Saumur: Precious stone



Fruits, herbs and spices are fairly common, but can you detect minerals in a wine? Certain individuals pick up aromas associated with rocks like struck flint or chalk dust; others, the smell of seashells. Some drinkers perceive a kind of saltiness on the tongue. It appears to be a more widespread phenomenon in cooler climates, such as the Loire Valley.

Saumur sits on either side of the river, thirty miles upstream of Angers. It looks like the town has been conjured out of the surrounding limestone hills, dragged out and thrown upwards with the flick of a magic wand. It’s not just the grander buildings that are built from this off-white tuffeau, it’s the entire town; from modest houses to the turreted fairy tale castles that overlook them. It has a soft, grainy surface that’s easy to scratch; it looks as if a pebble might dissolve in water like an aspirin.

The local winemakers have a close relationship with this stone. They make a huge variety of wines here, and vines grow in it quite happily, the vineyards littered with angular ivory pebbles. White wines are based on the assertive, apple and honey scented Chenin Blanc grape. Reds and rosés derive from the medium-weight, berry flavoured Cabernet Franc, a particularly fine expression of which is found in the enclave of Saumur-Champigny. Saumur is also an excellent source of inexpensive bottle-fermented sparkling wines that come in all three colours.

For medium-bodied wines, the best age remarkably well. Millions of bottles are slowly maturing in the hundreds of miles of natural cellars left behind when the inhabitants mined the stone to build the town. Whether you can taste the minerals or not is debateable, but Saumur and its vineyards owe a debt of gratitude to their chalky bedrock.

Bouvet Saumur Brut ‘Saphir’ 2011 (Spirited Wines, £13.86)

A very fresh and lively dry fizz with aromas of green apple, leafy herbs, a touch of brioche and hint of honey. Enjoyable and invigorating.

Langlois-Chateau Saumur Blanc Vieilles Vignes 2005 (, £15.41)

Complex nose offers a lattice of hazelnut, quince, dried pear and honey. Full-bodied, intense and very dry. Lush and rich but balanced with a saline finish. A remarkably serious and powerful wine for the money.

Château de Villeneuve Saumur-Champigny Vieilles Vignes 2011 (Davis Bell McCraith, £18.99)

Dark brambly fruits, blackcurrant and liquorice. Very fine tannins, and intensely flavoured for a Loire red but without sacrificing freshness, balance or finesse.

Fontevraud Abbey
Detail from Fontevraud Abbey


First published in Living France magazine.