I have, for a very long time, been a supporter of dry Chenin Blanc in general and Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in particular. On the other hand, the majority of my encounters with the grape have been restricted to its most well-known expressions, namely the wines of Vouvray and Savennières in particular, with a smaller amount of exposure to Saumur Blanc.
This experience notably excludes the undulating green hills of Anjou, which are considered to be one of the primary homelands of the grape.
When I went on a recent press trip to the Loire Valley, our hosts planned for an afternoon tasting of Anjou Blanc to be held in the courtyard of the lovely Chateau de Passavant, which is a stone castle that was established in the 10th century. Imagine my joy when they did this! (whose walls are shown at top and below).
This is the primary entrance of Chateau de Passavant.
Chenin’s Place of Origin as a Wine
Because grape varieties are born through mutations, which must then be promoted by people who appreciate their one-of-a-kind attributes, it is almost difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that a particular grape variety was first cultivated. The most that we can do at this point is to use the information we’ve gleaned from DNA in conjunction with the data we have from the past to create a period frame in which a certain grape variety may have been picked and developed.
For Chenin Blanc, this range is apparently some time between the middle of the 9th century and the beginning of the 16th century, which is when we have a definitive mention of the grape’s names (both Chenin and its local moniker of Pineau de la Loire) in historical texts. Pineau de la Loire is the local name for Chenin Blanc.
It is without any shadow of a doubt, however, where Chenin was born, and that is in the territory that we now name Anjou, or more usually Anjou-Saumur, even if each side of that hyphen should be regarded an unique region in its own right. Chenin was born in the region of Anjou.
The Anjou AOP may be recognized by its crimson label. The map is provided by Interloire.
The Anjou area, which is located to the south of the city of Angers, originally became renowned for its sweet wines produced from Chenin Blanc in the 17th and 18th centuries. These wines were highly regarded during this time period.
The Bright Side and the Shadow Side of the Soil The department of Anjou in France is located just on the cusp of a significant geological change. The majority of the area is defined by the metamorphic black schist rocks of the Amorican Massif. These rocks are the weathered remnants of an uplifted Paleozoic mountain range that have been worn down by time and weather to the point that they scarcely create a ripple on the face of France today.
When the black soils of the Amorican Massif reach its limit, they are succeeded by the light, sedimentary limestone soils and tuffeau of the Paris Basin, which are all that are left of an old shallow sea.
The wandering boundary between these two formations zigzags across eastern Anjou, and it is this border that is responsible for the two most prevalent soil types in the area, which are confusingly referred to as “Anjou Blanc” and “Anjou Noir.”
It takes some effort to keep in mind that the wine known as Anjou Blanc can be produced from either of these types of soils, each of which has its supporters among Anjou winegrowers. It is possible that the majority of Anjou winegrowers believe that the darker schist soils produce wines with a greater level of complexity.
Dry wines from the Anjou area were mostly an afterthought for a significant amount of time, both for the producers of those wines (who produced them using grapes that weren’t excellent enough for their sweet wines) and for the consumers of those wines.
In point of fact, the unassuming dry white wines produced in this area are still hardly mentioned in the majority of wine textbooks, guides, and reference books. It’s possible that this is due to the fact that, as the short reference for these wines on Jancis Robinson’s website puts it, they’ve been “distinctly varied.”
But things are shifting in their nature.
White Dry Hipster Shirt
Similar to the situation in many other less well-known wine areas across the globe, younger and more independent winemakers have been able to locate vineyards in Anjou that they may either purchase or rent at prices that are affordable for them.
These young hopefuls have opened up business and have begun producing some really intriguing wines, the majority of which are made using methods that are sustainable and/or minimally interventionist. In a similar vein, the younger generations of many historically significant family estates have made a discernible turn toward quality and away from quantity in recent years.
The end product of this process may now be experienced gustatorily.
Anjou Blanc is currently recognized as a reliable and flavorful source of dry Chenin Blanc, and the vintners who work in the area are progressing toward having a more in-depth discussion about the region’s unique terroir.
To put it another way, producers in this wine-growing area, which is relatively generic in nature, are struggling with concerns pertaining to their identity and significance in the industry.
Within the approximately 1200 hectares of Chenin vineyards that are included in the Anjou appellation, there have been suggestions made about the definition of “crus.” In point of fact, the tasting that I participated in on my most recent trip was intended to highlight these crus, which are not yet codified in wine law but which, according to local anecdotal evidence, seem to have a following.
The wines we tasted were grouped together under the following crus: Montchenin, Ronceray, Saint Lambert dont Bonnes Blanches, Secteur Ardenay, Faye d’Anjou, Bonnezeaux-Burnizellius, Saint Aubin de Luigné, Pierre Bise, Aubance Calcaire, Aubance, Martigné Briand, la Tuffière, Huillé, Le Coudereau, Les Rouillères, and Le Puy de Mont.
Unfortunately, we were only allowed to sample a very small number of wines from each of the crus (in some instances, a cru was only represented by a single wine), and we were not given sufficient information on the characteristics of each of these sites to help us differentiate between them.
Even though some of the cru names included words like “calcaire” (the French word for limestone) or “blanches” (which means white), we were never told whether the soils of each cru were of the blanc or noir variety. For example, we were never told whether the soils of each cru were of the blanc or noir variety.
Due to the fact that the outcome of my analysis of these wines with regard to their quality and taste did not produce any obvious thematic winners or losers among these crus or presumed soil types, I came to the conclusion that the organization of my notes below by cru would not be of much assistance to you.
I have instead just provided a list of the wines that I believed merited attention, and as I often do, I have not bothered to share with you the wines that scored lower than 8.5 on my estimated scale. Instead, I have just listed the wines that I felt merited attention.
It is obvious that the concepts for how to differentiate the white wines of Anjou need greater elaboration, but in the meanwhile, it is acceptable to claim that Anjou Blanc is better than it has ever been and is continuing to improve. Some of the greatest specimens have the intricacy and cut of excellent Savennières, while others have the richness and vibrancy of a good Vouvray. All of the best examples have the energy and richness of Vouvray.
At the present, Anjou Blanc provides excellent value for the money, particularly in Europe, where bottles can often be purchased for anywhere between 12 and 18 Euros. They seem to be somewhat more expensive here in the United States due to shipping fees, import charges, and markups by the Three-tier system; nonetheless, when compared to high-end Savennières, which may currently cost more than $80 per bottle, they remain a significant value.
I strongly suggest that you look for them. I absolutely intend to do so.
Notes about the Flavors
There are just a handful of these wines that can be purchased online, but I have included links to their respective stores in the event that you are interested.
2014 Chateau de Passavant “Montchenin” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a light golden gold color in the glass, and it has aromas of lemon, butterscotch, and struck match. In the tongue, notes that are incredibly salty include candied lemon peel, lemon pith, and a hint of butterscotch. These flavors are accompanied by a very excellent crisp acidity and a rocky underbelly. The aftertaste has a touch of chalky smoothness to it. Biodynamically farmed and produced, with a Demeter certification. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $34. Click here to purchase.
2020 Chateau de Plaisance “Ronceray Zerzilles” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has the hue of pale greenish gold and smells like vanilla with a combination of freshly struck matches and lovely yellow flowers. The tastes of bright candied lemon and wet pavement have a brilliant flowery character and a deep stone background. Excellent acidity and lingering finish. Biodynamically farmed and produced, with a Demeter certification. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $36. Click here to purchase.
The “Ronceray Chateau Bellerive” will be released in 2020 by Raymond Morin. Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine seems to be pale greenish gold in the glass, and it has a fragrance that is reminiscent of lemon zest, yellow flowers, and struck match. In the palate, fresh, zesty lemon juice and pith predominate, along with great acidity and a more subtle but still detectable minerality. I really like the saltiness of this wine. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $??
2018 Domaine Patrick Baudouin “Le Cornillard” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a wonderful aroma of acacia flowers and seems to be a light gold color in the glass. In the palate, notes of lemon peel that are bright and juicy as well as those of acacia flower come alive with powerful acidity and beautiful minerality. Extremely lively, flavorful, and permeated with aromas and tastes that I can only characterize as “yellow.” grown using organic methods. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $48. Click here to purchase.
2020 Domaine des Fontaines “Cuvée Landry” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has the hue of a pale gold and smells of flowers and lemons that have been salted. In the palate, aromas of salty lemon pith and grapefruit mingle with a trace of Asian pear and a faint tannic grip. The finish is light and tannic. The combination of outstanding acidity and brightness with a salty flavor that lingers in the end results in a completely delicious product. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30.
2020 Domaine des Forges “L’Audace” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine seems to be a bar of pale greenish gold in the glass, and it has a scent that is reminiscent of wet stone, lemon peel, and striking flint. Lovely saline flavors of candied lemon peel, grapefruit, sweet florals, and a profoundly stony minerality swirl and tickle across the tongue as the wine is consumed. Bright with acidity, and absolutely irresistible in every way. Outstanding. The score is somewhere between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30.
2020 Domaine de la Clartière “Terres De Paillé” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a pale greenish gold color in the glass, and it has a scent that is reminiscent of citrus zest, damp stones, and acacia flowers. Lively orange pith and candied citrus aromas with a great salinity, bright, juicy acidity, and a superb stony minerality in the tongue. These elements are complemented by a wonderful stony minerality. Score: somewhere about 9 Cost: $25.
2020 Domaine des Hardières “Les Petits Gars” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has the hue of a pale greenish gold and smells like damp stones and the pith of citrus fruits. In the tongue, tangy lemon and lime juice combine with citrus peel and a hint of pear to create a mouthwatering flavor profile. Excellent acidity. grown using organic methods. Score: somewhere about 9 Cost: $30.
2018 Chateau de Fesles “La Chapelle” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine seems to be pale greenish gold in the glass, and it has a nose that is reminiscent of damp stones and white flowers, with undertones of pomelo and lime zest. The notes of pomelo and green apple combine with those of pear and citrus zest in the palate. Outstanding acidity, with just a touch of tightness from the tannins. In the process of organic conversion. Quite delicious. Score: somewhere about 9 Cost: $40.
2019 Domaine Drost “Franc De Pied” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine seems to be a pale gold in the glass, and it has aromas of candied lemon and wintersweet blooms. In the palate, lemon and wet stone aromas combine with flowery notes on top of a beautiful rocky underbelly. There is also a lovely stony underbelly. Excellent acidity and lingering finish. Delicious. Biodynamically farmed and produced, with a Demeter certification. Score: somewhere about 9 Cost: $??
2018 Chateau Pierre-Bise “Les Rouannières” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a light golden gold color in the glass, and it has a candied lemon and struck match aroma. Bright lemon peel, candied lemon, acacia flower, and rocky minerality come together in the tongue to create a mouthwatering experience. Strong acidity, a smooth and silky mouthfeel, with just a touch of tropical fruit aroma. In the process of organic conversion. Score: somewhere about 9 Cost: $??
2018 Domaine de Huillé Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a hue that is somewhere between pale green and yellow, and it has aromas of honey, damp stones, and buckwheat. The notes of citrus pith and zest are enlivened in the tongue by a more delicate and filigreed acidity, and there are some pleasant floral undertones. Minerality of a very high quality. Pretty. About 9 is the score. Cost: $??
2020 Domaine du Belvédère “Le Puy De Mont” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine seems to be a pale greenish gold in the glass, and it has a honeysuckle and citrus pith aroma. In the palate, vibrant citric aromas combine with moist stones and vibrate with outstanding acidity thanks to the combination of the two. This wine has a hint of tannic firmness to it, which adds to its overall appeal. Really delicious. About 9 is the score. Cost: $50.
2019 Chateau de Brossay “Les Neprons” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a pale gold color in the glass and has a scent that is reminiscent of white flowers, guava, and a touch of vanilla. The wine has a full body and pleasant, inviting aromas when tasted. a more subdued acidity, with undertones of nougat remaining in the end. The score ranges between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??
2020 Domaine Ogereau “Bonnes Blanches Sec” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a pale greenish gold color in the glass, and it has aromas of green apple and citrus zest. In the palate, the notes of citrus and apple are particularly sharp and snappy owing to the wine’s excellent acidity. The aftertaste lingers with a pleasing hint of citrus zest. cultivated using organic methods. The score ranges between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $??
2018 Le Clos Galerne “Moulin Brûlé” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a color that is between between pale green and gold, and it has a scent that is reminiscent of pineapple in addition to other tropical fruits and flowers. In the palate, lemon and pineapple aromas are quite vivid, and they are accompanied by a good crisp acidity and minerality. The pineapple tastes carry with them a little of the tingling sensation that you get when you bite into a pineapple, mixed with a touch of bitterness and a trace of alcohol. In terms of organic transformation. The score ranges between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $60.
2017 Chateau de Bois-Brincon “Les Saules De Montbenault” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a pale greenish gold color in the glass, and it has a scent that is reminiscent of lime and green apple, with a touch of wood. Lime zest and grapefruit come together with Asian pear and wet stones as you take a bite. Excellent minerality, accompanied by just a touch of gritty texture, and remarkable levels of acidity. Organically grown or raised. The score ranges between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. To purchase, please click here.
2018 Domaine Bodineau “Héritage” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a light greenish gold color in the glass with a scent of wood and nougat. In the palate, flavors of pear, damp stones, and a hint of sharpness mingle with those of vanilla and crème anglaise. Strong acidity, although the aftertaste is a little too hot. Approximately an 8.5 out of 10 Cost: $??
2020 Chateau du Fresne “Chevalier Le Bascle” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a scent of citrus and creamy cream and looks like a pale gold in the glass. In the palate, tastes of citrus and sweet cream are round and gentle, and the finish has a great zesty citrus kick to it. There is some acidity present, but it is not overwhelming. This needs to have a finer cut in my opinion. Approximately an 8.5 out of 10 Cost: $35.
2020 Domaine de Saint Maur “845” Anjou Blanc, Loire Valley, France
This wine has a pale greenish gold color in the glass, and it has a scent that is reminiscent of honey, damp stones, and lime flower. Grapefruit and Asian pears combine with notes of rounded lime and lime flower in the tongue. Reduced levels of acidity. Unexpectedly characterized by a greenish hue. Approximately an 8.5 out of 10 Cost: $??