Having recently returned from a buying trip to the Loire, one is perpetually surprised at the wines that abound along France’s longest river. Of its 1375 kilometres the Loire gently snakes its way through no less than ten distinct and often terribly neglected wine regions. One tends to identify the wines of this northerly French area as principally white and often light-bodied. This is a shame as there were a plethora of reds, rosés and sparkling wines to be discovered.

As you are probably aware, I can get almost messianic about my view of wine drinking and food partnerships. We are one of the few European countries who regularly regard the culture of alcohol delivery and food consumption as separate, a generalisation it may well be, but few of our European neighbours ever consider drinking without food, or eating without wine. No more so than in that historic bastion, the British pub. But this culture is about to be turned on its head. As of 1st July our much publicised smoking ban comes into force. Those romantic views of England from outside our shores often include a sawdust strewn inn full of hearty agricultural workers in flat caps with a Jack Russell nestling contentedly under a pew. What the country has objected to, and what the law is about to enforce, is that we will no longer have to fight our way through a fog of tobacco smoke to order our ploughman’s lunch. Opinions are divided on the issue, but the law will prevail nonetheless. Pubs which wallowed in this outdated view of English life will have to change, and change quickly. The culture of pub drinking and its environment will suffer a dramatic change in order to survive.

One aspect of this imminent change will be the emphasis on food provision and the de-mystification of an arcane mysoganist culture. We are likely, at a stroke, to move closer to the eating and drinking habits of our EU cousins. A new breed of so-called gastro-pubs have been creeping into our psyche all over the county for some years and the consumption of wine in such establishments has grown in direct proportion to the quality of food on offer. It is likely too that beer consumption without the obligatory denisons decorated with pipe smoke and dartboards, may well decline accordingly. Wine purchasing and ensuing consumption is principally lead by in-store displays of supermarkets, and as little as ten major wine brands tend to dominate our buying habits. With the pressure to research and provide a more condusive eating and drinking environment, the exposure of more varied styles of wine is likely to be one of the side-effects.

Our fierce denial of the joys of Chardonnay and the desire for crisper, lighter styles of wine consumption in pubs and restaurants has already trebled the demand for Pinot Grigio from Italy and Sauvignon Blanc from almost anywhere in the world. This attitude alone may well bring the myriad of wine styles from an area such as the Loire kicking and screaming into our newly exposed drinking habits. In addition the view of a healthier life-style has already changed our pub menus more successfuly than Jamie Oliver changing school dinners.

Disappearing fast are the over-cooked, over-fried or over-frozen offerings rapidly being replaced by steamed or roasted food and the provisions of a salad cuisine is by now outpacing France itself. Wines to be drunk with these lighter menus are beginning to be selected sensitively and intelligently and, if the wines of the Loire don’t fit the bill perfectly, I do not know what can. Look out for brimming glasses of Muscadet, a wine from the oceanic mouth of the river made from that most modest of grapes Melon de Bourgogne, which would more than happily partner a Cromer crab salad. Upstream from Muscadet look for the crackling dry Chenins of Anjou-Saumur, or the red grapes Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon making the delightful rosés of Anjou. To the centre of the Loire comes the fresh, raspberry-scented Cabernet Franc of Touraine,best drunk cool and young with a light paté, and the homeland of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé in the upper Loire providing us with the crisp gooseberry scented delicacy of the Sauvignon grape alongside their inexpensive cousin, Quincy. If it is a light sparkling wine you need to start the evening, look no further than the Méthode Traditionelle Cremant de Loire. There too we find the off-dry Vouvray, served chilled among our farming community in the newly fresh air of your local pub, I can think of no better trigger with which to open discussions on the vagaries of the sugar beet harvest.