Showing posts with label Chenin Blanc. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chenin Blanc. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Savennières, the Cerebral Chenin Blanc

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.

Vineyard at Château Pierre-Bise
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.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Vouvray, My Summer's Last Hurray!

Labor Day is around the corner, and the glorious warmth of summer days will soon cool into a burst of fall colors. But today I shall enjoy basking in the sun, sipping a glass of chilled Vouvray Sec, while poring over wine literature.

Vouvray, nestled in the heart of the Loire Valley, is an Appellation d'origine Contrôllée (AOC) that is dedicated almost exclusively to Chenin Blanc. This single grape however is extremely versatile. It is high in acidity and sugar, which makes for a crisp white wine with a nice body and mouthfeel. It can be completely fruit-forward and great for easy drinking. In the right terroir, such as Vouvray, it can also have interesting minerality, adding layers of complexity that is well sought after by wine collectors.

Vouvray in Loire Valley
In Vouvray, Chenin Blanc manifests itself in different styles of wine - from sparkling to still, from dry to sweet!

Sparkling Vouvrays are mostly made in the Champagne method (or traditional method), but you can find a less bubbly version made in the ancient method under the label "pétillent naturelle" or "pet-nat." (The difference between the two methods and among others as well is a topic that deserves its own blog post.) Sparkling Vouvrays are typically Brut (dry) or Demi-Sec (slightly sweet).

Still Vouvrays, which is what I normally drink, can range from Sec (bone-dry), Tendre (off-dry), and Demi-Sec (slightly sweet) to Moelleux (sweet or dessert-style).

2012 Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec
On this lazy summer afternoon, I popped open a bottle of 2012 Philippe Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec. 2012 was a challenging year in Vouvray as fluctuating weather conditions ended in a wet harvest season. Even then, the Foreau Sec was quite tasty.

On the nose, I got pear and honey, a winning combination for aromatics. While crisp and dry, I could taste apricot and honey mixed in with salty minerality. It was quite a pucker with the high acidity but well-balanced with medium-full body. The pucker also lent itself to a lingering finish. It was completely satisfying, and I'd imagine great with seafood or any light meat.

A note about Foreau and Huet...

Normally, my wine club sends me Vouvrays from Domaine Huet, which is known as the gold standard for the appellation. If you have read the book, Wine and War, or my blog post about it, you would also learn that co-founder Gaston Huet fought the Nazis during World War II and was a prisoner of war for five years.

As it turns out, Philippe Foreau is Gaston's nephew. It is no wonder that this third-generation winemaker is a Vouvray powerhouse in his own right. His Vouvray Sec was absolutely delicious and fitting for my summer's last hurray. I can't wait to get my hands on his sparkling wines and Moelleux, which will be the perfect celebratory wine for the holiday season.