David 23 March 2017
Most people associate the term Anjou with rosé; hardly a surprise given that about half the wines labelled with the term are indeed rosé. But there are a few other wine styles associated with Anjou.
Anjou is a wine region located within the magnificent
Loire Valley. Traditionally, the Loire has not been considered one of France’s prestige wine regions; this honour falling to Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. The upside of this is that while the quality of Loire wines has improved significantly in the last few decades, the traditional view of the region is slow to change in the French psyche. Generally, prices have remained modest, which is tough for Loire Valley producers, great for astute wine lovers.
The Loire is often divided into 3 areas: the Upper, Middle and Lower Loire. You’ll find Anjou in the Middle Loire, in an area that has some of the most stunning landscapes in France. Aside from Anjou, the Middle Loire’s other well-known appellations include Savennières, Touraine, Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil and Saumur.
Anjou sits around the lively university town of Angers, home to the Cointreau distillery as well as the imposing Château d’Angers, which houses one of France’s most monumental medieval works, the 103m long Apocalypse tapestry.
I find Anjou a bit confusing with so many sub-appellations. These include:
Anjou-Coteaux de la Loire
Also, there are also several white wines (dry and sweet) made within Anjou, whose quality and reputation have earned them their own appellation: Coteaux de l’Aubance, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume and Savennières.
Having complicated matters, I’m actually going to keep it simple and tell you about two of Anjou’s wines made for everyday drinking.
Anjou Blanc is the most common dry white from Anjou, and it must contain at least 80% Chenin Blanc. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also permitted.
Anjou Rouge is usually made from Cabernet Franc, but can also include Cabernet Sauvignon and Pineau d’Aunis. It can range from light through to medium-bodied.
Anjou is a region undergoing a renaissance, indeed The Oxford Companion to Wine already describes it as “revitalised.” These two delicious entry level wines epitomise the new quality of Anjou.
Thierry Germain is a big name in the Loire. He got his start in Bordeaux before relocating to the Loire in the early 90s and starting Domaine des Roches Neuves. Of particular note is his pursuit of biodynamic principles, in which he has become one of France’s leading authorities. His estate focuses entirely on Chenin (from Saumur) and Cab Franc (from Saumur-Champigny) and according to US wine guru Kermit Lynch, produces “some of the most exciting wine in the Loire Valley today.” In terms of prestige, the estate is second in Saumur only to the exclusive Clos Rougeard. Not surprisingly wines of this quality are not cheap and Roches Neuves wines in Australia start at $60 and head north.
The good news is that Thierry has teamed up with his brother Philipe Germain, who owns Château de la Roulerie in Anjou and is a top grower in his own right, with a view to producing more affordable (but still good quality) Anjou wines. It’s interesting to note that there’s no mention of either brother on the bottle. I get the feeling they’d rather keep their association clearly with their highly priced estate wines.
The brothers have chosen to stick with the mainstays of the region,
Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, and it’s this focus on just two varieties that’s behind the name of their collaboration. Cepage is the French term for grape variety and with much of the wine sold into the UK market, there’s also the intentional resemblance to ‘step by step.’
The brothers don’t own any vineyards together for the project, instead Thierry makes sure the growers they work with are all in step with his way of thinking. The vineyards are farmed using organic principles and utilise techniques such as minimal intervention and handpicking. All the vineyards are located in western Anjou, where the soil is predominantly volcanic, quite different to the limestone soils of Saumur.
CEP by CEP offers fantastic mid-week drinking, promising outstanding value. They’re “handy, juicy, racy quaffers that are perfect for pouring and glugging.” Bibendum Wine Co.
This wine is made from
100% Chenin Blanc, organically grown on stony clay over schist of Rochefort-sur-Loire in Anjou's Layon valley. I’m told it's this type of rock that imparts a pungent, stony bite to the dry Chenin of the region. Grapes are handpicked and the wine does see some oak, however it’s old and larger format barrels so the effect is subtle.
I’ve written about Chenin Blanc several times in the past when offering Vouvray, Savennières and Saumur. The variety is not well known in Australia but in the Loire it’s used to make dry, sweet and sparkling white wines.In her weighty tome Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson MW, refers to “the real Chenin flavours of honey, straw and apples”.
The wine is a clear, bright, straw colour. On the nose and palate it’s clean and aromatic, with lively citrus and lemon curd, melding with slightly richer notes of baked apple and pear. Kind of like an Aussie Riesling with a hint of euro funk on the finish, it's crisp and dry, driven by a streak of super-zingy Chenin acidity.
“This racy, pure-fruited drop was vinified in 2 to 4 year old 400-litre casks, and delivers a ripple of fresh apple, pear skin, lemon and smoky notes, reminiscent of nearby Savennières (which lies on the opposite side of the Loire river). It's tightly wound, fresh and pure and very smashable. There's also more finesse than last year's wine. Plenty of energy, refreshment and value on offer here.” Bibendum Wine Co.
You’ll find it at the oh-so-French Felix restaurant for $75 a bottle.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. Order online
This wine is
100% Cabernet Franc, hand harvested from organically tended vines planted on the gravelly shale soil of western Anjou-just across the river from Savennières.
It’s been a while since I offered a Cabernet Franc so here’s a bit of a refresher. Cab Franc is related to Cabernet Sauvignon, but tends to produce more subtle and aromatic wines, lighter in colour, less tannic and smoother than Cab Sauv. I find they have the structure and acidity of Cab Sauv, but not the weight, and in my book that’s what makes Cab Franc unique and appealing.
It seems I’m not alone. Jancis Robinson MW: “I’m not a huge enthusiast of the sexual stereotyping of wines but even I can see that cabernet franc might be described as the feminine side of Cabernet Sauvignon. It is subtly fragrant and gently flirtatious rather than massively muscular and tough in youth. Because Cabernet Sauvignon has so much more of everything - body, tannin, alcohol, colour - it is often supposed to be necessarily superior, but I have a very soft spot indeed for its more charming and more aromatic relative, Cabernet Franc.”
Common descriptors for Cabernet Franc include raspberry, blackcurrants and violets. You may also get peppery, spicy aromas and, depending on soils and vintage conditions, the wines can be light, fresh and ready to drink or full-bodied, well-structured, intense and suitable for cellaring. The variety’s character spans from elegant and delicate through to rustic and chewy, which makes for interesting drinking and highlights the importance of knowing the producer.
Some Cab Franc from the Loire can be tainted by brettanomyces yeast or ‘brett’ as its known, which gives wine “barnyard, horsey, pungent, metallic or Band-Aid aromas” (Wine Spectator). There’s debate as to whether these are good or bad characters at low concentrations, but there’s no doubt at high levels they’re not nice.
There’s nothing bretty about this wine. Unlike Anjou of old, it’s clean, pure and fresh. It sees no oak, being fermented and briefly aged in stainless steel to give it real vibrancy. The wine is a clear, bright rosey red. On the nose you’ll find juicy red berries, pepper and hints of savoury stalkiness. Red currant and fresh pomegranate notes continue onto the palate along with the pepper and the lightest touch of aromatic incense. Mid-weight with fine tannins, 12.5% alcohol and plenty of firm acidity, it’s an easy drinker in a style that we don’t really see in Australia. And it comes in a beautiful bottle embossed with the Anjou crest, which obviously makes it taste better.
“This leaps out of the glass with freshly picked berries, dried herbs and smoky graphite notes. The palate is crunchy-fresh and juicy with the same, spicy, smoky, red berry notes. 2015 was an outstanding vintage for Loire's red wines, and you can tell. Big on charm and drinkability. Even bigger on value.” Bibendum Wine Co.
Vibrant and fresh. No need to hide this one in the cellar, enjoy this lively 'vin de soif’ now.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. Order online