And I believe that Chenin Blanc is the most underrated grape variety. Like Riesling, it is made in a wide variety of wine styles: light sparkling wines, bone dry table wines, as well as unctuous dessert wines. Thanks to its high acidity, it can produce wines that are capable of aging for many decades. And it is also extremely food friendly.
An old Chenin Blanc vine in Vouvray
Chenin Blanc is Loire's signature white wine grape and has been well established in Anjou since the 9th century. It was later exported to Touraine, also called the garden of France, where it thrived in the highly calcareous soils of the region, especially around the towns of Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire. Sadly, as light red wines became highly popular in Parisian Bistros in the 1970s, plantings of Chenin Blanc in Anjou and Touraine has been inevitably replaced by the more profitable Cabernet Franc and Gamay varieties.
Vouvray and Montlouis-sur-Loire are just across the river from each other but for some reason, Montlouis has never enjoyed the high reputation of its neighbor. Maybe it is because of its lighter, sandier soils, or maybe it is its tiny size: 380 hectares planted exclusively with Chenin Blanc.
For a long time, all I knew about Montlouis was the inexpensive sparkling wine that my grand-father used to buy from a local vigneron. It was our poor man's Champagne, relatively bland in flavor, nonetheless bright and bubbly, which was what we needed for our family celebrations.
The 2004 Montlouis Clos du Breuil François Chidaine that we tasted last night was of a different caliber. François Chidaine is one of the most serious producers of the region. He believes that “wine is born from the vine, not from artificial skills of re-creation in the winery”, and his 16 hectares estate, made of eight distinct plots, is organically farmed. Clos du Breuil is one of these plots. It has a soil of clay and limestone with flint and is always vinified separately as a Montlouis sec.
The wine had a bright golden color and a light, mineral nose with undertones of stone fruits. On the palate, it was crisp, dry, mineral, with also some roundness, leaving an aftertaste of white peach. We enjoyed the wine with some halibut filets baked in a Thai-inspired curry sauce. This reinforced my conviction that, like Riesling, Chenin Blanc loves Asian spices.
Thanks Alder for hosting and choosing this inspiring theme!
“et avec gros raisins chenins estuverent les jambes de Forgier mignonnement, si bien qu'il feut tantost guery.” (and with big grapes of chenin cutely bathed the legs of Frogier, so that he soon was cured)
François Rabelais, Gargantua.
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