Château de Villeneuve Coteaux de Saumur 2003
While the Chenin Blanc appellations of Anjou and Touraine include several which are rightly renowned for their dry wines, from Anjou to Savennières, from Montlouis to Vouvray, and let’s not forget Jasnières and the other appellations along the banks of the Loir, it is perhaps the sweet wines from these regions that will make the heart flutter most wildly. The wines of the Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux and Quarts de Chaume in Anjou, and the best moelleux cuvées from Montlouis and Vouvray are perhaps the pinnacle of what can be achieved with Chenin Blanc. Few places in the world can provide us with such a fabulous array of sweetly botrytised wines, with Bordeaux and Germany the only serious alternatives.
Nestled between and within these famed appellations, however, there are more obscure names which are worth, on occasion, seeking out. Few domaines in Savennières produce a sweet wine these days, but they are there if you look for them, with those of Domaine aux Moines and Château d’Epiré perhaps the most notable. You could argue that Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir are also fairly obscure, although as I spend a lot of time tasting, buying and drinking the wines of Eric Nicolas, at Domaine de Bellivière, it doesn’t feel like it. And then there is the Coteaux de Saumur, technically the only sweet wine appellation applicable to the Saumur region. I write technically because I have on occasion encountered a moelleux cuvée under the Saumur appellation, such as the 1996 Château Beauregard Saumur Moelleux, and Philippe Gourdon has repeated this at Château Tour Grise, but such wines are almost as rare as unicorns.
There isn’t a vigneron I know of who regularly produces a Coteaux de Saumur cuvée, this being an appellation those in the region turn to only when the vintage demands it. As a consequence, the wines pop onto my radar very infrequently, and it is very unusual to find one from a highly regarded figure in the appellation such as Jean-Pierre Chevallier, of Château de Villeneuve. The appellation regulations require a residual sugar after fermentation of at least 34 g/l, the absolute minimum figure at which you might start thinking of a cuvée as moelleux rather than demi-sec. Many examples I have encountered over the years taste as though they have only just crossed over that line, and with vibrant limestone-induced acidity being the norm the style often feels very nervous and tense.
The 2003 was a remarkable vintage for the Loire Valley, the summer heatwave producing wines of huge concentration and grip, but perhaps not the acidity many of us crave, especially in the dry whites. Jean-Pierre Chevallier had sent his pickers out to bring in the Chenin Blanc for his dry Saumur Blanc in what was for many the earliest harvest since the 1893 vintage. Analyses of the first few bunches showed that the grapes had already achieved 16.5% potential alcohol, far too rich to produce a dry wine, and already well over the minimum potential alcohol stipulated for Coteaux de Saumur, which is 15%. He called a halt to the harvest, and resumed picking at a later date, producing a sweet Coteaux de Saumur instead, the first the domaine had made since 1921. In the glass the 2003 Coteaux de Saumur from Château de Villeneuve displays a burnished golden hue. The nose is certainly exotic, all sweetly grilled orange slices on buttered toast, with notes of grilled hazelnuts and lemon-curd freshness, the overall effect sweet but lightly spicy and peppered. With a little air some more oxidative notes begin to come to the fore though. The palate, however, remains beautifully fresh, sweet and full in terms of body and substance, with the silky texture countered by a phenolic grain to the fruit. The acidity feels rather shy, admittedly, but there is still plenty of joy to be had here, the combination and contrast of swirled lemon curd and toasted nut is a particular delight. Well done Jean-Pierre, this was a good decision. 93/100 (14/2/19)