Spanning from the Atlantic Ocean to the West and following the 1260km Loire River and its tributaries all the way to the central mountains, the picturesque Loire Valley is one of great diversity. Known as ‘the Garden of France’ there’s a striking array of varieties and styles produced, but undoubtedly the jewel of the region is chenin blanc. Planted widely throughout the Middle Loire, vineyards are scattered around the town of Angers all the way past Tours further east, amongst some of the most breathtaking scenery in France. As diverse as the region itself, chenin blanc is made in styles ranging from bone dry and racy, to sweet and unctuous and everything in between. One of France’s most underrated wines, they can be very long lived, gaining great depth and complexity along the way. A favourite amongst the staff here at CWS, we’ve put together a selection of our most loved producers, so you can share our passion!
At the eastern edge of Middle Loire is Savennières, with its sloping vineyards composed of schist and sandstone, sheltered from harsh maritime and oceanic weather by neighbouring hillsides, all the ingredients for structured, complex, mineral-driven whites.
This region doesn’t share the fame and fortune of some of its neighbours so we’re delighted to have discovered this little gem, can you keep a secret?
2013 Domaine des Baumard Clos de Saint Yves Savennières
The Baumard family have been in the business since the 17th century crafting an array of different styles of chenin blanc. Showcasing varietal weight and structure with lashings of nerve and finesse that Savennières is (quietly) known for.
Best known as the Loire’s largest producer of sparkling due to the limestone rich soils, high quality still wines are also made from chenin and cabernet franc and are some of the most revered in the whole of the Loire. Situated on the banks of the Loire southeast of Angers, many cellars occupy the miles of tunnels carved out of the tuffeaux under the vineyards.
Leading the charge is Thierry Germain at his bio-dynamically farmed Domaine des Roches Neuves in Saumur-Champigny. Fine limestone-laced terroir, earlier picking (compared with others in the region) and the use of old, large-format oak combine to create a unique style of chenin, accentuating the purity of fruit and crystalline mineral drive.
2015 Roches Neuves Insolite Saumur-Champigny
From a single plot of 90+ year old vines, the soils are complex, the flavour spectrum is detailed but everything else is simple: lean, long and very fine. Sit back, shuck some oysters and savour.
Further east of Tours is Touraine, home to the most renowned chenin appellation in Vouvray on the northern banks of the river Loire. Directly opposite, on the south side of the river is Montlouis and although much smaller in size, it competes with Vouvray in quality. There’ a large diversity of soil types including sand, chalk, flint and gravel however it’s the famous tuffeaux soils which produce the finest examples of chenin.
2014 Nicolas Paget Opus Touraine
Brimming with exotic tropical fruit and a long line of mouth-watering acidity, this wine over-delivers for the price. Paget is a fifth generation winemaker in Touraine and has a strong focus on refinement and elegance.
I often feel I can sense a Vouvray a mile away, the chalky, exotic, ginger-spicy aromas with a weighty and rich palate, it’s no wonder these are some of the most sought-after whites in the world.
“Widely considered to be the single greatest Vouvray domaine and one of the foremost white wine producers in the world today, Domaine Huet should require little introduction.” Bibendum Wine Co.
The above quote says it all, anyone with a love for chenin blanc knows about Huet and their importance to Vouvray. The domaine is comprised of three unique terroirs, all bio-dynamically farmed and showing great individuality and precision. The 2 wines below are from the Le Haut Lieu vineyard, which produces a round and fruit expressive style considered the most approachable in their youth.
2015 Huet Le Haut Lieu Sec Vouvray
This wine is sec, meaning dry and expresses an array of fruits and spice. It is ripe, rich, taught and fine. The quality, expressiveness and complexity tied up in this wine is a rarity, drink with care, joy and people you love.
2015 Huet Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Vouvray
Moelleux references a sweet style and is only made in particular years where the weather conditions are just right. Exciting and enticing at once due to many contradicting factors, it’s sweet and sour; viscous and light, rich and delicate. A dessert wine with loads of freshness, thanks to the beautiful natural acidity of chenin blanc. Save this to last and enjoy with your Christmas Pavlova or some goat’s cheese, from Loire Valley, perhaps?
Facing Vouvray from the other side of the Loire is Montlouis and although only 10km away the wines are distinctly different, due in part to the aspect of the vines. Although only first generation, François Chidaine is to Montlouis what Huet is to Vouvray, with everyone else in the region following his practise. Chidaine’s focus is on expression of site, producing wines from many different plots showcasing the diversity of these sites around Montlouis.
2015 Francois Chidaine Les Tuffeaux Montlouis
Les Tuffeaux is a blend of sites that all have a heavy influence of yellow limestone in their stony soil. There is a little residual sugar left here, not enough to call it off dry but enough to balance out the striking, driving acidity.
Lighter in style than Vouvray, this wine is full of marmalade, lemon curd and ginger-spice notes. Les Tuffeaux, or yellow limestone, puts the spotlight on minerality, being the driving factor here. Some residual sugar to support the striking acid line providing a great match with rich or spicy food.
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