Bonnezeaux is a 270-acre appellation for sweet white wine, lying in the eastern part of the Coteaux du Layon. The village in which the wine is produced, named Thouarcé, is located right on the banks of the Layon river and is small, only around 11.5 square miles. The wines produced are similar to Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon's wines in style, but are often less expensive.
Thouarcé is a historic city, having been one of the most important towns in the development of the Anjou region, and the wines have been around almost as long as the city has. Records of sweet wines in the area go back to around 1000 A.D., meaning they were well known even before Botrytis cinerea's magical effects had been discovered. Bonnezeaux was minted as an AOC in 1951.
Climate and Viticulture
The vineyards of the Bonnezeaux region are located on the riverbanks of the Layon, and, in terms of soil, are composed of schist and some sandstone. The banks on which the grapes are planted face south, leading to an ideal amount of sun exposure.
- Chenin Blanc: This is Chenin Blanc's domain and no other grapes are allowed in, not even for blending. Chenin really shows its capabilities here, making a noble-rotted wine of exceptional power and richness. The wines of Bonnezeaux are more strongly sweet than those of the Coteaux du Layon on average, which has made them controversial among critics. Even when young the wines are quite powerful, but they are certainly better with age; those who have tried the older versions say they exhibit tree-ish notes of fig, almond, and acacia, as well as a honeyed sweetness reminiscent of Sauternes.
There are four producers in Bonnezeaux that come highly recommended.
- Château de Fesles: Fantastic wines, usually made in the conventional 750mL bottle size in order to conform to various countries' import regulations. They are still rather obscure, but worth a little searching around, as they perfectly express the power and finesse of the appellation.
- Domaine des Petits Quarts/Godineau: Once again these wines are difficult to find, but they are outstanding in quality.
- Domaine René Renou: Renou's Bonnezeauxs are not too hard to find at online sites, and are extremely impressive. The Cuvée Anne is the most masterful example, but the Cuvée Zenith is also impressive. The wines should run $50-$100, but possibly quite a bit more in the top vintages. Look to age these wines even a little longer than most Bonnezeauxs, possibly as long as 15 years, due to their richness and heaviness when young.
- Domaine Sansonnière: Great Bonnezeauxs from one of the top producers in the Loire. If you can find the wines, they offer amazing flavors that are similar to those of Sauternes, but display distinct notes of acacias and other floral elements.
Bonnezeaux, due to its small size, has no real subregions of its own. The names of the wines are generic and not vineyard-related (i.e. Renou's "Cuvée Anne").