Patrick Baudouin Anjou Blanc Le Cornillard 2009
Few of the Loire Valley's many and varied wine regions have a place in my heart like that occupied by Anjou. The slopes around Sancerre entice me, villages hidden in nooks and crannies in the landscape, with vine-encrusted mountains towering behind. I find the vineyards of Muscadet enchanting, the vines rustling in the brine-heavy breezes, firmly anchored in sandy soils that hide, deep beneath, ancient rocks including granite, gneiss, serpentinite and amphibolite, rocks that make these wines what they are. And who could fail to fall in love with Touraine, with its limestone côtes and flint-scattered soils, the church spire of Vouvray peaking up above the horizon from the valley below? None, however, seem imbued with the lazy, languid, pastoral beauty that Anjou possesses; it has slowly rolling hills covered in vines, and lazily meandering streams and rivers carving gentle valleys.
Anjou is, I admit, a huge and seemingly 'generic' appellation, and there is no easy hook (such as Vouvray's première côte, or Chavignol's Monts Damnés) which can be used to identify the best vineyards, and thus by extrapolation the best wines. Perhaps this is why so few general wine writers ever touch on the wines of Anjou? Savennières sometimes gets a look in, I suspect because the schist-rich vineyards of this particular corner of Anjou have been anointed with their own appellation, and this perhaps somehow validates the wines, making them a suitable subject for a weekly wine column. Probably, although perhaps I am being a little unkind here, just before said writer moves on to recommending a £6.99 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc from the local supermarket as their 'wine of the week'.
Schist, a soil type that seems to work very well with Anjou Blanc, with or without botrytis, is not limited to Savennières though. The other vineyards of Anjou, especially along the course of the Layon, are also rich in interesting schistous terroirs. When farmed sensitively, such soils can yield a wine to match any from anywhere in the Loire, both Savennières and beyond. Knowledgeable Loire drinkers are no doubt already aware of the identity of some Anjou superstars; Richard Leroy and Mark Angeli are the most obvious, although admittedly both gave up on the Anjou appellation many years ago, preferring to use Vin de France instead. But there are many other less widely celebrated names, such as Christophe Daviau of Domaine de Bablut, Philippe Delesvaux, Eddy Oosterlinck of Domaine de Juchepie and René Mosse, to name just a handful. Another I would include is Patrick Baudouin, and tasting his 2009 Anjou La Cornillard this weekend alongside the 2010 Les Rouliers from Richard Leroy it was clear that quality was comparable.
Patrick Baudouin's domaine is located to the northwest of Chaudefonds-sur-Layon, a little hamlet which can't even claim to be one of the seven Coteaux du Layon villages. Despite that, I first learnt of Patrick through his sweet wines, and it is only in the past five or six years that I have really come to appreciate his dry wines, which are just as good. The domaine is understated to say the least; the house is unprepossessing and tumbledown, all rusty railings and crumbling render, the walls covered in creepers and a sense of lost time. It is a fitting antidote to the gilded palaces I have just been photographing in Bordeaux during the 2013 primeurs. Only a small slate plaque on the gatepost informs you as to the identity of the occupant. But here Patrick fashions remarkable expressions of Chenin Blanc, dry and sweet, from organically managed vines. Le Cornillard comes from vines aged between 50 and 80 years, on a prized slope which runs steeply down towards the river. In the glass, the wine has a confident mid-gold hue. The aromatics are beautifully evocative, with scents of desiccated citrus peel, honeyed wildflowers and blanched almonds. It starts off cool and composed on the palate, although almost immediately it broadens out through the middle, showing a slightly creamy, lactic twist which I don't find distracting, with some exotic fruits in the finish, touches of pineapple in particular. There is a lovely tangible substance to it, giving the wine great texture. With a little time in the glass though it tenses up, shows a more linear style and some bitter pith as well, giving the wine a sense of energy and form which I really admire. This is a very impressive wine, easily the equal of anything from more famous names and appellations. Well done Patrick. 17/20 (14/4/14)