In Val de Loire Millésime 2022, wines made from pure Cabernet Franc are confirmed at a high level in Saumur-Champigny, as much as in Chinon and Bourgueil. The news comes from the western area of the Loire Valley, where Champtoceaux has initiated the procedure for the recognition of Muscadet Cru Communaux (already on the label, as permitted by French legislation).
Instead, in the district of Anjou, along the banks of the Layon tributary, the affirmation of dry wines from Chenin (locally called Pineau de la Loire) continues. A type that is becoming increasingly popular within the well-known appellation of sweet wines Coteaux du Layon.
These were the trends in evidence at the latest ‘catwalk’ of Loire wines. Hosting the international press taking part in Val de Loire Millésime 2022 was the city of Angers, a Unesco heritage site and capital of the Maine River department.
TUFFEAU AND SAVOIR-FAIRE: THE BEST CABERNET FRANC FROM SAUMUR-CHAMPIGNY
Little room for Sancerre in this edition of the kermesse. On the other hand, the Aoc Saumur-Champigny, an integral part of the Loire’s Cabernet Franc triangle of wonders, along with Chinon and Bourgueil, took the spotlight.
Beyond the undoubted quality of the area’s wines, it is interesting how local producers approach a variety that is anything but easy to work with. In addition to low yields, the cataloguing of 100% Cabernet Franc Aoc Saumur-Champigny wines includes two macro-categories, linked to drinking characteristics.
These range from ‘Vin léger’, (almost) all fruit and agility, to ‘Vin complexe’, which are more ‘complex’ and suitable for medium to long ageing. The real discriminating factor, however, is the soil, composed of Tuffeau. In spite of its name, this is not volcanic tuff, but a robust but easy-to-work limestone-sandy compound.
It is no coincidence that it was used for the construction of the famous Loire castles. Various cellars, houses, churches and tunnels were excavated in the Tuffeau, creating a 1,500-kilometre-long system of Troglodytes (Troglodytes), unique in Europe. It is among these spectacular caverns that many Loire vignerons welcome wine tourists.
The Tuffeau is the result of deposits of fossil organisms and sand on the seabed which, in the Mesozoic era, entirely covered the Loire Valley. A component that is reflected in the fine Cabernet Franc of Saumur-Champigny.
Another prerogative of local reds is the winemaking technique, with winemakers committed to not over-extracting. Rather, preserving and enhancing the primaries of the variety. Clear traces of these characteristics in the best Cabernet Franc tasted at Val de Loire Millésime 2022.
Saumur-Champigny Aoc 2020 Vielles Vignes, Château de Chaintres
Some 20 hectares bred biodynamically for the winery that manages to convince the most – transversally between whites and reds – at Val de Loire Millésime 2022. In particular, this pure Franc comes from Clos du Château, with 60-year-old vines. Fruit, freshness, savouriness and a perfect balance between extraction and momentum make it today a wine of extreme elegance and refinement, as much as one with a bright future.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2020 ‘Les 2 vents’, Gatien Dézé
“Vin léger” which, in terms of fruit concentration and potential, comes very close to the concept of “Vin complexe”. It shines in the category for the precision and juiciness of its fruit, as well as its ability to be, at the same time, full and extremely enjoyable. Ready and forward.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2020 ‘Le clos Saint Pere’, Château de Targé
A colour that approaches intense rosé and immediately clarifies the young Paul Pisani-Ferry’s intention: a “Vin Léger” all about fruit and primaries, enhancing the predominantly chalky soil. Mission centred on the nose and palate. One of those wines you like to find in the fridge when you come home from work.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2020 ‘Terroir de craie’, Domaine de la Perruche
Another ‘Vin Léger’ that synthesises soil, varietal and savoir-faire of the vigneron in an impeccable manner. Nose-mouth on excellent intensity of red fruit. Drink supported by a very elegant mineral backbone that calls to the next sip, together with vibrant freshness. Young and forward.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2018 ‘Les Loups Noirs’, Domaine de Nerleux
Perhaps it is no coincidence that this label succeeds more than others in conveying the idea of ‘Vin complexe’ made from Cabernet Franc within the appellation. It is produced by the president of the local consortium, Amélie Neau. Part of the mass spends 18 months in wood.
A choice that gives the wine an important volume, along with the riper red fruit notes of the rest of the samples. Rich and full sip profile, without sacrificing drinkability. A wine that can still age, perfect for important pairings.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2020 ‘Les Poyeux’, Domaine des Sanzay
Les Poyeux recalls the name of the locality where the Cabernet Franc vines take root among Tuffeau, clay and sand. A soil with a “warmer” composition than others in the area, so much so that it gives particular and distinguishable accents to the nectar produced by Céline Sanzay, far beyond the elegant and relaxed tannic texture.
Clear floral accents, of violets, on the fully ripe fruit, as well as hints of red citrus, are added to the classic Saumur-Champigny Franc. The result is a wine that once again rewards drinkability, while being more layered and opulent than others. A high gastronomic gradient for a label with a lot of life ahead of it.
Aoc Saumur-Champigny 2020 ‘Encore’, La Folie Luce
Only cement for Loïc Terquem’s Cabernet Franc, which responds to compliments without false modesty: ‘It is proof that you can make great wines on sand’. Nothing could be truer. That of ‘Encore’ is the most intense, rich and textured nose among the Franc of the Aoc.
Memories of plum and black cherry on the red fruit dripping with juice also on the palate, where an electric freshness balances the sip and makes the drink irresistible. Precision and finesse combined with intensity and power, here in a masterly manner.
CHAMPTOCEAUX, THE LAST FRONTIER OF NANTES MUSCADET
From the certainties of the Franc of Saumur-Champigny, to the desires of producers on the border between the sub-regions of Angers and Nantes, the step is short in Val de Loire Millésime 2022. In fact, the idea of the Champtoceaux winegrowers is to create a new Cru Communaux (Communal Cru), bearing the name of the locality and enhancing the local specificities of Melon de Bourgogne.
Champtoceaux would be the only one of the Crus Communaux to be located in the Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire area. This is a way of distinguishing the local expression of the vine, bred by 14 producers, from those of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu.
‘In Coteaux de la Loire,’ Benoit Landron of Domaine Landron Chartier explains to winemag.co.uk, ‘there are no vines everywhere. The plants are only placed in the best places, based on soil analysis. We believe that Champtoceaux deserves Cru Communaux recognition because of the parcels that we already vinify separately, which can give unique characteristics to Melon’.
‘The process,’ Landron continues, ‘is already underway and will be completed in the next 2 to 3 years. The French government has authorised us to put the name Champtoceaux on the label already, to help consumers familiarise themselves with the particular expression of Melon de Bourgogne from soils rich in mycascists, gneiss, leptinite and amphibolite’.
In this area, the microclimate is favourable for vines, thanks to the lashing cool currents from the Atlantic Ocean, even in summer. ‘We have selected only a few plots of land,’ comments Benoit Landron, ‘calling them Cru Champtoceaux. Like the neighbouring crus of Clisson, Gorges, Château Thébaud and so on, our area is home to superb terroirs’.
This implies a rigorous selection of plots, a long ageing on the lees of at least two years and grapes of impeccable quality. Champtoceaux wines are soft, silky. When young, they smell of fresh fruit, citrus, peach and orange blossom. With age, they develop notes of spices and herbs such as thyme, sage and liquorice. Delicate bitter notes and a slight savouriness complete a picture of fresh and elegant balance’.
Worth trying, above all, is the Aop Coteaux de la Loire Muscadet 2018 Champtoceaux from Domaine des Génaudières (pictured, above) The Melon de Bourgogne from the Le Cellier winery, also known as Athimon et Ses Enfants, displays a nose of citrus and peach, yellow and white-fleshed fruit.
On the palate, there is an extreme balance between fruit fullness and freshness, synonymous with a perfect grape harvest time, early but not premature. The 24 months spent on yeasts, well beyond the Champtoceaux ‘specification’, certainly help. One of those wines capable of perfectly representing those who produce it, specifically the vigneron independant Anne Athimon.
COTEAUX DU LAYON FOCUSES ON ANJOU BLANC: DRY CHENIN IN 5 CRUS
More than a real trend in Val de Loire Millésime 2022, it is a confirmation: in Anjou, and in particular in Coteaux du Layon, an area renowned for the production of sweet wines that can count on the 1er Cru Chaume (100 hectares, 30 producers) and the Grand Cru Quarts de Chaume (30 hectares, 18 producers), the production of dry Chenin wines is now taken for granted.
Patrick Baudouin, patriarch of the vignerons of the Anjou district, is one of the most ardent supporters of the sweet-dry combination. He believes, in fact, that the two types can, indeed should, coexist. ‘By doing so,’ Baudouin replies to winemag.it’s question, ‘it raises the quality of sweet wines. They are only produced, all the more reason to coexist with dry wines, in truly favourable vintages’.
For almost 20 years, the question has been raised in Anjou (and in Coteaux du Layon) as to what the style of dry white wines from Chenin should be. Beyond vinification techniques (malolactic yes, malolactic no? Steel or wood? Which?), producers have agreed on the need to identify 5 Cru of Anjou Blanc: Ronceray, Ardenay, Pierre Bise, Bonnes Blanches and Saint Aubin.
Cru wines, already labelled as such but not yet approved by the Institut National de l’Origine et de la qualité (Inao) – such as Champtoceaux for Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire – occupy a significant share of the Anjou Blanc vineyard: as many as 100 hectares out of a total of around 800. Here are the best of the winemag.it tasting at Val de Loire Millésime 2022.
Aoc Anjou 2020 ‘Zerzilles’, Chateau de Plaisance
Vanessa Cherruau (pictured, above) is one of the new faces of the appellation, but she already has clear ideas. She has chosen biodynamics to bring out the best in her vines and give wines of terroir. A sincere expression of the grape variety, the vintage and the soil of Ronceray (the most promising cru, at least from the tastings carried out, among those being approved), named after the local abbey, on the Quarts de Chaume hill.
No exception is Zerzilles, whose name recalls the plot shared with Patrick Baudoin, Domaine de la Bergerie and Cédric Bourrez. Shale and sandstone for a taut white with a mineral finish. Also not to be missed is the Aoc Anjou Ronceray 2020Grande pièce from Chateau de Plaisance, another poster child for new Chenin crus.
Aoc Anjou 2020 Chevalier Le Bascle, Château du Fresne
Degraded shale on chalky clay soil for this very dynamic white. It is striking for its abundant, generous expression of exotic fruit, balanced by a splendid acidic shoulder. The persistence is also excellent, enhancing its gastronomic character. Excellent value for money.
Aoc Anjou 2019 “Le Paradis de Juchepie”, Domaine Juchepie
A ‘natural wine’, by the producers’ own definition, obtained from the oldest vineyard available to the Domaine (60-100 years old), in Bellevigne en Layon. Eddy and Mileine Oosterlinck – Bracke, of Belgian origin, manage to bottle a Chenin that breaks the time barrier.
It seems to have come out of the 1990s, due to the use of 50% new wood and the important concentration of fruit. But at the same time, it vibrates with the electric freshness that has made the variety famous throughout the world. A wine with broad shoulders, like Eddy’s. A gem: only 1,310 bottles.
Aoc Anjou 2019 “Ledit Vin Chenin”, Domaine de la Tuffière
Convinced by the purity of the fruity notes, the Chenin from Domaine de la Tuffière. Notes of perfectly ripe citrus fruits (grapefruit, orange) that mark the fresh and taut profile of the sip are accompanied by hints of apple and white peach.
In the background, a tantalising minerality. After an entrance on the hardness, the centre of the mouth and the closure stretch out into a silky, full length that further enhances the perfect ripeness of the grapes. Youth to spare: the light vanilla notes will further join the outfit.
Aoc Anjou Ronceray 2019 “Les Zersiles”, Domaine Patrick Baudouin
One cannot miss among the best Anjou Blancs that of pioneer Patrick Baudouin (pictured, above). A wine that defines and confirms the unique character of the Roncery terroir. Enhancing it to the nth degree. Sharp freshness and fullness of fruit share the stage for this Chenin.
Binding the sip, from entry to closure, is that mineral, stony note, dictated by the rich presence of shale in the soil. There is a clear fil-rouge linking this wine to Chateau de Plaisance’s Aoc Anjou 2020 ‘Zerzilles’. A sort of handover taking place between different generations, from Patrick Baudouin to the young winemaker Vanessa Cherruau. The future of Anjou Blanc is bright.