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Domaine de Montgilet Les Trois Schistes 2006

Every fan of Loire wines knows of Coteaux du Layon and its crus, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume, and I dare say these names will also be familiar to many who are not intimately familiar with all the wines of France's longest river. But beyond these great names the Loire has many other sources of sweet wine. Vouvray is one well known source, of course, but closer to home in Anjou there are other, somewhat more esoteric appellations. The Coteaux de Saumur is one, a sweet appellation covering 31 communes around Saumur, and to the southwest of Angers there is Anjou-Coteaux de la Loire, another sweet appellation covering a large area, although only a small proportion of it is actually cultivated today. Sandwiched between the two is the Coteaux de l'Aubance, perhaps better known than both of them, but always destined to lie in the shadow of the Coteaux du Layon, just a little to the west.

Domaine de Montgilet Coteaux de l'Aubance Les Trois Schistes 2006The Aubance, a small tributary of the Loire, runs in a northwards direction until it turns to the northwest heading for the Brissac-Quincé. From here it continues, turning slowly west at Mûrs-Erigne, before draining into the Louet, an arm of the Loire that runs from Angers down to Chalonnes-sur-Loire. The river's erosion has not created a long string of southerly slopes like those found along the Layon; the topography here is more varied, a series of small slopes and hills with many different aspects. These are in many places planted with Chenin, and with the occasional help of botrytis encouraged by the mists of the Aubance, although more often with the effect of passerillage - the drying of the fruit that comes with delaying the harvest - there is the potential here for producing some attractive sweet wines. This practise is embodied by the Coteaux de l'Aubance appellation, delimited in 1950. There are ten eligible communes along the riverside, mainly those with favourable exposure, typically on schistous Silurian and Ordovicien soils. There are currently about 150 hectares under cultivation (although as with the neighbouring appellations, the boundaries here encompass a much larger area than is actually planted up), and the fruit is typically harvested at just over 30 hl/ha, in a similar fashion to that from the Layon. Nevertheless, like Anjou-Coteaux and Coteaux de Saumur, this tiny region has a very low profile, despite my observation that there are a small number of good wines produced here.

It is without doubt the Lebretons that lead in this appellation, whether we are talking of Hubert and Jean-Yves Lebreton at Domaine des Rochelles, or of Vincent and Victor Lebreton at Domaine de Montgilet. This week's wine is from the latter estate, a 2006 Coteaux de l'Aubance Les Trois Schistes. This is a blend of wine from across the three main terroirs of Montgilet, namely the Clos Prieur (purple schist), Clos des Huttiéres (grey schist) and other Aubance vineyards which are characterised by blue schist (hence les trois schistes). The wine has a good, rich, shimmering golden hue in the glass. The nose is straightforward but certainly admirable, especially considering that this is just one step up from the Lebretons' entry-level cuvée, the Cuvée Générique. Oranges and marmalade dominate. On the palate it has great vibrancy and a gentle texture, somewhat talcy and rich, but with fresh acidity. There is a lot of intriguing substance here, as it is grippy and firm alongside the sweetness, with good flavours too. Good length. Not complex, but certainly all the necessary components are here, and this will evolve nicely in the cellar over the next 8-10 years. 16.5+/20 (2/11/09)

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