I’ve developed something of a wine crush on chenin blanc, the huge versatility of this style is astounding. I blame James Milton for this, I attended his 30th vintage lunch at Boulcott Street Bistro last year. Hearing him talk about chenin, it was hard not to be intrigued. As a part of the lengthy lunch he said: “Chenin Blanc is the left handed Virgo with zero tolerance for chaos. It can be anything but needs and loves order. It’s the water element. Juiciness, delicious sourness, that makes you want to salivate.” So when Michael from Wineseeker got in touch to say he was putting on a mostly chenin tasting from the Loire valley I jumped at it.
As I was waiting for Tuesday evening’s Loire Valley tasting at Wineseeker, I was reading through the April/May 2015 edition of GT Wine magazine. And wouldn’t you know it, Tim Atkin has written a little something of Savennieres (a less famous chenin focused appellation after Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray). He makes two points that I can’t help but agree with: (1) ask the average wine drinker to name the most famous white wine appellation from the Loire and they’ll tell you Sancerre; and (2) just because it’s the most famous doesn’t mean it’s where the most interesting wines come from. That belongs instead to Savennieres. It set the scene well for the tasting.
A quick note on the Loire
The 1,000km Loire River – the longest in France – moves from the continental appellations of the Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, through to the maritime appellations of the Muscadet with the hybrid appellations of Touraine, Bourgueil and Vouvray in between. The evening’s line-up (mostly) tracked the natural progression of the river, going east to west. Hitting all the highpoints, only missing out on the Muscadets.
Monmousseau Brut Etoile Cremant de Loire NV
70% chenin blanc, 30% chardonnay RRP $25.00
Made using the traditional method the Monmousseau Cremant de Loire is surprisingly good quality for the price. Made from 70% chenin blanc, 30% chardonnay and aged 18 months on its lees. The result is a very dry wine with a mix of green and red apple, toastiness with something of an acorn quality. Great bubbles with persistent beads and pearls, a refreshingly, crisp, tart acidity and a really creamy body. The aromatic intensity increases as the wine warms and the bubbles settle, revealing more pear, almond and lanolin character.
Henri Bourgeois Les Baronnes Sancerre 2013
100% sauvignon blanc RRP $45.00
The Henri Bourgeois Family that makes the Henri Bourgeois wines, also makes the Clos Henri wines from Marlborough. This is a family who knows Sauvignon Blanc and although the Loire can be considered the ancestral home of Sauvvy, it wasn’t made into a single varietal there until post-phylloxera.
The wine is soft and inviting with a healthy splash of green apple aromatics and a nutty, mealy quality. The fruit quality throughout the wine is clean and fresh on the nose, rich and plush on the palate. Beneath all this fruit, there is a thread of lean minerality. The wine wraps up into a creamy finish.
Henri Bourgeois Porte de l’Abbaye Pouilly Fume 2013
100% sauvignon blanc RRP $46.50
Separated from Sancerre by the width of the Loire River but world’s apart in style. Smoke, gun flint and a dirty earthiness stand in the place of any primary fruit. The oak that is a part of the wine’s production comes through clearly as vanilla and cloves, but also it also gives roundness and body to the wine. Fat and rich, savoury and a little bit dirty.
Baumard Clos St Yves Savennieres 2011
100% chenin blanc RRP $46.50
This wine really shines on the night – the nose is rich with apricots, almonds and jasmine florals. Under all this lightness there’s a savoury element that jumps out and grabs you. Bone dry. There’s a slight waxiness to the wine, it’s all rather fat and plush. More delicate jasmine florals, plenty of honey, some dried apricot notes and a clear lanolin quality. Interesting and so very tasty.
Chateau Gaudrelle Sec Tendre Vouvray 2013
100% chenin blanc RRP $36.00
This is a wine from a tiny family producer made from 100% chenin blanc. Not much to give on the nose. Meanwhile the palate is slightly off-dry with high, well-integrated acidity and a rich body. The wine shows all kinds of classic characteristics – there’s the waxy, lamb’s wool and lanolin character, nutty almond meal and marzipan, sweet yellow beeswax and honeysuckle and fruity dried apricots, green apple and pear. Clean, well-made, classic.
Marc Bredif Grand Annee Vouvray 1996
100% chenin blanc RRP $79.00
After nearly 20-years in bottle the wine opens with a slight sign of oxidation. Thankfully the oxidation comes across as complexity that comes with age, not as a fault. The Marc Bredif shows many of the same notes and characters seen on the Ch Gaudrelle, but amped up in concentration. Hugely aromatic with a whole cast of rich and vibrant characters from the nutty, oxidised, sherry-like notes; Marzipan, almond meal, honey; dried Turkish apricots and raisins. The palate is a repeat of the nose with more savoury spice and wooly lanolin. There’s too many subtleties and nuances to this wine to capture them all. This wine stole the show as the clear crowd favourite. Unfortunately the 1996 is now sold out in New Zealand, with the 1997 yet to be released.
Leon Angelique Chinon 2012
100% cabernet franc RRP $30.00
Bright red fruit and perfume upfront. Savoury green capsicum notes, more-ish and with a great finish. Typically a Chinon can have up to 10% cabernet sauvignon, but this one is 100% cabernet franc. High acid, fresh and fruity with ripe red plums and cherries on the palate. Entirely enjoyable even if it’s not terribly exciting – one to reach for when you’re after a light, fruit-driven style of red.
Dom de la Butte ‘Le Haut de la Butte’ Bourgueil 2013
100% cabernet franc RRP $49.50
More of a savoury profile with graphite, pencil lead, smoke and green capsicum owning the show. There’s a concentrated red and black fruit character with an array of plums, cherries and blackberry sherbet. As seen with the two Vouvrays in the line-up, the Bourgueil is a more mature and sophisticated Loire red when seen beside the fun and fruity Chinon. The delicacy of violets sits alongside the sweet and savoury spice of cloves, cinnamon and pepper as well as a definite tobacco leaf quality. The Bourgueil tied the Quarts de Chaumes for second place after the Marc Bredif in terms of making a splash with those in attendance.
Baumard Quarts de Chaumes 2006
100% chenin blanc RRP $65.00
Fresh and vibrant, rich and fleshy, well-balanced with good weight and texture. High acid, full bodied and intensely concentrated. Ripe orange marmalade of botrytis, dried apricots, honey-soaked peaches and candied almonds all make for a really enjoyable sticky. This wine will continue to age, continue to improve. Would be great to see it again with a bit more age. The Quarts de Chaumes region at only 40ha is a seriously limited commodity. When it was converted to a Grand Cru in 2009 the 2006 may be the last of the affordable examples.
This is a repeat tasting that the team at Wineseeker run from time to time. I last attended a Loire-focused tasting with this crew in April 2013. Sign up to their newsletter to keep posted on all their upcoming events.