Bonnezeaux

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Bonnezeaux is a highly respected sweet white wine appellation of the Anjou district in the western Loire Valley of France. Created in 1951, the title covers only a small part of the Thouarce commune, about 10 miles (16km) south of the Loire river as it passes Angers.

Roughly 220 acres (90ha) of vines are used to produce Bonnezeaux wine, planted in the sandy shale soils that characterise the local terrain. They grow in a very stable climate, moderated by the oceanic influence of the Atlantic. Their mesoclimate is neither too dry nor too wet, and blesses the gentle, south-facing slopes with higher-than-average levels of sunshine.

Bonnezeaux wines rank amongst the most respected sweet wines of the Loire – and even all of France. They are made exclusively from Chenin Blanc (known here as Pineau de la Loire) and harvested in tries successives. These are multiple passes through the vineyard over a period of days and weeks, in which the only grapes picked are the very ripest and those affected by the noble rot botrytis. This method was introduced to the Loire by the winemaker generally credited with establishing the Bonnezeaux appellation in the first place: Jean Boivin. He brought the technique from his harvests spent in Sauternes. It soon caught on and spread to other local appellations. It is particularly symbolic that the method should have been brought here from Sauternes; just as the Garonne and its tributaries create a sinuous patchwork of mesoclimates in the southern Graves, so the Loire, fed by the Layon and the Aubance, creates perfect conditions for the creation of botrytised wines. The Selection de Grains Nobles title that now appears on many Côteaux du Layon wines (borrowed from Alsace) is reserved especially for wines harvested in this way.

Although firmly established as one of the Loire's very finest sweet wines, Bonnezeaux generally takes second place to Quarts de Chaume, which is produced nine miles (14km) to the north west. This is attributed to the more stringent production conditions of Quarts de Chaume wines and their famously exclusive vineyard area. Bonnezeaux also faces competition from another Chaume title, the premier cru Côteaux du Layon Chaume appellation. Although technically a sub-appellation of the less demanding Côteaux du Layon, Chaume actually has the same production conditions as Bonnezeaux – a fact that has recently earned it official premier cru status. That aside, the Bonnezeaux name (which translates literally as "good waters") still holds a strong position in the wine world.
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