Home Enthusiast 3 Styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc Everyone Can Enjoy

3 Styles of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc Everyone Can Enjoy

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Chenin Blanc is a chameleon. Dry, sweet or sparkling, it excels in all three styles. And there are three distinct estates for high-quality Chenin Blanc in the Loire Valley, where it can produce some of the finest examples out there. In Touraine, the twin appellations of Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire are located, near the city of Tours, capital of Touraine. Further west in the Anjou-Saumur region near the city of Angers, capital of Anjou, are the Coteaux du Layon, home to surprisingly sweet and sweet drier wines. Finally, at the limits of Anjou, before its transition to the Atlantic vineyard of Muscadet, is the small, dry and tight vineyard of Savennières.

The dry whites of Savennières are among the most evolutive white wines, with an aging potential of 10 to 20 years. The same goes for the gourmet wines produced in Vouvray, Montlouis-sur-Loire or the Coteaux du Layon. Chenin Blanc forms the basis of a sparkling Vouvray and is blended with sparkling wines from Saumur. All of these can be complex, mysterious in their transformations, and beautifully memorable.

Chenin Blanc produces some of the highest quality wines of any variety in the region. It is certainly more dynamic than the often one-dimensional Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc. So why is its reach so limited, its reputation less considered?

While it makes great white wines, Chenin can slip easily, resulting in vaguely semi-sweet white wines with little definition that are unforgettable. And outside of its Loire land, whether planted in New World regions (apart from high-end producers) or in the south of France, the varietal’s reputation has been tarnished. However, it is worth setting aside these concerns and assumptions for expressions of Chenin Blanc grown in the Loire Valley.

Take your time

The Savennières Chenin Blancs come from the schistous soil of 80 hectares on the north bank of the Loire on plateaus that stop abruptly, forming cliffs that descend to the river. The appellation has a strong leaning towards organic and biodynamic philosophies, driven by the vineyards of Roche-aux-Moines and Coulée de Serrant, the latter being a monopoly held exclusively by the charismatic owner Nicolas Joly.

It is here that Florent Baumard, owner of the Domaine des Baumard, cultivates the vines of another emblematic Savennières vineyard, the Clos du Papillon, so named because it has the shape of a butterfly with outstretched wings.

Asked why Savennières is so favorable to Chenin Blanc, he replies: “The taste of the grape is relatively neutral. It can soak up the taste of our terroir, especially with dry wines. This is why we can have so many different tastes in the remarkable terroir of Savennières and why some of our wines age so well.

And Savennières is aging beautifully. Austere in its youth, after four or five years it develops flavors of honey and beeswax while remaining dry and retaining the intense acidity. The wines are consistently rich, relatively high in alcohol and able to mature gracefully for 20 years or more. If there is a comparison, it is with the German dry Riesling.

These wines are at the peak of dry Chenin in the Loire. They bring out the terroir, the soil, translating the shale into a powerful structure, the sandier soils away from the river into lighter wines that ripen more quickly. They take advantage of their remarkable southern exposure to bring in the sun to develop the sugars and the intensity of the fruit aromas without ever losing sight of the acidity.

Aging is also the preeminent quality of the other appellation that makes great dry Chenin: Vouvray in Touraine. Some 20-year-old wines from some great estates like Domaine Huet can still be as fresh as a daisy. Or as with Château Gaudrelle and Domaine Bourillon Dorléans, develop a taste of hazelnut mixed with cooked apples, while retaining this essential acidity.

wine glasses with chenin blanc
Photo by Tom Arena

The softer side

Sweet Chenin Blanc wines from the Loire have traditionally been the glories of the grape. It is the combination of lightness, acidity and intense sweetness aided by botrytis that makes these wines so great. The cool climate of the Loire gives the first two, while the fluvial character of the vineyard with its autumnal mists leads all the botrytis to develop and therefore to produce these remarkable sweet wines.

The Layon, a tributary of the Loire, flows through a high, narrow valley just east of Angers. In autumn, the mist rises easily and regularly on the sides of the valley. If the sweet wines come from all over the Layon, the finest come from two small vintages.

Florent Baumard, who also owns vines in Quarts de Chaume, one of the first two sites in the Coteaux du Layon, boasts of the vineyard’s sandstone soils. “It doesn’t just produce sweet wines, but gives a strong sense of place to the wines,” he says. The Quarts de Chaume are a series of four ridges just above the valley; the name comes from the fact that the lord of the manor asked for a quarter (or liter) of the vineyard’s production each year.

The other Layon super-cru is Bonnezeaux. Again, the vines face south-west. Like Quarts de Chaume, the wines have that balance of acidity and sweetness that comes so easily to Chenin. The wines will age for decades and should definitely not be drunk for 10 years.

Vouvray wines can be produced with the same grape variety, but the grapes are grown under very different conditions. Semi-sweet wines are commonplace. But sweet wines, made from botrytised grapes, are rare. This is why the producers of Vouvray favor dry and sparkling wines.

But when Vouvray scores points with its sweet wines, it can, as Vincent Carême of Vouvray Domaine Vincent Carême says, “do the best”. According to him, it is not just the main Loire that gives these perfect botrytis conditions, but the small side valleys that nestle between the ridges of the Vouvray vineyard.

The wines are a little heavier than at Layon. Fortunately, there is no escaping the acidity that gives even the sweetest wines freshness.

Sparkle and Shine

Saumur is traditionally at the center of the Loire sparkling wine business. Large companies, like Champagne with cellars dug into the crumbly rocky cliffs, surround the city dominated by its imposing castle with many turrets.

Chenin Blanc has long been the mainstay of sparkling wines from Saumur. The amount of Chenin in the blend can vary, but most Saumurs are now a blend of Chenin with Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. In terms of style, it rivals the newer Crémant de Loire, which can be made anywhere along the Loire Valley, and is now much more likely to be made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. : Champagne blending, in other words.

But Chenin Blanc is regaining its place in the two Touraine appellations of Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire The contribution of Vouvray to sparkling Loire wines is more significant, each producer of still wine also producing sparkling wines from vines picked earlier.

Chateau de Moncontour, a riverside chateau, is one of the main producers, while estates such as Chateau Gaudrelle and Domaine Brisebarre are adding sparkling Vouvrays to their list of still wines.

Vincent Carême, who produces a wine called L’Ancestrale using a technique in which the first fermentation is stopped and then finished after bottling, notes that while he can do any style from anywhere in his vineyard of Vouvray, certain soils are better for each style. “We make still wines from chalk and flint soils because the wines bring out the characteristics of the soils, while soils with more clay are better for sparkling wines because we don’t want too much terroir taste. in these wines.

While Saumur and Crémant de Loire have an international touch thanks to the presence of Chardonnay, the sparkling expressions of Vouvray and Montlouis are different, uniquely from the Loire. With their flavors of apple and hazelnut, sometimes also evoking notes of honey and pepper, like many expressions of Chenin Blanc de Loire, these are wines that could not come from anywhere else.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of Passionate about wine magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Bottles to try

Château Gaudrelle 2019 Clos le Vigneau (Vouvray), $26, 93 Points. (Buy on Vivino)

Domaine de Brizé 2018 Loire Renaissance (Anjou), $41, 92 points. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Château de Fesles 2018 La Chapelle Vieilles Vignes (Anjou), $24, 92 points. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Le Clos Galerne 2018 Exspecto (Anjou), $45, 94 points. (Buy on Le Clos Galerne)

Château d’Épiré 2018 Cuvée Spéciale (Savennières), $33, 93 Points. (Buy on Vivino)

Domaine du Petit Clocher 2020 (Anjou), $20, 90 points. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Domaine Bourillon d’Orléans 2019 La Coulée d’Argent Sec Montgouverne (Vouvray), $50, 93 Points. (Buy on Wine.com)

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