Vendôme, France —It is one of those delightful small French cities with an upper town where the Bourbon-Vendôme castle looms and a lower town nestled on the banks of the Loir, yes the Loir, not the Loire, although the Loir Valley is sort of a well kept secret with its fine food, vineyards, and wineries producing the AOP Coteaux du Vendômois wines. And the vineyards are legion around this town of old stones surrounded by vineyards where a grape variety very specific to the region thrives, the Pineau d’Aunis, the single component of the refreshing rosés or gris of the Vendôme wines. The AOP Coteaux du Vendômois wines benefit from the Protected Designation of Origin label, AOP, the Appellation d’origine protegée in French and are produced in 28 villages stretching from the town of Vendôme to the town of Montoire and nestled in the bends of the winding Loir River. Ten of the 20 winemakers are grouped together into a cooperative that was founded in 1929, while the others remain independent.
The Vendome wines — red, rosé and white — are light and fruity and full-bodied for the reds with the vineyards growing on both banks of the Loir or on the nearby hillsides facing south. When the Coteaux du Vendômois came into being in 1968 it applied solely to the rosés, known also as the Vins Gris made with the local Pineau d’Aunis — which probably descends from a wild indigenous variety — while the reds which came into the label in 1977 are made largely with Pineau d’Aunis, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc but also sometimes the Gamay variety giving them their rich color and aromatic bouquet. Meanwhile the whites are especially refreshing and fruity made with the Chenin Blanc variety and some Chardonnay. The Coteaux du Vendômois wines received their AOP in 2001.
The rosés or gris have a pale color with surprising flecks of gold and have peppery notes. The reds are complex, spicy and outfitted with a glowing red color with notes of violet. The whites are golden yellow and intensely aromatic. And the 30 Coteaux de Vendôme wines tasted by The Gourmet Gazette were all unique. The wines of Coteaux du Vendômois are probably the least known of the wines of the Loir Valley, the Loir, the lovely little river that provides the region with its micro-climate. Nestled 120 miles southeast of Paris and just a 41 minute train ride on the TGV, France’s high-speed train, the vineyards produce wines with a unique taste emanating from the purely local grape variety the Pineau d’Aunis. The good earth of the region is, too, a source of the mineral even spicy qualities of the wines. The soil is a clay that is particularly rich in flint especially a pink flint dating from the late Cretaceous period known as the Senonian.
Quintessentially indigenous to the region, the Pineau d’Aunis has its very own particular characteristics. Some years small grapes are produced others large grapes all concentrated in taste, a capricious vine plant perhaps due to its wild origins. « The Pineau d’Aunis was always the authentic grape variety of the region, the representative of it, « explains estate owner Patrice Colin. And « to properly make wine from it you have to know the exact place where it was planted, observe the soil, the ensemble of the terrain and careful, some years the Aunis is overly generous, » adds estate owner Benoît Brazilier.
And old and wild it is the Pineau d’Aunis. Its name comes from a hamlet called Aunis in Dampierre near Saumur. The local monks were already cultivating vineyards in the Middle Ages and King Henry III of the Plantagenet family, imported the claret produced from this vine plant into England already in 1246. But according to historical documents the presence of the Pineau d’Aunis was already around in the 9th century in Anjou. Long ago, a wild grape variety wended around the bends of the Loir which would coil up into the branches of the neighboring trees. The monks would eventually domesticate it. Some 350 lineages of the variety have been identified and they are the object of a conservation program which has created the Conservatory of Pineau d’Aunis.
The region is clearly worth a detour with the great architectural heritage in the flower-filled town of Vendôme itself, the vineyards surrounding the town offering superb view and the wines and local products can all be sampled at the Maison du Vin et des Produits des Terroirs Vendômois and you can visit the cooperative and find plenty of local wines. Because of the rich variety of Coteaux du Vendômois wines, they can accompany both fish and meat dishes but are truly excellent when enjoyed with the local cold cuts, a regional specialty.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
Categories: Gourmet Fare