Starting this spring, with the release of the 2011 vintage, the Loire Valley will have two new AOC designations — Touraine-Chenonceaux and Touraine-Oisly. The Touraine is an extensive area of vineyards with prestigious AOCs including Bourgueil, Chinon, Vouvray, and Montlouis as well as different Touraine sub-appellations.
Touraine-Chenonceaux has been defined as the grape-growing areas that lie on both sides of the Cher River from Bléré on the west to the villages just east Saint-Aignan upriver. It includes the villages and towns of Chenonceaux, Francueil, Montrichard, Angé, Pouillé, Thésée, Mareuil-sur-Cher, Noyers-sur-Cher, Couffy, and Meusnes. In all, about 30 communes ("municipalities") are part of the new district.
Touraine-Oisly is an area north of Saint-Aignan and south of Blois, centered on the village of Oisly (pronounced [wah-LEE], near the larger town of Contres. It includes Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, where the wine co-op is one of our favorite places for wine, with good value for the money you pay. Touraine-Oisly covers an area of 10 communes.
The other Touraine sub-appellations are Azay-le-Rideau and Noble-Joué, both on the west side of Tours, and Amboise and Mesland, along the Loire River between Tours and Blois. Our area along the Cher River will probably come to be called the pays de Chenonceaux over time, and that will give it some extra recognition.
AOCs — appellations d'origine contrôlées ("controlled designations of origin")— define areas where specific agricultural products are produced and allow producers to label products with that specific geographical name. It's an official stamp of approval, and is designed to be a guarantee of quality for consumers — or, at least, authenticity.
Unlike the situation with a product like, for example, Cheddar cheese, which can be made anywhere in the world and still be called cheddar, in France AOC product names are tightly regulated. To give another example, you can't call a sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the Champagne region and is made from the juice of specific grape varieties, by approved methods.
In France, the AOCs are set up by a government committee called the Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité. Getting an AOC designation for a wine, cheese, or other product produced in a specific region by strictly-defined methods and practices is both an honor and a responsibility for people who work in the food and wine business.