Anjou-Saumur, together with Touraine, make up the Middle Loire. (I feel like there’s a joke here about Middle Earth.) But, again for the benefit of my poor brain, I’m going to further separate these three regions (Anjou and Saumur really being two regions that are lumped together) into two separate posts.
Let’s jump right in and start with Anjou-Saumur.
Note: For a simplified look at the Loire Valley, please see Loire Valley Regional Round-Up and Wine Review and Pop Quiz(es): Loire Valley. (More appropriate for those studying for their Level 3 exams.)
As we saw when we looked at Pays Nantais, the moderating influence was the Atlantic Ocean. As we follow the Loire River inland, that moderating influence becomes less and less. In Anjou-Saumur, which is immediately east of Pays Nantais, we can still call the climate predominantly maritime. Thus, similarly, rainfall occurs throughout the year and, as we so often see that means all the associated seasonal risks: spring rain affects flowering and fruit set; summer rain increases disease pressure; rain in late summer and early autumn affects harvest.
GRAPES TO KNOW:
Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley, where it can also be called Pineau or Pineau de la Loire. The grape is an early budding variety (thus prone to spring frost) as well as a late ripener (thus vulnerable to autumn rains). It’s also a vigorous variety that, given the right environment and vineyard management, can carry high yields and is known to ripen unevenly and therefore must be harvested over several passes through the vineyard throughout the harvest season. The bad news is that it’s prone to powdery mildew and trunk disease. The potential good news is that it’s also susceptible to botrytis—most notably in Anjou where the River Layon and its tributaries create ideal conditions for botrytis at the end of the growing season, enabling the production of botrytis-affected Chenin.
The oxford refers to Chenin as the world’s most versatile grape variety. And, indeed, it is capable of producing a range of sweet, still, and sparkling wines, all of which can be of very high quality, complete with years of age-ability.
Dry and off dry wines produced in the Loire tend to have medium intensity of aromas and flavors with a palatable steely, smokey character. They’re typically medium alcohol with a marked high acidity innate to the grape variety that can be well-balanced with R.S. in off-dry wine styles.
When it comes to winemaking the goal of Loire winemakers is to retain primary fruit flavors. Chenin is typically fermented at cool to mid-range temperatures so, INTERESTING FACTOID: fermentation can actually last several months, according to my text. The fermentation typically takes place in neutral vessel, either large old oak or stainless steel, and ML is traditionally avoided. Wines will also age in neutral vessels.
Cabernet Franc, though the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon, is often overshadowed by its child. But as The Oxford Companion to Wine notes, “only in Anjou-Saumur and Touraine in the Loire Valley…is it quantitatively more important than Cabernet Sauvignon.” FUN FACT: The Oxford also notes that you can identify Cabernet Franc from Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard “by its less dramatically indented leaves.”
The grape is an early budding, mid-ripening variety, the latter point meaning that it can be picked before autumn rains, the former point lending to the fact that it’s more prone to coulure. Cabernet Franc is often celebrated for for being “winter hardy,” thus thrives well in cooler climates like the Loire. However, those cooler climates can produce wines that tend to have an overtly herbaceous quality, due to less ripening of the skins. My text notes that growers of the Loire are now more focused on better canopy management, such as keeping open canopy and leaf removal, which has reduced incidence of overly herbaceous Loire Cabernet Franc. (That, and the region has also been experiencing warmer summers in recent years—thank you global warming.)
As far as tasting notes go, my book supplies a generic description of medium to pronounced aromas of red fruits alongside floral notes and structurally the wines will tend to have light to medium body, medium tannins, and high acid. I also like this descriptor I found in the Oxford that defines Cabernet Franc against Cabernet Sauvignon: “Cabernet Franc is, typically, light to medium bodied with more immediate fruit that Cabernet Sauvignon and marked fragrance, including sometimes some of the herbaeceous aromas evident in unripe Cabernet Sauvignon.”
Here in the Loire, Cabernet Franc is used to create either single variety still, dry wines or as part of a rosé blend.
In regards to winemaking, the ultimate goal is to retain primary fruit aromas and flavors. Though, in some cases with some producers, more extractive types are made. The single-varietal Cabernet Franc is typically destemmed, pressed, and fermented in concrete or old wood open-top vats to allow punch-downs and/or pump-overs for regular cap management. My text notes that most producers use ambient yeasts for fermentation. Wine typically ages in old oak (of various sizes), but again, more aggressive styles are produced and may be aged in a portion of new French oak barriques.
Rosés, which may include some of the varieties named below—are mainly produced via direct press, though my text notes that some ‘may’ be made with short maceration (and I *believe* also saignée). These guys typically age for a short period of time, just three to four months in neutral barrel.
Grolleau Noir is what the Oxford refers to as “the everyday red grape variety of the Touraine” (not covered here). It’s an early budding, mid-ripening variety known to produce extremely high yields and is prone to botrytis bunch rot (and not in a good way). In the Loire, it is used solely as a blending variety in rosé (it’s actually not even allowed for red wine production in the Loire), specifically in Rosé d’Anjou and Rosé de Loire. However, the Oxford also notes “it is to the benefit of wine drinkers that it is so systematically being replaced with Gamay and, more recently Cabernet Franc.”
Gamay Noir—I’m not going to dive into a full description of this grape at this moment. I’ll save that for when we’re focusing on Beaujolais. But here in the Middle Loire, the grape is principally grown in the Touraine (not featured here) and generally made by carbonic maceration. As stated above, its primary purpose is to be used as a blending component in rosé style wines.
Cabernet Sauvignon—I’m not going to go into a full descriptor of this grape either, as that seems it would be best suited for a post where it is the main grape of the region of study. In regards to the Loire, and specifically the Middle Loire, this late ripening variety performs best in the more temperate Anjou region and, even there, the warmest sites must be chosen to ensure early budding is possible so the grape can fully develop of the length of time it needs. What’s it used for? It’s frequently blended with Cabernet Franc for dry red wine production, but is also used in rosé blends.
NOTE: There is no generic regional appellation for the Loire, but there are three regional appellations in the Middle Loire. Two are discussed here.
Anjou, though further inland, is still moderated by the Atlantic, although temperatures are more mild as it is also protected by the woods of the Vendée to the southwest. Thus, rainfall is actually pretty low. According to the Oxford, Cabernet Franc represents about 1/3 of all vineyard plantings.
Anjou AOC covers all of the Anjou. Anjou Rouge, a generic term for red wine produced here must have a minimum of 70% Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon (though in practice, it is predominantly Cabernet Franc). Anjou Blanc on the other hand must have a minimum of 80% Chenin Blanc. Maximum yields for red and wine grapes is 60 hL/ha for red and white but, check it out, 67 hL/Ha for rosé (large yields means less flavor intensity).
Anjou Villages AOC make higher quality reds from specifically designated areas; NOTE: this is for red wine only made entirely from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon (either single varietal or blend, but, again, it’s typically entirely Cabernet Franc) STRICTER RULES: maximum yields for those red wine grapes is just 55 hL/ha and the wines can only be released in the September the year after harvest.
My text notes, “A number of good producers in Anjou prefer to forsake the appellation system and opt for Vin de France.” My question: DUDE, WHY? (Does it have to do with the yield restrictions? Are they looking to use more varieties inside their blends? Are they wanting to single-varietal something not on the approved list?)
GETTING INTO THE KNITTY GRITTY: Within Anjou there are three appellations for sweet wine and one for dry Chenin Blanc. Ready for this amazingness? Let’s go…
1 – Coteaux du Layon AOC—This is a large appellation located on the steep slopes on the right bank of Layon River, which FUN FACT: runs into the Loire River. (On the map below, it’s the blue squiggle going down and to the right.) The AOC specializes in wines made from botrytis affected Chenin Blanc. FUN CHEATER FACT: If botrytis didn’t happen that year (or not enough did) the grapes can instead be dried on the vine to produce a sweet, non-botrytis, wine instead. FUN FACT: Coteaux du Layon Chaume became Loire’s first Premier Cru in 2019 (CONGRATULATIONS!!!)
There are stricter rules (regarding maximum yields and minimum alcohol) for wines labelled Coteaux du Layon + village name. And, as with any region that is making botrytis-inspired wines, grapes must be picked by hand and typically takes several passes through the vineyard throughout the harvest season. These sweet wines typically have pronounced aromas (cooked citrus, apple, honey), medium (+) body, medium alcohol, and are high in acid.
2 – Quarts de Chaume AOC is encompassed by the broader Coteaux du Layon AOC. It is also noted for its sweet wine production. Here, as well as in Bonnezeaux (below), there are stricter rules regarding maximum yields and minimum alcohol. FUN FACT: As of 2019 this is Loire’s first Grand Cru (CONGRATULATIONS!!!)
3 – Bonnezeux AOC as noted above, rules are stricter here than Coteaux du Layon AOC but less so than Quarts de Chaume (probably how this guy got his own Grand Cru status, hey?). It’s noted, and it makes sense, that limiting yields and increasing minimum alcohol adds to flavor, intensity, as well as mouthfeel—thus higher quality—of the wines produced.
4 – Savennieres AOC is the one guy that specializes in fully dry Chenin Blanc. Vines are typically found on steep, south-facing slopes facing the Loire River, where cooling Atlantic breezes are allowed to flow through from the west. The soil is made of low fertility, rocky schist, which assist in low yields that result in grapes with concentration and ripeness. Savennieres Chenin is marked with very high acid and (often) high levels of alcohol. They are also known to age quite well and, in some cases, may actually require bottle age before approachable. There are two vineyards within the Savennieres that have their own AOC status:
- Savennieres La Roche aux Moines AOC
- Coulee de Serrant AOC
These two vineyards benefit from warm sites on slopes facing the Loire, resulting in riper fruit and also have a lower max yield: 30 hL/ha for dry wines (WHOA).
Footnote: Coulee de Serrant AOC is a monopole owned exclusively and farmed biodynamically by Nicolas Joly. (Is that cool or not cool? Can’t decide.)
ANJOU SAUMUR ROSE PRODUCTION—Note, these wines can be produced in both the Anjou and Saumur regions, but are predominantly produced within Anjou.
- Rosé de Loire AOC is made from a range of varieties including Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau Noir, and Gamay (see descriptors above) and the wines are always dry.
- Rosé d’Anjou AOC is mainly made from Grolleau though other options include both Cabernets, Malbec (FUN FACT: here it’s called Cot), and Gamay. These wines typically have low intensity aromas and flavors, as max yields are on the high side (65 hL/ha). TASTING NOTES are MEDIUM everything: medium pink-orange, medium intensity of red fruit, medium (+) acidity and medium alcohol and are medium dry (also mid-priced hahaha). FUN FACT: This is a popular wine and the best selling of the three rosés in Anjou-Saumur
- Cabernet d’Anjou AOC MUST be made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are typically deeper in color than most rosés at a medium pink. And, despite what you might think, these wines are medium dry.
Wine Case Study: Chateau d’Epire Savennieres Cuvee Speciale 2018
About the Wine: (Please note that all technical information is gathered after my initial tasting assessment so as not to influence my perception or opinion of the wine.)
This is a 100% varietal Chenin Blanc. According to the winery, the vineyards “Located on the highest slopes of the Appellation, near the Loire. The Hu-Boyau and Champ de la Croix plots benefit from a remarkable south/south-west exposure on schist soils.”
The wine aged in combination old oak, chestnut, and acacia barrels for nine months.
Price: $29.99 (wine.com)
Appearance: Pale lemon
Aroma: Medium (+) intensity: green apple, lemon pith, blossom, vanilla, toast or smoke, mineral, wet stone, wet wool
Palate: Dry, high acid, medium bodied, medium alcohol, pronounced flavor intensity: In addition to the notes above, I actually get a bit more stone fruit on the palate than I did on the nose including just-ripe apricot and yellow peach. I also found just a touch of almond. The palate also has a drying affect, coating the palate with just a touch of texture. The finish here is long, and I’m getting that beautiful combination of smoke/toast along with the smooth vanilla lingering in the back of the breath.
An interesting note for me is I would call this wine linear. It has a clear line of structure that leads you straight through from start to finish. That’s not to say it’s doesn’t have levels or it isn’t complex, but it is to say that it is so well balanced and clear in its message (profile). For me this was an interesting comparison to the Vouvray (a tad riper, much more floral, slightly less focused, and a question next to the amount of R.S.) tasted in conjunction with the Touraine overview as well as a rounder, fuller, riper expression of Chenin Blanc from a warmer region (South Africa).
Conclusion: This is a very well balanced wine with an elevated acidity that is calmed by the undertones of what I assume is time in barrel—the vanilla, toast, smoke. While those stone fruits were quite subtle, it added to the level of complexity to the primary fruit characteristics on the palate. Though the intensity of the aroma was at a medium (+) level, the palate more than made up for it with its pronounced profile, immediately hitting the palate with the fresh citrus notes that then lead into those stone fruit flavors. As mentioned above, the finish is long and lingering. This is an outstanding wine.
Furthermore, I do believe that this wine has the ability to age further in the bottle. The high level of acidity and the amount of alcohol included will certainly lend to the longevity of the wine. I do believe that those stone fruit flavors will become more pronounced with time and evolve into riper expressions which will further balance out that high acidity.
Saumur AOC celebrates white, red, and rosé still wines as well as sparkling wines, though the tagline of the region, in general, tends to be “‘championing the Cabernet Franc grape in a light, accessible style.” I’m not covering sparkling wines here, but I do want to call out that the Oxford states it is the sparkling wine, so-called Saumur Mousseux, that is the most important wine of the region (and the most important Mousseux in all of France).
As a broad overview of the region in general (remember things will be different pocket to pocket), Saumur soils have chalk, flint, and clay, providing good drainage and good water-holding capacity. Max yields tend to be on the high side, about 60 ha/hl for whites, 57 ha/hl for reds and rosés, so wines tend to have low intensity of aromas and flavors (hence the “accessible style”).
White wine, or Saumur Blanc, is made from Chenin Blanc, which the Oxford notes “can be remarkably difficult to distinguish from Anjou Blanc.” (I’m sorry I could not acquire one to compare.)
Coteaux du Saumur AOC is the name to know when talking about sweet white wine from Chenin Blanc. This is the only appellation for sweet wines in all of Saumur. These wines are made with over-ripe Chenin Blanc grapes (with or without noble rot) and yields are super low (35 hl/ha), producing concentrated grapes and, thus, lusciously sweet wines, balanced by Chenin’s innate high acidity.
Red wine, or Saumur Rouge, is made from at least 70% Cabernet Franc with Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Pineau d’Aunis allowed to be in the mix.
Saumur-Champigny AOC is the place to know when discussing Saumur Rouge. As the Atlas describes, “This is one of Cabernet Franc‘s freshest and most fragrant expressions, from tuffeau soils that are effectively an extension of the best red wine country of Touraine (not covered here) just to the east.” (PS They’re speaking of Chinon, which as you can see in the map is just a few miles to the right.) The vines are situated on steep slopes above the cliffs of the Loire River. The Atlas notes that, as one moves further inland (away from the Loire) the soils become the more sandier style of tuffeau and, thus, the wines a little lighter.
So it is that, Saumur-Champigny AOC is an appellation for red wines only, made from minimum 85% Cabernet Franc (THEMS THE RULES!). The wines are broadly defined as pale ruby in color, medium to medium (+) aroma and flavor intensity, medium alcohol, high acid, and medium tannin.
Maximum yields here, as with Saumur AOC, are relatively high at 57 hL/ha, so some wines may be lighter in intensity than the aforementioned medium (+) (these things tend to depend on grower and producer). And with that “accessibility” in mind, wine may be released as early as December of the year of harvest (that IS early) and (obviously) intended to drink young and enjoy the primary fruit flavors.
There is, also, a small amount of rosé wine produced in Saumur—Cabernet de Saumur (dryer and, as the Oxford states, “less ambitious” than Cabernet d’Anjou).
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