About wines Coteaux du Layon from Anjou and Saumur wine producing regions in Loire Valley of France

January 08, 2011
About Wines from Loire Valley of France
Best wine supplier in Philippines discusses wine related topics

Anjou and Saumur Part 1
This diverse viticultural region is possibly the most difficult of all in the Loire to get to grips with; here there are stunning white wines from Savennières, delicious reds from Saumur and particularly Saumur-Champigny, and a glut of stupendous sweet wines, ranging from regional appellations such as Coteaux du Layon and Coteaux de l’Aubance, up to the cru designations of Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. This is the Loire at its most dynamic; a melting pot of viticultural excitement, led by such superstars as Claude Papin, Stéphane Branchereau and Jo Pithon.

My first experience of Angers and Saumur was touring the region in my trusty (or should that be rusty?) Fiat Uno, staying not far north of Angers in a beautiful riverside hotel, the name of which sadly now escapes me. Angers has much to offer beyond wine; the imposing chateau, with its seventeen towers of black slate and white granite, and ornamental gardens, is well worth a visit. If towers and gardens aren’t enough, the fabulous 14th Century Apocalypse Tapestry housed within is close to breath-taking. As for Saumur, a simple walk around the 14th/15th Century chateau that sits on the hillside overlooking the town might be enough; if not, I suggest wandering inside to the restaurant, Les Délices du Chateau. The tapestry on the wall may not be so impressive, but the traditional Loire fare served within, and the wine list, is more than passable.
The Coteaux du Layon and its Crus
With such a myriad of wines, it is extremely difficult to know just where to start. But if there are any wines here which stake a claim to greatness, it is those of the Coteaux du Layon and its crus (although Savennières is a modern-day dry challenger to this crown). And so we should start with this, one of the Loire’s great sweet wine appellations.

The Coteaux du Layon appellation was delimited in 1950, and covers 27 communes that line the Layon as it flows at first northeast, and then northwest, towards the Loire. To my palate this is a region that produces simply fabulous wines. Here Chenin Blanc, grown on primarily schistous soils and aided by the Layon which promotes the development of Noble Rot, produces lusciously sweet wines that display a captivating array of aromas both in youth and in their dotage. Maximum permitted yields under INAO regulations for this appellation are 35 hl/ha, and the must requires a minimum 204 g/l of sugar, leaving at least 34 g/l residual sugar after fermentation. Wines produced from six of the Coteaux du Layon communes are entitled to append their name to that of the appellation on the label provided the wines also meet more stringent criteria, including a reduction to 30 hl/ha and a must concentration of 221 g/l of sugar. Four of these communes, namely Faye-d’Anjou, Rablay-sur-Layon, Beaulieu-sur-Layon and St-Aubin-de-Luigné (one of the more commonly seen on labels, often abbreviated to just St-Aubin), lie right on the Layon as it flows northwest.

The remaining two, St-Lambert-du-Lattay and Rochefort-sur-Loire, flank the river as it approaches the Loire. These names are worth looking out for, as is Chaume, a small hamlet located close to St-Aubin-de-Luigné. The wines of Chaume have always been restricted to 25 hl/ha, a lower rendement than the rest of the Layon communes, although there was little to indicate this, the appellation being the rather straightforward Coteaux du Layon Chaume, the village name appended to Coteaux du Layon as it is for the other six communes. The wines themselves also met more stringent criteria, including a minimum concentration of sugar in the must of 272 g/l, significantly higher than that demanded of other wines of the Coteaux du Layon (regardless of the name under which they are labelled!), and when finished an alcoholic strength of at least 12% and at least 68 g/l of residual sugar.

Following a decree in September 2003 the wines enjoyed a brief period under the grand title of Chaume, Premier Cru des Coteaux du Layon. This was repealed in July 2005 (I can imagine the special treatment put more than a few Layon noses put out of joint, although it was the producers of Quarts de Chaume, the nearby Layon cru, who objected), returning the appellation name to its original. The INAO-Chaume seesaw continued into late 2006, where the village was once again awarded its own appellation, simply Chaume, based on the unique character of the wine which depends on passerillage as much as botrytis. The result? Predictably, objection from the syndicat of Quarts de Chaume again. The Conseil d’Etat came down in favour of the Quarts de Chaume, and in 2009 this fine appellation once more reverted to Coteaux du Layon Chaume. What next? Coteaux du Chaume?
Not quite. In late 2009 the INAO announced a new solution, a reclassification not only of Chaume but of Quarts de Chaume too, in an agreement resulting from negotiations led by Claude Papin of Chateau Pierre-Bise. Under this newly tabled resolution, Quarts de Chaume would see a new and elevated ranking as grand cru, and Chaume would regain its previously short-lived status as premier cru. It is a solution which I suspect will work for the two appellations in question, after all who would refuse an elevation in status of the vineyards in their possession? But what it will mean to those working the vineyards of Bonnezeaux, a cru usually seen as being on a level footing with Quarts de Chaume, remains to be seen. And downstream at Savennières, another Loire appellation with a good case for an equally grand elevation in status, there are perhaps likely to be rumblings of discontent.
Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume
The two Coteaux du Layon cru appellations also lie along the path of the river. Approaching along the N160 from the southwest, turn right onto the D55 and head for Beaulieu-sur-Layon where incidentally there is a good syndicat d’initiative; the staff here will be able to point you in the direction of many of the local domaines. Continue through Beaulieu and the Layon will be on your right, and after a few miles you will come to the small hamlet of Bonnezeaux. The vineyards here, covering just 104 hectares, are located on three hills, La Montagne, Fesles and Beauregard, the slopes of which run down from Bonnezeaux towards Thouarcé, which lies on the Layon just to the southwest. These vineyards, on their schistous soils with seams of quartz, silex (flint) and phthanites (Palezoic silica) were granted AOC status in 1951, following persistent lobbying from Jean Boivin, then proprietor of Chateau de Fesles, with a total of 152 hectares of land marked up as eligible for the appellation. Boivin was a key figure in not only how Bonnezeaux developed, but how wines were made in much of this region; for example, it was Boivin that introduced harvesting in tries, the practice of passing through the vineyard in order to pick only the ripest and botrytised grapes, something he had learnt at Chateau d’Yquem. The wines of Bonnezeaux, harvested at a typical 22 hl/ha, with a minimum requirement of 230 g/l sugar in the must – the highest in all the Layon appellations – have a rich yet nervously excited character about them as a result.

For a slightly different view of what the region can produce, instead of turning right for Beaulieu-sur-Layon, turn left along the D54. After a very short distance you will pass by the hamlet of Pierre-Bise, dominated by the tower, with its pitched roof and weather vane atop, of Claude Papin’s house. Sometime thereafter, a turning to the left will take you down a narrow road towards Chaume and here, stretching out in four sections on the slopes down from the village, are the vineyards of the Quarts de Chaume. This cru appellation followed on from Bonnezeaux, having been legally defined in 1954. The slopes (an example is pictured above) enjoy a particular mesoclimate, running right down to the Layon as it meanders past, encouraging mists to cling to the hillside and the consequent development of botrytis, and the soils are a complex mix, thanks to hillside erosion, of carboniferous and schistous types. The name does not refer to quartz, but rather relates to share-cropping; at one time the owners of the slopes rented the land to the monks of Ronceray, the payment being one quarter of the harvest, hence Quarts de Chaume. Nowadays no such payment is necessary; there are 41 hectares of vineyards, out of a possible 48, under cultivation, owned and tended by leading winemakers such as Claude Papin and Florent Baumard, and the product of the land is a fabulous, rich, marrowy wine which ages beautifully. The fruit is typically harvested at 17 hl/ha in several tries, so it is perhaps no surprise that in favourable vintages these are some of the greatest wines of the whole Loire vignoble.

The Coteaux de l’Aubance and Anjou-Coteaux
In the shadow of their more illustrious neighbour lie the vineyards along the Aubance, a tiny tributary of the Loire, and also those of the Anjou-Coteaux de la Loire. They are worth considering here, as both turn out white wines in a similar sweet style to those of the Coteaux du Layon, although rarely do they reach the level of quality that the Layon frequently offers.
The Aubance runs in a northwards direction, until it turns to the northwest heading for the Brissac-Quincé. From here it continues, turning slowly west at Mûrs-Erigne, before draining into the Louet, an arm of the Loire that runs from Angers down to Chalonnes-sur-Loire. The river’s erosion has not created a long string of southerly slopes like those found along the Layon; the topography here is more varied, a series of small slopes and hills with many different aspects. These are in many places planted with Chenin, and with the help of botrytis, encouraged by the mists of the Aubance, there is the potential here for producing some attractive sweet wines, as recognised by the Coteaux de l’Aubance appellation, delimited in 1950. There are ten eligible communes along the riverside, the delimited regions reflecting those with favourable exposure and where there is a predilection for the formation of botrytis, typically on schistous Silurian and Ordovicien soils. There are currently about 150 hectares under cultivation (although the appellation boundaries encompass a much larger area), and the fruit is harvested at just over 30 hl/ha, in a similar fashion to that from the Layon. Nevertheless, this tiny region has a very low profile, despite my observation that there are a very small number of good wines produced here.
It is the Anjou-Coteaux de la Loire that wraps up this journey around the sweet wine appellations of Anjou. This is frontier land, the vineyards located around the banks of the Loire itself; continue seaward and you will see Chenin gradually replaced by Muscadet, as you enter the Nantais. Although there are about 1400 hectares that qualify for Anjou-Coteaux de la Loire, spread over ten communes, as per the appellation boundaries which were created in 1946, there are today only about 43 hectares under cultivation. The fruit is harvested at 28 hl/ha or thereabouts. There are some good reputations here in Anjou-Coteaux, but I confess I have limited experience of the wines myself.

Source: http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/loireanjousaumur1.shtml

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