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France_Loire_Saumur

Saumur is one of those confusing appellations in France in that you are not sure if it an appellation name, a region name or wine name, or even an estate name. France, been confusing the wine world for over 500 years. Basically it is an extension of the very famous and very geeky appellation of Touraine. Saumur also  makes the same range of wines from Anjou except that it does not make the same level of world-beating sweet wines that Anjou can. 

The main basic soil-type of Saumur is Tuffeau which is a marine sedimentary rock that sparkles in the light. Many structures in the old days of the Loire were built with a large majority of the tuffeau. What makes this stone so special is all the fossilized sand particles and living organisms that remain trapped in it because the Loire Valley used to be the floor of a sea around 90 million years ago. 

The four basic wines of Saumur are as follows. Saumur Rouge (of which the appellation of Saumur-Champigny arises), Saumur Blanc, Cabernet de Saumur and Saumur Mousseux are the major players. There is also a small appellation called Coteaux de Saumur which is known for its high-quality sweet wines. They are very rare and I have never seen one in the United Sates. 

We do not see much of the Mousseux stateside (even less of the even smaller Saumur Pettiilant) but it is very big in Paris at all the cafes. The cool climate and chalky soil make it perfect sparkling wine territory. Made from a blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and sometimes Sauvignon Blanc this wine can be light, crisp and creamy and more than often an ocean of vapid uninteresting-ness. Usually that is all in terms of quality as the land that is used for Saumur Mousseux is quite big (even bigger than for Saumur Blanc), so if the grapes are perhaps under ripe it is nothing a few bubbles can't save, which is the tendency of some low-end growers mindset. Some of the big houses have made strives towards quality but in general this is a largely forgettable appellation. For more serious sparkling Loire you need to go to Vouvray or even Cremant de Loire. 

Samur Blanc is a difficult wine that is highly acidic, lean and very mineral. The best examples age for many years but can be awkward and astringent in the beginning of their lives. There is fruit but not much and this is a mineral lovers dream which is a common theme among many white Loire appellations. Some people are experimenting with oak, which can work, but only with the best vintages and most conscientious growers. Some people compare them to still wine made by the Champenois which I can see as tasting vin clairs does remind me of tasting some shrill Saumur Blancs. Even though it can be a difficult wine, the best examples can be quite good, even if they are not for everybody. 

Saumur Rouge (in which Saumur-Champigny, the heralded and at one point very fashionable appellation, lies) is a wide-open appellation.  The quality is generally very good but the styles are all over the place. The region expanded so much in the 70's and 80's people thought it was going to be the next Bordeaux. There is a serious quality divide as a result of this as many growers wanted to churn out forgettable wine based on the new found "prestige" of the appellation. The actual zone of the Saumur-Champigny is predictably on some tuffeau which is very advantageous to viticulture. The big local co-operative in Cyr-en-Bourg is credited with planting Cabernet Franc in the region after it was discovered that the Chenin got the vine disease Chlorosis. At its heights, great Saumur-Champigny can compete with some of the great red wines of the world. From the Foucault brothers comes the otherwordly wine of the Clos Rougeard. They make three reds and a white, which all need, in fact, demand age but reward the patient with thrilling aromas, intense structure and wonderful gout de terroir. They have gotten pricey but are still a value in the pantheon of the worlds great red wines. Right behind them is the brilliant estate of the Chateau du Hureau where the Cuvee Lisagathe, their Grand Cru bottling, if you will, is a stunning bottle with silky tannins, ripe fruit, and structure that demands aging. On a budget the characterful and wonderful wines of the Domaine Filliatreau are sturdy, honest, flavorful and terroir-focused year in and year out. The VV can be extraordinary in years like 2005 and 1996. One thing that is for sure is the wines can all be great values year in and year out. 

Typical Prices go from $15 - $45 ($100 for Rougeard Bourg and $75 for Rougeard "Les Poyeaux")

Notable Recent Vintages: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2005, 2002, 1999, 1996



Top producers (in no particular order) include:
  • Foucault (Clos Rougeard)
  • Chateau du Hureau
  • Domaine de Filliatreau (Chateau Fouqet)
  • Domaine de Roches Neuves (Thierry Germain)
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