Anjou

Anjou is the winegrowing district around the French city of Angers, in the western Loire Valley. Stylistically diverse, it produces red, white and rosé wines in a range of styles: dry, sweet, still and sparkling. The wines of the district's generic Anjou appellation are not particularly well known or prestigious, but they are complemented by the fragrant Cabernet Franc of Saumur, the crisp Chenin Blanc of Savennières and the sweet white nectars produced in the Côteaux de Layon.

Anjou is bisected neatly by the Loire river, in the final stages of its 620 mile (1,000km) journey through the very heart of France. Just upriver to the east lies the Touraine district, while to the west lie the Muscadet vineyards of the Pays Nantais. The district's geographical area corresponds roughly to that of the Duchy of Anjou – a historical province that existed prior to the French Revolution in 1789, and that corresponds closely to the modern-day Maine-et-Loire administrative department.

The Anjou climate is relatively moderate, balanced by the continental effect of central France to the east and the maritime influence of the Atlantic to the west. The presence of the Loire river contributes its own character, creating subtly varied mesoclimates. The district's soil types can be roughly divided into two types: the carboniferous rocks and schist of the Armorican Massif to the north and west, and visibly whiter, limestone-rich soils to the south and west. The latter soils are a telltale sign of Angers' location at the southern fringe of the Paris Basin – something it shares with the Loire's most famous vineyard area, Sancerre.

Sweet Chenin Blanc wines are something of a speciality here in Anjou. They rank among the most sumptuous sweet wines made anywhere in France; although less famous than Sauternes, many of them are very highly regarded by those in the know. The best of these come from the Côteaux de Layon zone, particularly from its tiny sub-regions Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. They are characterised by a honeyed, floral nose with hints of tropical fruit. Among the district's less well known sweet wines are those from the zone immediately west of Angers, which are labelled as Anjou-Côteaux de la Loire.

Although Chenin Blanc is put to very good use in Anjou's sweet wines, the quality and quantity of dry Chenin Blanc made here is steadily increasing. A small area immediately west of Angers, Savennières (with its two sub-zones, Coulée de Serrant and La Roche aux Moines) produces some of the finest dry Chenin Blanc anywhere in the world.

Demonstrating the area's diversity, the sweet and dry white wines are complemented by dry, subtly spicy Cabernet Franc-based reds made under the Anjou Villages title, the finest of which come from vineyards around Brissac.

Anjou's rosé wines come in two quite distinct forms: the semi-sweet, low in acidity Rosé d'Anjou (immensely popular in the mid-to-late 20th century but now in decline) and the finer, better-structured, more complex Cabernet d'Anjou. A handful of sparkling rosés are made in Saumur, mainly from Cabernet Franc blended with Grolleau and/or Chenin Blanc.

The generic, district-wide Anjou appellation covers red, white and sparkling wines (but not still rosés, which are taken care of by the rosé-specific Rosé d'Anjou and Cabernet d'Anjou appellations). Anjou Rouge is made predominantly from the Cabernet grapes, with a little help from Gamay and Pineau d'Aunis. Anjou Blanc is typically based on Chenin Blanc, often with a splash (up to 20%) of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sparkling Anjou Mousseux comes in both white and rosé forms, and is based on the same array of varieties as the still wines. The appellation's only varietal wine is red Anjou Gamay, which must be made 100% from Gamay. Just as in Beaujolais (Gamay's spiritual home), these wines may be made in the fruity, low-tannin "Primeur/Nouveau" style.

To the west of Angers, the Anjou vineyard area spreads into the Pay Nantais (stopping only just short of Nantes itself) and overlaps with that of the Côteaux d'Ancenis and Muscadet appellations.
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