Anjou wines: an overview

Anjou is a sprawling region that begins near Chinon and rambles west along the southern bank of the Loire for over fifty miles. Angers, the area’s major city, is a worthy place for an afternoon visit. The main attraction is a remarkable artwork dating from the 1300’s called the Apocalypse Tapestry. It has been recently installed in a stunning exhibition hall at the Chateau d’Angers – a formidable medieval structure that dominates the city’s center. Your Michelin Guide will give you the details, but let us state: for anyone even vaguely interested in the arts, the Apocalypse Tapestry is mandatory.

Skeleton with arms of René d'Anjou, by pantuflaThe wines of Anjou are the most diverse and satisfying of the Loire. Anjou is a godsend for afficionados of sweet white wine, there are numerous small producers making delicious, balanced and potentially long-lived Grains Nobles Chenin Blancs. I visited farmers with holdings of four or five oak barrels of richly sweet Coteaux du Layon mulling away in the backshed. Some of these vignerons, like Jo Pithon and Patrick Baudouin, and Philippe Delesvaux quickly sell out their wines.

The ‘95 and ‘96 vintages at well-known domaines such as Domaine des Baumard produced brilliant sweet and demi-sec wines – in copious amounts. Baumard’s most important vineyard, in the microclimate called Quarts-de-Chaume, produces an exotic sweet Chenin that has to be tasted to be believed. In relation to its counterparts in Alsace and Sauternes, Quarts-de-Chaume is both underrated and underpriced.

By way of contrast, we found a manifestation of the eccentric and grand side of the wine industry at Chateau des Fesles; this vast property was owned by the highly regarded Boivin family and was sold in 1991 to the legendary (in France, anyway) Gaston Lenôtre. Lenôtre, a renowned pastry chef and restaurant entrepreneur, attempted to create a wine merchandising empire. He amassed a wonderful portfolio of vineyards – but four years and a gazillion francs later, he ditched them. The sugary remnants of Lenôtre’s pastry museum were still scattered throughout the winery’s main building and tasting rooms when we first visited there in 1996. Now, it has been magnificently restored by the Bordeaux-based Germain group, who have effectively rejuvenated Chateau des Fesles’ venerable status.

This estate has holdings in the appellation of Bonnezeaux, another tiny and undervalued source of delicious, earthy, sweet Layon; along with Quarts-de-Chaume, it is of cru status; to qualify as Bonnezeaux, wines are required to reach 230 grams of natural sugar. In other parts of the Layon, recent law allows for any vigneron in the Layon to use the designation Selections de Grains Nobles (S.G.N.) provided they declare their intent before the harvest and the wines are judged to be of natural sugar equalling or exceeding 298 grams of sugar per liter. The application of this label is becoming popular, but some producers still print vin liquoreux (critics of this style of densely sweet wine discuss the “Selections de Grains Nobles” designation disparagingly. As one producer of the nervier Bonnezeaux put it: “With alcohol and sugars levels so high, they should just call liquor, liquor”).

Vendange tardive devotees will discover a rich cache in the Anjou, but fans of dry whites should visit Savennières, a small appellation to the north of the Loire river – just across from the Coteaux du Layon.

Anyway, there is much to discover in Anjou and here at I try to describe a few of the highlights. Please read my article on Loire sweet wines and subscribe to the site feed to be noticed of the upcoming article on Savennières.
For details on the classification and the geography The Wine Doctor is a good resource.

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