For most Americans, Chenin Blanc is a nice nondescript sipper. We may have an opinion on Chardonnay (oak or steel), Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough or Sancerre), and Pinot Gris versus Pinot Grigio. But very few have much to say about Chenin Blanc. In parts of France and in South Africa, however, Chenin Blanc is the talk of the wine town.
|2018 Château Pierre-Bise Savennières
Recently, I broke out a bottle of the 2018 Clos le Grand Beaupréau Savennières from Château Pierre-Bise. Savennières (pronounced sah-ven-yair) is a captivating but underrated wine made from Chenin Blanc. Medium to deep straw in color, the wine started off lightly aromatic. But when it opened up in the glass, I got a tinge of botrytized sweetness, honey, toffee, pear, and quince, all of which balanced with an abundance of acidity. The wine had a full mouthfeel and a very pleasant finish.
For this month’s post, let’s delve into Savennières, the wine that some wine critics call the cerebral Chenin Blanc.
Where in the World is Savennières?
Lovers of Old World or generally European wines are familiar with the practice of labeling wine by the region names rather than grape varieties. Savennières is an area within the Anjou wine region located in western Loire Valley (the orange area below). Anjou is also believed to be the place of origin for Chenin Blanc, where it is also known as pineau de la loire.
|Savennières is within Anjou wine region in the Loire Valley
In the Loire Valley, Chenin Blanc is made in a broad range of styles - from sweet to dry, from sparkling to still. In addition to its versatility, the grape also has a lot of natural acidity and holds enough sugar to give the wine a burst of crisp tartness that is rounded and smooth.
Savennières vs. Vouvray
While Vouvray tends to take the center stage for Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, Savennières offers a compelling alternate expression of the grape. Savennières is often more interesting and engaging while Vouvray is deemed friendlier and more approachable. While I have yet to taste the two wines side by side, my limited palate memory certainly favors Savennières over Vouvray in general.
Both Savennières and Vouvray vineyards are situated in similar latitude with comparable climate. One difference between them is the soil. The soil in Vouvray is mostly clay and limestone while Savennières has hills of schist. Andrew Jefford did a “terroir tasting” for Decanter a few years ago, specifically focusing on wine grown on limestone versus schist. The results were consistent with the flavor profiles of Vouvray and Savennières. Wines grown on limestone are fresher, more vibrant and more ready to enjoy while wines grown on schist are weightier, more intense, and need more time to open up.
Another difference between the two wines lies in the winemaking approach. Savennières often goes through malolactic fermentation while Vouvray does not, resulting in a buttery and fuller mouthfeel in the former. Savennières also tends to be more oxidative and has a higher alcohol content, giving it a different character from Vouvray.
My Verdict: If Chenin Blanc has not struck your fancy in the past, you may want to try Savennières. You can often find good bottles in the $20-40 price range at your local wine shop. Savennières does take time to open up, sometimes up to 48 hours. I prefer to let it sit in the glass and sip it over a couple of hours to observe its transformation. I hope you give Savennières a go. I would love to hear what you think.