Location, location, location – this really is the key with vineyards in this part of the Loire Valley, including Rochefort, where special conditions, which only occur in a handful of locations around the world, are responsible for one of the great sweet wines of France – Coteaux du Layon. The Sorin family have been winemakers in Rochefort for generations and their vineyard, which is situated on the southern bank of the Loire, slopes gently towards the river, which so influences the microclimate. On cold spring mornings the slightly warmer air over the river creates a convection current, which prevents cold air settling in the vineyard, thereby protecting the tender young shoots from frost damage. Even more important is the influence of the river in autumn, when early morning mists flow in and settle over the vineyard. In good vintages these mists burn away in the warmth of the afternoon sun, and this combination results in the development of botrytis cinerea, or noble rot. This botrytis shrivels the grapes, reducing the water content and concentrating the sugar and acidity, and the result is super-sweet grapes with high levels of refreshing acidity.
Gilles Sorin is the latest generation of the family to take over custody of the 18 hectares of vineyards, and he upholds the family tradition of producing the full range of styles that the region allows. His dry Anjou Blanc, Clos des Belles-Mères, comes from an ancient vineyard site and is made from an unusual blend of 10% Chardonnay and 90% Chenin Blanc. The Chardonnay brings an extra element of elegance to the wine, making it well suited as an aperitif or with poultry.
The botrytis-affected grapes make the region’s most famous wine – Coteaux du Layon Rochefort – the Loire’s answer to Sauternes. It is rich gold in colour, with an aroma of beeswax and honey, and luscious sweet fruit on the palate, undercut by cleansing acidity. Opulent and complex, it is a style that is delicious when young, but will also improve for decades if carefully cellared. Although sweet, it is a versatile wine that works well as an aperitif, or with foie gras, or chicken in a sauce – it is also a wonderful partner to strong blue cheeses.
The best red wine produced in Anjou is from the appellation of Anjou-Villages, and Gilles makes one of the finest. It is a smooth blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes, producing a full, fruity wine with ripe raspberry, blackcurrant and vanilla flavours, together with a good backbone of soft tannin and gentle acidity. Delicious when young and slightly chilled, it goes especially well with charcuterie, but will also age well and complement fuller-flavoured dishes such as game, or any dish with tomatoes and garlic.