The gigantic Anjou region is one of the most important regions in the Loire, together with its subregions producing a plethora of good wines. It makes up around 10% of the size of the Loire in acreage. The general region is mostly known for Rosé d'Anjou, a rosé that tends to be nervy and powerful, but every style of wine is made there. Anjou's subregions generally are sweet wine designations.
With Touraine, it makes up what is known as the Middle Loire; the Middle Loire is the source of most of the Loire's best wines and all of its best Chenin Blancs. Anjou contains Coteaux du Layon (which in turn encompasses Bonnezeaux, Chaume, and within Chaume the miniscule Quarts de Chaume), Saumur, and Savennières. All are famous appellations, but basic Anjou-labeled wines are also good. Considering the fact that the region is about 20,000 acres, general quality of Anjou wine is high.
Although the Loire was quite famous in the Middle Ages for its wine production, Anjou was hardly the most widely regarded region, since many of the techniques that are now used there (i.e. making Sauternes-like wines from noble-rotted grapes) were not yet developed. Ancient vinification techniques were used that produced a bland, generally flavorless wine.
But Anjou progressed as time went on, and sometime around the 17th century the botrytis noble-rot process was developed. Of course, Sauternes was the progenitor of this style, and made the best wines, but Anjou producers found that they were able to make a similar style. By undercutting Sauternes on price they were able to compete in the market, and the region's convenient location on a river made it easy to ship the wines around Europe.
But for a few setbacks (mainly the phylloxera epidemic of the 20th century, which ravaged much of the Loire), the Anjou has remained one of the prime places for sweet wine--and further regional progress means that dry styles have become popular as well. Anjou got its AOC status in 1936 along with the first wave of French AOCs.
Climate and Viticulture
Due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, much of Anjou-Saumur has a maritime influence. There is more rainfall and also more ocean breezes in this part of the Loire than the more eastern portions, which are landlocked. The wind warms the area, but by nature the Loire is fairly warm anyway, so the climate is perfect for white wine growing--although a little too balmy for sparkling wine, which is why most sparklies from the Loire are made in Touraine.
Wines that require botrytis, such as the world-famous Quarts de Chaume cuvées, require very specific viticultural standards, which are not met in every vintage. As a result, in bad years producers use the plantings to make dry Chenin Blanc, and they also cultivate red grapes for alternatives to the sweet styles.
As for the actual geological makeup of Anjou, it is a bit unusual: carboniferous limestone, which is rare in France, makes up many of the hills, and much of the soil is composed of schist. It's supposedly Chenin Blanc's favorite climate to grow in; evidently, Cabernet Franc also does well, although not as well as in the more conventional soils of neighboring Touraine.
Anjou uses a number of grapes, but only a few are truly common. Top dog is certainly Chenin Blanc for white wines, although Chardonnay sneaks in from time to time. For reds, Cabernet Franc is the most prominent.
Note: This list of six producers concerns only the best producers of the actual Anjou region, not its subregions such as Coteaux du Layon. Rosé producers are also not covered.
- Agnes & René: This solid producer makes a great Anjou Blanc from Chenin Blanc, with powerful citrus and herb flavors and the mineral spine of the region. From the Mosse vineyard they make a Cabernet Franc of phenomenal dark-berry depth, and the mix of structure and lightness that the best varietal Cabernet Francs have. The Les Bonnes Blanches is the white version from the same vineyard, and is also good.
- Domaine des Baumard: Varietal Cabernet Franc is typical here, particularly the Logis de la Giraudière, which is affordable and highly regarded.
- Château de Fesles: These white Anjous are extremely affordable (under $15) and have credibility as well.
- Richard Leroy: Two extremely high-quality Anjou Blanc terroirs here: Le Clos des Rouliers and Les Noels de Montbenault. Rouliers is a white wine of phenomenal creaminess but also aggressive, brash citrus flavors; the Noels is more classy with solid yellow fruit notes.
- Château Pierre-Bise: Pierre-Bise is better-known for their offerings in Coteaux du Layon, but makes good Anjou Blanc and Anjou-Villages.
- Domaine de la Soucherie: Reasonably priced wines are made in both red and white styles. The red is generally better, with elegant red fruit flavors.
Here is a list of Anjou's three subregions.
- Coteaux du Layon: Some of the greatest sweet wines in the world are made in the Coteaux du Layon and its subregions. Although the production process is complex and convoluted, it usually turns out impressively sweet, rich Chenin Blancs that rival Sauternes in many ways--except price!
- Bonnezeaux: Small and exclusive, the Bonnezeaux region covers similar sweet wines to the Coteaux du Layon region that completely contains it.
- Chaume: After some controversy, the 320-acre Chaume region has been made a Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru rather than an AOC of its own.
- Quarts de Chaume: Quarts de Chaume is known for its exclusivity, and with good reason, since its fantastic wines are grown on only 74 acres of prime land. Ultra-intense, they are better off aged for many years, and are comparable to Sauternes in terms of their ability to develop over time.
- Saumur: These wines are also produced from Chenin Blanc, but the region is much less well-known than Anjou and Coteaux du Layon. Dry and minerally, the best Saumurs have bright, vivid fruit. Reds and rosés are also made, albeit in a much less intense style.
- Savennières: Solely white Chenin Blanc, these mercilessly intense wines have been compared to Chablis for their exhilarating metallic taste. For firm devotees, Savennières is an irreplaceable appellation.