It's no secret that Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is having a moment. But while the historically important appellations dedicated to the grape, like Vouvray, have consistently turned out classic renditions for centuries, much of the hype these days lies due west in a swath of Middle Loire terrain known as Anjou-Saumur.
For the better part of recent history, this area had a dual reputation. On the one hand, it turned out considerable quantities of uninteresting whites and reds labeled as basic Anjou or Anjou-Villages along with some off-dry rosés. On the other, it was home to the Loire's sweet wine appellations—dessert styles like Bonnezeaux and Coteaux du Layon. One notable exception? The small hamlet of Savennières known for its profoundly mineral styles of dry Chenin.
These days, Anjou-Saumur is a veritable hotbed for natural wine production, whether it's because vineyard land was more affordable for young vignerons just starting out or because the community bred a strong network of mentors and mentees. It's also where the raucous, subterranean natural wine fair called La Dive Bouteille takes place every year. And it's not just about Chenin Blanc. These farmer-winemakers have championed the area's unsung local red grapes, like Grolleau, and have upped their game when it comes to Cabernet Franc, turning out versions that can rival Chinon (the red benchmark to Vouvray's white)
Many of these wines are declassified to Vin de France, eschewing the formal appellation system, so it's not always easy to tell based on the label where they're from. But while the terroir where the grapes grow undoubtedly affects the wines' smell and taste, overthinking what's in the glass would be missing the point.
Here, 7 fresh and delicious whites and reds from Anjou-Saumur:
NV Agnès & René Mosse 'Moussamoussettes' Vin de France ($32)
The luscious Chenin Blancs of former wine shop owners-turned-winemakers Agnès and René Mosse were among the first to catch the attention of the natural wine cognoscenti, but their jubilant, sunset-colored pét-nat is the perfect example of laid-back Loire. Made from Grolleau Gris and Gamay, it tastes like ripe peaches and pears, with an herbal zing that makes it perfect for apéritif hour or poolside sipping.
2014 Benoit Courault 'Guilbourg' Vin de France ($34)
Benoit Courault spent his formative years working with famed vigneron Eric Pfifferling of Domaine L'Anglore in Tavel before returning to his native Loire to start his own estate. His rustic, organic operation includes working the vineyard by horse, minimal sulfites, and no fining or filtration. This 100 percent Chenin Blanc bottling comes off of a plot of schist soil near Courault's home and is as fruit-rich as it is mineral.
2015 Mark Angeli 'La Lune' Vin de France ($37)
This corpulent Chenin Blanc comes off of biodynamically farmed vines in the sweet wine zone of Bonnezeaux. It's declassified to Vin de France because Angeli ferments it to dryness (and because he's no lover of the rigid regulations of France's appellation system), though it retains the layered, honeyed and exotic fruit qualities and wildflower-like perfume of the late-harvested wines of the area.
2014 Eric Morgat 'Fidès' Savennières ($52)
Eric Morgat got his start at age 25 by buying and restoring abandoned plots in the Savennières appellation. Now he farms his 14 acres of Chenin Blanc vines biodynamically and blends his best terroirs into this intensely mineral, toothsome bottling.
2013 Domaine des Sablonnettes 'Les Copains d'Abord' Vin de France ($18)
Thanks to the work of artisan winemakers like Christine and Joël Menard of Domaine des Sablonnettes, the ancient local (yet much maligned) Grolleau grape is regaining ground in France's Loire Valley. This rendition undergoes a short maceration and is bottled without fining or filtration, showcasing its naturally bright acidity, light and lively texture and fragrant, herb-tinged red fruit.
2015 Olivier Cousin 'Pur Breton' Vin de France ($23)
Olivier Cousin was one of the earliest adopters of additives-free winemaking in the Loire. Some may know him as the bearded biodynamic farmer who works his vineyards by horse. Others recall his resolve as he battled the French appellation system over labeling laws a few years back. Most would be content sampling his vibrant, energetic reds, including this wild and peppery Cabernet Franc.
2015 Château de Brézé 'Clos Mazurique' Saumur ($18)
Château de Brézé's prime terroir on tuffeau limestone earned its wines renown throughout Europe as early as the 17th Century. Now, under the organic management of Arnaud Lambert, the estate is experiencing a rebirth. Look for any of its mineral-laced Chenin Blancs, but this Cabernet Franc-based red—full of punchy, ripe fruit and flint-like notes—is a stunner.