The birthplace of Chenin Blanc
By Jim Budd
This Guide was last updated on 19 April 2011
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Made from Chenin Blanc that has been left to ripen late on the vine. Chenin tends to ripen irregularly, so often the same bunch can include some nobly rotted grapes as well as some that are hardly ripe. The grapes should either be affected by noble rot (botrytis) or passerillage – concentration through the grapes being dried on the vine. The grapes are hand picked by successive tries or sweeps of the vineyards, to ensure only the most suitable berries are selected. The wines from the Coteaux du Layon and Coteaux de l’Aubance can be delicately sweet (referred to as moelleux) up to really concentrated, honeyed, aromatic and rich, the sweetest known as liquoreux. Producers will often produce several cuvées of varying sweetness, especially in favourable years. The crus Chaume, Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux, are more likely to be the fullest and most intense styles. The richest and highest in residual sugar may also be labelled Séléction de Grains Nobles wines. Anjou’s sweet wines are increasingly fermented and aged in oak casks to add complexity. The combination of Chenin’s natural acidity and the sweetness permits these wines to age for decades and in great vintages for more than a century. The last 20 years has seen a renaissance of sweet wines in Anjou.
Chenin Blanc is the principal grape variety of the Anjou for dry, off dry and medium dry white wines. The best producers concentrate on dry rather than medium sweet and there are an increasing number of examples of fine dry whites being made here with a growing number fermented and aged in oak. Unfortunately Anjou’s historically poor reputation continues to make them difficult to sell. At their best the dry whites of Savennières are the finest dry whites here combining finesse and minerality.
The styles of the Anjou reds range from light-bodied, fruity, fresh wines to be consumed in their youth to examples of Anjou Villages, which may be full-bodied, concentrated and structured having been aged in oak barrels for 10–18 months. The predominant soils of Anjou – schist, granite and slate – tend to produce wines with more noticeable tannins than those from Saumur or Touraine. Anjou Villages often need time in bottle to soften and the best of these will develop well for 5-10 years – longer in the best vintages.
More than a third of the production of this region is rosé and the wines can be dry, medium dry or medium sweet. The best of them are medium-bodied, showing good ripe fruit. They are best drunk young.
Anjou Mousseaux are simple sparkling wines, generally dry or off-dry. Crémant de Loire whites are mainly brut and vary greatly according to the blend of grapes used in the base wine. Chardonnay may give an added elegance to the Chenin Blanc, and the addition of red grapes adds to the weight of the wines. The rosés are dry and fruity with a touch of tannin.
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