The latter is really worth the detour, even a stay, as it has many facets to offer. For more information, I invite you to visit the Roannais Tourist Office's website: you will see how rich and varied the region is. Have some nice holidays !