“Farther down the river are the vineyards of Coteaux de la Loire, mostly on the north bank, where the best surround the little town of Savenniéres. The wines are drier than those of Layon, very high in alcohol, and very slow in maturing.” Alexis Lichine, 'Wines of France', Pub. Cassell & Co Ltd. 1952
Our excellent driver, Jean-Paul, steered the minibus out of Angers and in the direction of a small but ancient white wine appellation south west of Angers. Savenniéres has a reputation for producing extremely dry white wines from chenin blanc that can age very well for decades. The countryside early in the morning is misty but as the sun comes up, it clears away and is perfectly fresh but constantly changing as the sun rises higher over the rocky hills spilling warmth over the region.
As we pull over outside the Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults we all tumble out and walk into the grounds of the chateau. It is so subdued and tranquil that drifting about taking photos and chatting seems like the only option. That is of course until we are met by our hostess Viscountess Evelyne de Jessey-Pontbriand and three other wine makers, Pierre Cressard of Alain Chateau, Charles Pasquiers of Domaine FL and Wendy Paillé of Pithon-Paillé.
Evelyne is currently the President of the AOC Savenniéres and is an excellent ambassador for the region and the wines. Her first call was to lead us on a walk up the hill to where we could see the rock bed beneath us where it was cut through to make way for the road, but also the soil of sandstone schist, volcanic rocks and aeolian sand that is so characteristic of the terroir, reflecting the incredible geological upheaval that gave this part the Loire Valley its current dramatic topsy turvy form.
From the high vantage where we were standing we could see out across the hills and all the wines makers gave us a brief introduction to their wines. I have added a couple of videos so you can hear what they had to say. My main take away was that this appellation has a rich history, unusual soils and landscape that the producers fall in love with. Evelyne stated herself that these wines are made to reflect the place that has in its character a deep sense of beauty, history and pleasure. Wendy, a South African, told us how she had come here and been seduced by smelly cheese and the delicious wine presented by her then fiance.
So with the landscape absorbed into the senses we made our way back down to the chateau. The eleven o clock sun was shining brightly as we skirted round by a small off-shoot of the river that ran through the gardens. The water was as still as a millpond and the tranquility only disturbed by the gravel under foot. Oh happy days!
Passing by the front of the Chateau and through a cultivated rose garden we arrived at the next and very vital part of the tour... the tasting. Inside the tapestried walls contained in their midst round tables with places laid up for our small crew. This was all well preceded by the walk. The imagination was flowing with thoughts of chenin, schist and the rising veil of morning mist.
We then proceeded to do a vintage comparison of young and not-so-young wines. One common theme with the chenin blanc wines in the intense honey sweetness that comes through straight away followed by the complexity of fruit, soil and production processes such as oak ageing in casks.
Here are a selection of notes from what we tasted. Mostly we compared a very young vintage with a slightly older to get an idea of how the wines develop.
Chamboreau 2007 – Much more fragrant that the 2008 with more oak coming through. There is certainly more white fruit coming through on the palate and the wine is rounder but with fresh acidity that is a pleasure to hold in the mouth.
Pithon-Paille, Savenniéres 2010 – Joe Pithon is a well known and respected winemaker who has a passion for carefully monitoring his wines as they mature letting they stay in oak until they achieve a specific style he is seeking. Micro oxygenation, whereby the liquid is aloud to breathe a little in order to affect the end result is practised as an art.
The wine is a lovely golden colour and the chenin honey is striking on the nose. The wine is opening up and I'm starting to enjoy the complexly integrated characteristics of white fruit, elderflower, hints of oak and tidy freshness. It is still a young wine but I'd love to come back and taste it in five years.
Chateau de Varrenes, 2008 – this was a late harvest vintage and the quantity was very small. That said, it is delicious. It has much more minerality than the predecessors and there is that familiar white fruit, elderflower, aromas of honey and fresh acidity. Straight away I'm drifting out onto a terrace with some pate, olives and a few glasses of this!
Patrick Baudoiun Savenniéres 2009 – Patrick himself is described by Evelyne as the ladykiller politician of the region. In the absence of this intriguing winemaker we are at least able to taste his wine. A quick sideways glance at this bottle and we notice it has a label designed by an artist. It is an abstract composition of elements that, I am guessing, go somewhere to establish the terroir of this region (If you can get your hands on a bottle or decipher the image in this post, let me know your thoughts!). The in wine itself is very intense with lovely pear, pebbles and freshness. I'd love a small plate of white fish with a creamy fatty sauce for this wine to joust with...
Clos du Pappillon 2006 – This wine has a rich alluring gold colour. Holding up to the light it whispers sweetness to the senses. The age has amplified the complexity on the nose with a honeyed potency with long fine aftertaste that carries on and on. At the time of tasting, I had just written: “Would go beautifully with a plate of...” when Evelyne chimed in “lobster!” So be it.
As our hostess pointed out, if you drink these wines then you will live forever. It even comes with a guarantee that if it doesn't work then you can bring it back and get a refund. This small, possibly under appreciated, appellation was very represented at this tasting and it was good to hear about the forays and conversions to biodiversity. There is a determination here to make the wines that encapsulate all the characteristics of the region including its legacy of style, the reflection of the landscape and the producers, and just as importantly, the overriding sense of pleasure that comes with drinking.
But now, of course, it is lunchtime and one must put those daydreams to work...
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