Savennières is the smallest appellation of the Anjou, with only 740 acres of eligible land. And only about half the acreage is actually planted. Although similar to Saumur, it makes wines of much less diversity and more exclusivity, a natural consequence of its smaller size.
The famously metallic, bitter Chenin Blancs made here can range into the stratosphere in terms of exclusivity, especially the renowned Coulée de Serrant. Over the years the wines have attained a significant cult following. Critics call them an acquired taste, but bestow good reviews upon the best examples, and as a result of these factors these wines have become quite expensive.
Savennières has a long history. Like most French appellations, it was originally planted by monks in the Middle Ages, who knew little about winemaking but planted the seeds for the winemaking greatness the appellation eventually took on. Savennières was made an AOC in 1952, originally for dry wine only, but later on rules for sweet wines were introduced.
Climate and Viticulture
Savennières encompasses three communes: Savennières, Bouchemaine, and La Possonière. These three are in the northwest part of the Loire river, far from the sweet wine appellations of the Coteaux du Layon, so the river is a bit colder there.
The reason only half the acreage of Savennières is actually planted is because by far the best vineyards are on hills whose soil is composed of schist. Land that doesn't lie on these hills doesn't have the same soil type, so producers generally don't bother to plant off the hills.
Only one grape is used here.
- Chenin Blanc: Savennières makes by far the best dry Chenins in the Anjou. The grape is made into wine that has Chenin's usual bitterness and then some, but also a certain charm that is difficult to explain. The steely intensity is balanced by an impressive flavor set of citrus fruit and minerally floral aromas, a paradoxical combination that makes the wines unique if nothing else. Even the basic wines are ageable for up to about 20 years, but the best should last significantly longer.
Savennières has a number of ambitious producers. We have selected a particular seven of them.
- Domaine des Baumard: Baumard, the ever-present producer of the Loire, makes numerous wines from Savennières. The basic one, which is in the $20 range, has strong citrus and mineral flavors and slightly bitter greenish fruit notes as well...an essence of Savennières. At around the $30 range, the Clos du Papillon is significantly better, with nectarine flavors and floral nuances. Initially dry, the wine is supposed to mellow out with age. Top cuvée is the Trie Specialé, which runs about $40 and has excellent complexity.
- Château de Chamboreau: The house wine here is classic Savennières, a dry and minerally offering with more herbal than fruity flavors. The Roche aux Moines is more sweet and honeyed. Both wines should be given some age.
- Domaine du Closel: La Jalousie is inexpensive for a Savennières cuvée wine, at around $20, and its floral, honeyed but bitter aromas are quite complex and ageworthy for the price point. The Clos du Papillon is more expensive and far better, with brighter yellow fruit flavors but also an incisive, impressively strong mineral edge. One of the most powerful wines in this appellation, it should be aged for at least 10 years before drinking.
- Château d'Epire: This producer's "Cuvée Speciale" is one of the best wines in Savennières for under $25. It offers solid, ageworthy flavors of honeyed but bitter citrus fruit and minerality.
- Nicolas Joly: Joly is an impressive producer, offering undoubtedly the best wines of Savennières. It's hardly a fair contest, considering they own all of the top-notch 17-acre vineyard Coulée de Serrant. With stunning concentration, these wines are almost undrinkable in their first few years of age but are fun for their impressive intensity. After 5-10 years (although the wines are ageable for much longer), the awesome concoctions turn out to be filled with impressively vibrant, but still intense, flavors of citrus fruit. This famously bitter cuvée usually costs about $100. Cooked and exotic in flavor, the secondary cuvée Clos de la Bergerie is idiosyncratic for the appellation.
- Château de la Roche aux Moines: Confusingly, this Château doesn't make any actual wines from the Roche aux Moines vineyard. Their best cuvées are Clos de la Bergerie, with its distinctively deep, chewy yellow fruit flavors and slightly less powerful mineral core, and the less bitter but similarly complex Le Clos Sacres. Both the wines are impressively crafted and are supposed to open up well with time.
- Domaine de la Soucherie: Soucherie makes only one wine here, the Clos des Perrières. Priced at around $25-$30, it is intense and full of mineral potency. Flavors are mostly of yellow fruit, with some eclectic smoky floral notes.
Savennières has two subappellations, both of them vineyards:
- Savennières-Coulée de Serrant: This 17-acre vineyard, which encompasses the best land of Savennières, is fully owned, in a Burgundian monopole style, by Nicolas Joly. The famously bitter wines cost over $100 but offer terrific aging potential and one-of-a-kind flavors.
- Savennières-Roche aux Moines: At 82 acres, this vineyard is larger than Coulée de Serrant and has many owners. Château de Chamboreau often makes the best wine here.
There are other notable vineyards here, notably Clos du Papillon and Le Clos Sacres, but these are the only two that are officially designated under the AOC.