Coteaux du Layon
Having reached the top of the slope, I paused a while, ostensibly to drink in the view, although I was also grateful for the opportunity to get my breath back. Scanning the landscape, my eye was first drawn to the two cabanes which sat one behind the other, a useful marker for the Bonnes Blanches vineyard, one of the most renowned of the Coteaux du Layon appellation. All around them there lay an emerald-green patchwork blanket of vines, draped over a symphony of gently rolling slopes and shallow valleys, an image which seemed to me to typify the pastoral nature of Anjou.
There was a gentle breeze in the air, and my attention was suddenly drawn to the trees that lined the foot of the slope. A regiment of beech, hornbeam and oak stood there, arranged in two vaguely parallel ranks, as if on parade, their leaves rustling as the branches danced in the wind. I watched them twist and turn for a while (yes, I was still getting my breath back) and as I did so, my gaze transfixed, I suddenly perceived something more. As the leaves whirled and fluttered from side to side I noticed behind them a different shimmer, inky blue and glistening. My gaze had landed upon what is surely, beyond the Loire itself, the region’s most famous wine river. Hiding among the trees it was, of course, the Layon.
In my defence it is not difficult to overlook the Layon; it is a surprisingly diminutive waterway, easily obscured by the trees that follow its course, and any of the small bridges dotted along its length can be crossed in a nanosecond. Blink, and you will miss it. Nevertheless, while petite, it has a grand reputation, as a focal point for the Coteaux du Layon, one of the Loire Valley’s most significant appellations. Larger even than more famous cousins such as Pouilly-Fumé, its vineyards cover an area which comfortably matches the appellation of Chinon. Given that the Coteaux du Layon vineyards are dedicated solely to the production of sweet wines this is a remarkable expanse, in the French liquoreux league table second only in terms of size to Sauternes.
Faced with such a significant vineyard it is perhaps inevitable that I should choose to begin my exploration of the appellations of Anjou here, in the Coteaux du Layon. It is, however, also a very practical place to start; an understanding of the Coteaux du Layon and its villages will naturally lead us to the special enclaves of Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux, and after that the similarly styled Coteaux de l’Aubance appellation. Many of the most significant wines of the Anjou appellation also come from these vineyards, and certain corners of the Coteaux du Layon appellation are also historical hotspots for Cabernet d’Anjou, the region’s most famous rosé. The Coteaux du Layon really is a window onto the world of Anjou wine.
And so I begin my guide to the Coteaux du Layon with a history of the Layon river and its vineyards, which I will continue in subsequent instalments with more detail on the region’s modern history, an account of the appellation as it stands today, including its creation and recent developments, along with an examination of its topography and geology, its vignerons and its wines. I will also look more closely at the six communal subzones, the so-called ‘villages’ of the Coteaux du Layon, followed by the one true ‘village’ appellation, Chaume. And finally I will move on to cover Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume.