Much less exclusive and well-known than Coteaux du Layon, Saumur is nonetheless a very good white wine appellation--and, in recent years, has realized its potential for red wine. Saumur is a massive appellation, just a little under 10,000 acres, and produces about two million cases per year of wines of all colors. These wines would be among the best of the Loire for American buyers if not for their insistently excessive prices.
Although it is often overlooked in comparison to the more famous regions of Anjou (although even they are generally a bit underrated and not very often heard about in the United States), Saumur is quite a good appellation, producing very easy-to-drink wines of a number of styles. Like most Loire wines, they are "tough", and can age rather well. Named for the commune of Saumur, the birthplace of Coco Chanel and hub of the region, the Saumur region stretches across a large cut of the Loire.
The appellations of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny were created in 1936, whereas Saumur Mousseux was created exactly 40 years later.
Climate and Viticulture
Lying to the east of Coteaux du Layon on the banks of the Loire river, the Saumur appellation is nearly as suited to producing Chenin Blanc, but due to a different climate has much more difficulty producing good noble-rotted wines. However, dry whites from Saumur are just as good as the Coteaux examples and reds are generally better.
Although there may be a slight difference in weather between the two appellations, the major discrepancy can be explained by the difference in soil types. Whereas the schist soils of Coteaux du Layon only contain a little rocky sandstone, the Saumur soils are full of limestone, which is generally chalky and not too deep. The soils are not conducive to noble-rotted wine production, but the dry white wines produced here are usually more gentle and rounded than those of Coteaux du Layon.
Four major varieties dominate the proceedings.
- Chenin Blanc: Although not unanimously used like it is in Coteaux du Layon and its subappellations, Chenin Blanc nonetheless makes some of its best dry wines in Saumur. The best wines here have a strong core of mineral flavors, as well as more conventional aromas of pear, apricot, and flowers.
- Chardonnay: Chardonnay is allowed to make up 20% of white blends here.
- Cabernet Franc: Cabernet Franc is put to some of its best use in Saumur-Champigny, which is the Anjou's answer to Chinon and one of the best red wine appellations of the Loire.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: The great international grape of the world isn't quite as good as Cabernet Franc in these soils, but a few producers do make good Cab here.
These four producers are what we consider the top producers of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny.
- Clos Rougeard: An obscure, exclusive producer that makes wines of top quality. The Saumur Blanc is called Chace and is a good all-around wine. But the Saumur-Champigny is far more impressive, with even the basic wine costing over $50. Lieu-dit examples are significantly better, like Le Bourg, which at over $100 has 92+ ratings, Le Clos, and the best yet, Le Poyeux, which offers astounding flavors for its price tag of over $100. These Rhône-like wines offer significant aging potential but good early drinkability, and are likely the best wines of the Saumur area if not the most affordable or available.
- Domaine du Collier: Apparently this producer only makes wine in Saumur; the Le Ripaille is an impressive red, but the La Charpentrie is a yet better white wine. Honeyed but dry, with numerous yellow fruit flavors, it is sappy and at the same time smooth, with floral taste on the finish. The basic Saumur Blanc is only slightly less complex. All these wines can age for 10 years.
- Domaines des Roches Nueves: The basic red Saumur-Champigny is cheap but not very complex, with fruity simplicity. The Terres Chaudes is a far better wine, with good complexity and jet-black flavors of currants, black cherry, and smoky earth, plus the occasional herb note. Taut minerality makes this a keeper for at least five years and possibly up to 10. Also, this domaine makes an interesting white, called L'Insolite, which shows the soft side of Chenin Blanc.
- Château de la Villeneuve: Villeneuve makes one of the few inexpensive examples of Saumur-Champigny. The $15 basic offering gives a great idea of what top Saumur-Champignys taste like--without the whopping price tag.
For such a small appellation, Saumur actually has a surprising amount of subappellations:
- Saumur Blanc: This is simply an appellation for the white wines of Saumur. They are generally varietal Chenin Blanc, but unlike the wines of the Coteaux du Layon, up to 20% Chardonnay in the blend is permissible.
- Saumur Rouge: A general appellation for Saumur's red wines.
- Cabernet de Saumur: Red wines from Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon, or a blend of the two. In recent years Saumur's reds have overshadowed the whites; but the most ambitious yet are under Saumur-Champigny AOC.
- Coteaux de Saumur: Sweet wines from Chenin Blanc; they try to compete with Coteaux du Layon but often are better only on price. Made only in years where noble rot infects the grapes.
- Saumur Mousseux: Unusual, almost experimental bubblies, these wines combine Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc to make a distinctive sparkler.
- Saumur-Champigny: Saumur-Champigny is Anjou's answer to Touraine's Chinon. These impressive wines are all red, made almost entirely from Cabernet Franc with a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon occasionally thrown in for good measure. Fruity, exciting, and perfectly put together, the wines tend to actually grow more serious with time rather than mellow out. The flavors are black and earthy, with dark berry and currant fruit flavors combining with soil and coffee notes. After 10 years the wines should be fantastic, but they can be drunk early. One drawback is the fact that they tend to be expensive.