In honor of Drink Chenin Day, back to the place where it all began: Anjou! The region produces some of the greatest white wines in the world, but is woefully under-appreciated. This is in large part the result of an overly complicated appellation structure. The first thing to understand is that in the Loire valley, appellations are stacked on each other. It is perfectly possible to go to a vineyard located in the village of Bonnezeaux and produce one of the following appellations: Bonnezeaux (sweet), Anjou (white or red), Cabernet d’Anjou (red), Rosé d’Anjou (rosé), or Coteaux du Layon (sweet). One possible consequence is that if I can command a higher price for a Coteaux du Layon label than for an Anjou, I will direct my attention towards the CdL. Everything that is not good enough or does not meet the criteria will then get bumped to a ‘lower’ tier.
Anjou was actually the first appellation created in the region in 1936. It wasn’t until the 50’s that, following a better understanding of terroir and a hefty dose of lobbying that other appellations were drawn up. This is a process that it still ongoing, as we can see with the relatively recent recognition of Roche aux Moines and Coulée de Serrant as appellations in 2011, as well as in the debate regarding Chaume. So gradually, the territory of Anjou is supplanted by other ‘higher’ tier appellations.
For winelovers this represents a fantastic opportunity, as you can snap-up world-class wines at interesting price points. The winemaker who actually jumpstarted my love for chenin blanc is Jo Pithon, the man at times more known for his impressive mouton chops than his wines (google, or the excellent book Vignerons d’Anjou). Even though he has been in the world of wine for decades, he only started working under the current label in 2008. The own vineyards coer about 13ha, worked biodynamically or in the process of converting towards, and there is a négoce business as well.
Today I cracked my final bottle of Bonnes Blanches 2013, a wonderful wine sourced from a vineyard near St. Lambert de Lattay. 2013 was not the easiest of years and a lot of producers struggled with ripeness and an overbearing acidity. Ageing this wine in used oak for 14 months looks to have been the right choice, as it is soft yet vivid in its acidity. From the colour I was a bit worried about oxidation, but the nose was reassuring. Bruised apples yes, but a distinctive, almost dominating herbaceous edge with fennel and a minty freshness. On the palate it is vivid, succulent even, with a thirst-quenching quality yet not without focus and length. Really the type of wine where you say that you’ll drink just one glass, only to finish the bottle!
Other Loire wines talked about:
- François Chidaine, Les Choisilles 2009
- Sebastien Bobinet, Hanami 2012
- Guiberteau, Saumur Rouge 2014
- Domaine Huet, Clos de Bourg demi-sec 2001