JIM BUDD packs his bags and heads down to the Loire Valley to savour la douceur angevin, and recommends a leisurely pace when visiting Anjou
- Loire offers a range of wine styles.
- Make sure you visit Saint-Aubin, a pretty village boasting some of the best sweet wines of the region.
- Much of the Saumur region is honeycombed with cellars and underground tunnels.
- Most vineyards in Anjou-Saumur are family owned. Visitors are welcomed not processed.
The Loire vineyards are strung out over such a distance that it makes sense to choose a region to explore properly in comfort and to return later to discover another part of the Loire. Leave the 250-mile dash from Muscadet to Sancerre and Pouilly to the professional wine buyer. Enjoying the Loire means taking your time.
The vineyards of Anjou-Saumur lie at the heart of the Loire Valley. Vines have been grown here since the first millennium AD. The region offers a range of wine styles: whites – from bone dry to lusciously sweet; rosés – dry to demi-sec and occasionally sweet; reds – light early quaffers to deep-robed reds to keep; and there are sparkling wines.
The locals talk of la douceur angevin. This is usually in relation to the mild climate but the description applies equally well to the landscape. Unlike Sancerre, the vineyards are not spectacular. Instead this is a pastoral land, gently undulating and cut by a number of rivers like the Loire, Layon and Thouet.
Let’s start our west to east journey at Savennières on the north bank of the Loire and to the west of Angers. These are aristocratic vineyards producing some of the most complex dry Chenin Blancs in the world. The best of the vineyards are on the steep slopes of grey schist that overlook the Loire.
Across the Loire from Savennières is the small market town of Rochefort. The wine visitor has several options here. If you turn left at Rochefort you can explore the Coteaux de l’Aubance some 15 kilometres away. From vineyards in the communes of Brissac, Saint-Jean de Mauvrets, Juigné, Melanie and Mozé come increasingly good sweet wines from 100% Chenin Blanc. Here they make the best reds of Anjou under the appellation Anjou Villages Brissac. The reds can be made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend of the two. Brissac is a small town on the River l’Aubance.
Turning right in Rochefort will take you along the Corniche Angevin to Chalonnes and La Pommeraye. Here are the last vines of Anjou before Muscadet takes over. There are some stylish whites, often demi-sec, made here from Chenin under the Anjou Coteaux de la Loire appellation.
Going straight over at the traffic lights in Rochefort takes you into the Layon Valley. Make sure you visit Saint-Aubin, a pretty village, close to the river and boasting some of the best sweet wines of the region. Back on the ridge there’s the hamlet of Chaume. A no-through road will take you down to the secluded Quarts de Chaume. Here the vineyards are shaded from the north wind, face south and benefit from the autumnal mists that rise from the Layon. Francis Poirel, who bought Château de Suronde about four years ago, is making marvellous wine.
Continuing upstream towards Thouarcé and the grand cru of Bonnezeaux, it is worth switching from one side of the valley to the other to see the vineyards at their best. The route along the south side tends to be the more attractive. Just to the east of Thouarcé is Château de Fesles, one of the showcases of the Loire with its south facing vineyards that fan out from the château.
The steep-sided vineyards end at Thouarcé, and the valley becomes more open and there are fewer vines. Drive on through Martigné-Briand with its curious ruined château and dramatic chimneys. It’s best to be adventurous and follow the little roads through Passavant and Nueil-sur-Layon to le Puy Notre Dame, which is in the Saumur appellation. We have left the hard, impervious rocks of much of Anjou behind and are now in the honey-coloured tufa (limestone) country. In contrast to Anjou where there are no cellars, much of the Saumur region is honeycombed with cellars and underground tunnels, which is one explanation for the important sparkling wine industry surrounding Saumur.
A number of producers’ wines at le Puy are good value as Saumur is a less-exalted appellation than Saumur-Champigny. Also at le Puy is Ackerman-Laurance’s modern winery which has done much to improve the quality of its wines. After le Puy head towards Montreuil-Bellay and its fairy-tale château.
Take the byways to Brézé and Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg and the vineyards of Saumur-Champigny. Some of the most exciting reds and dry whites of the Loire are being made here. The Foucault brothers in Chacé have shown what can be done with Cabernet Franc and also with Chenin Blanc making whites as complex as those from the Côte d’Or. Producers like Jean-Pierre Chevallier (Château de Villeneuve), Thierry Germain (Domaines des Roches Neuves) and Yves Drouineau have been inspired to follow. The cooperative at Saint-Cyr is worth visiting.
Further Places to Visit
Having visited Saint-Cyr and the neighbouring villages of Chacé and Varrains, cut across to Champigny through the hamlet of Chaintré. Above Chaintré is the Clos Cristal, the vineyard created by Père Cristal, the father of quality wine in this area.
From Champigny, head towards the Loire and the wine villages, Dampierre, Parnay, Souzay-Champigny and Turquant. Then into Saumur and its satellite town of Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent for the sparkling wine houses.
I recommend that you make one detour east into southern Touraine to the restaurant La Promenade (+ 33 2 47 94 93 52) in Petit Pressigny near Descartes. The cooking is marvellous, the wine list exemplary and menu tradition has five courses for FF205.
Fortunately, most vineyards in Anjou-Saumur are family owned. Visitors are welcomed not processed. Just be warned: a visit may take far longer than you expect!
How to get there
Autoroute A11 from Paris; train: TGV to Angers (90 mins from Paris); plane: Nantes
Producers to visit
Anjou: Domaine de Bablut, Brissac (+33 2 41 91 22 59); Domaine de la Bergerie, Champ-sur-Layon (+33 2 41 78 85 43); Domaines des Baumard, Rochefort (+33 2 41 78 70 03); Château d’Epiré, Savennières (+33 2 41 77 15 01); Château de Fesles, Bonnezeaux (+33 2 41 68 94 00); Château de la Genaiserie, Saint-Aubin (+33 2 41 78 33 22); Domaine de Haute-Perche, Saint-Mélanie-sur-Aubance (+33 2 41 57 75 65); Domaine Jean-Yves & Anita Lebreton, Saint-Jean des Mauvrets (+33 2 41 91 92 07); Vignoble Musset-Rouillier, La Pommeraye, (+33 2 41 39 05 71); Domaine Ogereau, Saint-Lambert du Lattay (+33 2 41 78 30 53); Château de Pierre-Bise, Beaulieu (+33 2 41 78 31 44); Domaine Richou, Mozé-sur-Louet (+33 2 41 78 72 13); Domaine
du Sauveroy, Saint-Lambert du Lattay
Saumur: Bouvet-Ladubay, Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent (+33 2 41 83 83 83); Yves Drouineau, Dampierre (+33 2 41 51 14 02); Filliatreau, Chaintré (+33 2 41 52 90 84); Gratien et Meyer, Saumur (+33 2 41 83 13 30); Domaine de Nerleux, Saint-Cyr (+33 2 41 51 61 04); Domaine des Roches-Neuves, Varrains (+33 2 41 52 94 02); Caves des Vignerons de Saumur, Saint-Cyr (+33 2 41 53 06 06); Domaine du Val-Brun, Parnay (+33 2 41 38 11 85); Château de Villeneuve, Souzay-Champigny (+33 2 41 51 14 04).
(There are many more producers I would have mentioned with more space.) For detailed information: Maison des Vins d’Anjou, 5 bis Place Kennedy, 49100 Angers (+33 2 41 88 81 13); or Maison des Vins de Saumur, 25 Rue Beaurepaire, Saumur (+33 2 41 51
Places to stay
Angers: Hotel Anjou, plus restaurant Salamandre (+33 2 41 88 24 82); Hotel du Mail, charming hotel in quiet centre of town (+33 2 41 25 25 05 25). Remarkable value Auberge d’Eventard, with a fine restaurant and rooms, on the northern outskirts of Angers, Saint-Sylvain d’Anjou (+33 2 41 43 74 25).
Saumur: Anne d’Anjou (+33 2 41 67 30 30), overlooking the Loire; best hotel in town with fine Les Menestrels restaurant (+ 33 2 41 67 71 10) in the grounds; the Loire (+33 2 41 67 22 42); Clos Bénédictins, above Saint-Hilaire-Saint Florent (+33 2 41 67 28 48).
Places to eat
Angers: Le Relais, good-value with good wine list (+33 2 41 88 42 51).
Brissac: Le Haut Tertre, simple cooking (+33 2 41 91 79 95).
Ile Béhuard: Les Tonnelles, charming restaurant on island between Rochefort and Savennières (+33 2 41 72 21 50).
Fontevraud: La Licorne (+33 2 41 51 72 49).
Saumur: Les Delices du Château in the château grounds (+33 2 41 67 65 60).
Written by JIM BUDD