The wines of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur
By Jim Budd
This Guide was last updated on 19 April 2011
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The ‘generic’ Touraine appellation is much less important west of Tours than it is to the east of the city. There are, however, are a few patches of Touraine AC – around Ste-Maure en Touraine, Richelieu (especially François Plouzeau – Domaine de la Garrelière), west of Chinon and particularly Azay le Rideau, which is allowed to append its name to the Touraine AC. The small Touraine Azay le Rideau appellation (around 90ha) is for whites from Chenin Blanc and rosés that have to have a minimum of 60% of Grolleau and can include Cabernet, Côt and Gamay. The whites from Azay are generally sec or demi-sec, although in very good vintages there are some sweet wines made.
Perhaps the Loire’s best-known red wine appellation, there are 2,100ha planted, from vineyards either side of the Vienne tributary and across towards the Loire. The village of Cravant les Coteaux, to the east of Chinon, has 40% of the AC’s vineyards. In Chinon Cabernet Franc is dominant and, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon is authorised, it is rarely used. The lightest wines come from the sandy soils around Savigny en Véron, close to the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne. Many of Chinon’s vineyards are planted on the fairly flat gravel beds laid down by the Vienne. Then there is the limestone coteaux (hillside) with vines planted on the south-facing slopes producing often long-lived robust wines, this is where several of the top producers' most famous vineyards are to be found. A small amount of rosé is made – about 4% of the total production. There is also an even smaller proportion of white from Chenin Blanc, although the number of producers making white Chinon has increased substantially over the past 15 years.
They may be two different appellations but the wines are very similar, although a greater proportion of Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil’s vineyards (1,000ha) are planted on gravel than are Bourgueil’s 1,400 hectares. Differences between producers and whether the wines come from vines on gravel or on the coteaux (hillsides) are more important than any differences between the two appellations. The vineyards are planted on a south-facing slope that runs from Saint Patrice in the east to Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil. The forest at the top of the hillside protects the vines from cold north winds. Above the vines and just below the start of the forest there are a whole series of amazing cellars hollowed out of the limestone, which producers use as barrel rooms and a place to store old vintages. A tiny amount of rosé is also made.
This catch-all appellation covers all three colours for still wine, and white and rosé for sparkling. The appellation stretches from the Loire in the north to south of the attractive small town of Le Puy Notre Dame, which since 2006 can add its name onto the Saumur name for reds. Reds have Cabernet Franc as the main variety with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis also permitted but rarely used. The dry white has to be 80% Chenin with up to 20% of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc allowed. Although production of white has been edged out by the popularity of the reds, there are some magnificent pure Chenins made here – amongst the Loire’s finest dry whites. The Saumur sparkling wine industry centres around St-Hilaire St-Florent just to west of Saumur where the limestone cellars are ideally suited to the production of sparkling wines: some cellars are converted quarries, while others have been created specially. Annual production of Saumur Brut is just over 11 million bottles. Most of the Saumur sparkling is a blend with Chenin Blanc dominating, often complemented by Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Including the production of Crémant de Loire and leaving aside Champagne, Saumur is one of France’s most important centres for sparkling wine production. Around 10% of Saumur Brut is rosé. There is no appellation for sparkling red, although some is made it has to be sold as Vin rouge de Mousseux de Qualité.
Along with Chinon, Saumur Champigny is the Loire’s best known red. Curiously the appellation wasn’t established until 1957 as for much of the earlier part of the 20th century the production of white and rosé was more important than red. The appellation covers nine communes stretching from Saumur eastwards to Montsoreau and across to Varrains and St-Cyr en Bourg.
Since the late 1980s the quality of the sweet wines produced under this appellation has improved as has the producers’ interest in making it. Made from Chenin Blanc, Coteaux de Saumur is not as rich as the sweet wines from the Coteaux du Layon but they have an attractive citrous delicacy.
Appellation for easy-drinking, dry rosés made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Rosé that must be dry, made from Côt, Gamay, Grolleau, Pineau d’Aunis and Pinot Noir with at least 30% Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the appellation covers nearly all the Anjou and Touraine areas, it is mainly used in Anjou.
Established in 1975 this appellation has similar strict rules to those of Champagne, including a minimum 12 months on the lees, and is more rigorous than that for sparkling Saumur. The production area covers the appellation zones of Touraine, Anjou and Saumur, but is principally made in the Saumur area. Ten per cent is rosé and the rest white. Annual production is just under eight million bottles – many produced around Saumur.
Red, white and rosé produced over the whole of the Loire region and usually labelled as single varietal wines. After the Languedoc-Roussillon, the Loire is the 2nd largest regional producer of IGP (the former Vins de Pays). Sixty per cent of the production is red. Whites are based most often on Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Until 2007 this was called Vin de Pays Jardin de la France. Some other smaller Vin de Pays zones exist, whose names are occasionally used by certain producers.
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