The wines of Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur
By Jim Budd
This Guide was last updated on 19 April 2011
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Although whites now play second fiddle to Cabernet Franc reds in this micro-region, there are some very fine dry whites from Saumur made from Chenin Blanc, often fermented and aged in wood. Increasingly 400-600 litre barrels are being used in preference to barriques (225 litres) to reduce the oak flavours imparted.
Some sweet wines, principally Coteaux de Saumur and a few in Azay le Rideau, are made here from Chenin Blanc that has been left to ripen late on the vine dependent on the vintage. Although frequently charming to drink young, with Chenin Blanc’s striking acidity these sweet wines can age well.
Reds from west of Tours and Saumur come in a variety of styles from easy quaffers bottled within six months of the vintage (sometimes known as cuvées printemps – spring bottlings) to wines that spend 12-18 months in oak, which need and repay time in bottle. Often producers have a range of wines that cover all of these styles. The light reds make ideal summer lunch and picnic wines – best served lightly chilled. The more serious reds often are deep coloured, concentrated and quite structured but always with relatively high acidity, one of the hallmarks of Loire wines. From very good vintages they have the potential to age at least 20 years and, in these days of high prices in Bordeaux, offer very good value. Bourgueil and Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil tend to be a little more tannic and more masculine than those of the softer, more feminine-styled Chinon wines.
Here you’ll find dry rosés with colours range from pale to mid-pink. They are best drunk young to enjoy their vivacious, youthful fruit as they rarely improve with age.
Sparkling wines from Saumur, whether Saumur Brut or Crémant de Loire, tend to be creamier and less austere than those from Montlouis or Vouvray. I think that some cuvées, such as Bouvet-Ladubay’s Cuvée Saphir, have too high a dosage which soon makes them cloying. In general the best sparkling wines here are the Crémant de Loires with Langlois-Chateau, Champagne Bollinger’s outpost in the Loire, the top of the sparkling wine houses. Sparkling wines here 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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