Thibaud Boudignon Anjou Blanc 2011
The most recent question I have been asked by on the Loire was this; “what is the difference between a Vouvray, and a Savennières?” I supposed there could be, depending on exactly whose wines we are debating, a myriad differences, but in response I decided to start with terroir. This, more than any other feature of the vineyard, must surely be responsible for the profound differences between the wines of these two appellations. On the one hand we have the wines of Vouvray, from the yellow tuffeau of the Upper Turonian (about 90 million years old) down to the chalk marl of the Lower Turonian (about 94 million years old), all splattered with flint. These rocks, all coming from the late Cretaceous, are still enjoying their feckless youth compared to Savennières though; here metamorphic and igneous forms predominate, especially schist, most of which comes from the Ordovician and Devonian eras, largely more than 400 million years ago. These schists gives Chenin Blanc a very different character to the style that comes from the Turonian limestone and flint, the wines bolder and more strident than the cooler and minerally Vouvrays.
Less easy to answer would be the same question of comparison, but this time looking at Savennières versus Anjou. These two appellations boast very complex and varied terroirs, yet n truth they share many similarities. Schist dominates in both, perhaps unsurprising as Savennières sits on the right bank of the Loire, while the top Anjou vineyards are almost opposite, on the left bank, spreading out to the south. Extensive and detailed geological surveys of both show they are streaked with sandstone, spilite (also known as pierre bise), phthanites and rhyolite. The distinguishing features are perhaps, first, Savennières has extensive patches of aeolian (wind-blown) sands, while Anjou probably has greater complexity, with different types of schist, as well as Carboniferous forms such as pudding stones and even coal. As a consequence, drawing distinctions between the wines of Anjou and those of Savennières is fraught with difficulty. They are very similar styles; this is of course to our advantage as Anjou is a happy hunting ground for those who look for character and quality and aren’t too worried about the status of the appellation on the label.
My new profile of Thibaud Boudignon, published last week, seems especially relevant at this moment. Thibaud has vines both in Savennières, in the Fougeraies lieu-dit, and also in Anjou. Even though it lies close to the enclave appellations of Roche-aux-Moines and Coulée de Serrant, Les Fougeraies has more sandy soils (although there will be deeper schist of course, and it is probably this that counts most), and the wines are lighter in style for the appellation. It is not inherently superior to the Anjou vineyards which, especially along the banks of the Layon, are particularly rich in complex igneous and metamorphic terroirs, different schists and spilite too. This is why the supposedly ‘generic’ wines of Anjou can, in the right hands, be so divine. Last week’s wine, the 2012 Anjou Blanc Pierrebise from Pithon-Paillé, was a case in point. I hope this week’s wine, the 2011 Anjou Blanc from Thibaud Boudignon, will seal the deal.
Thibaud Boudignon, who also looks after the vineyards and makes the wine at Château Soucherie, has just 1.8 hectares to his name in Anjou. The fruit is picked by hand, and then vinified in wood, using about 35% new oak, in this vintage at least. In doing so the barrels are ‘prepared’ before Thibaud goes on to use them again in subsequent vintages, either for his superior Anjou Blanc named Cuvée François(e), or for his Savennières Les Fougerais. Although the wine has a vibrant and straw-coloured hue in the glass, the aromas from the oak show rather prominently on the nose, which reveals the smoke and liquorice of a new barrel before it allows any fruit aromas out to provide some balance. Nevertheless, there is no denying the quality of the underlying fruit here. The palate has a lovely bright frame, and even though the oak comes to the fore here there is also a clear energy to the fruit, which is tense and yet glistening with ripe flavours. It has the confident intensity of a wine from an Anjou terroir as described above, reminiscent of desiccated tropical fruits with touch of a lemony freshness, but it is the laser-like energy and defining acidity that lifts this wine above your everyday Anjou cuvée. There is clearly some beautiful raw material here, and if I needed to be convinced of Thibaud’s skill it is certainly in evidence. Yes, the oak is a little firmer in presence than I would like, but there is no denying the quality and ease with which I drank this wine. 16/20 (18/8/14)