Domaine Laureau, Savennières, Cuvée des Genêts, 1999
As a well-behaved historian I can tell you that traditions are fake. Or, if you want it in more professional language: invented. That doesn't mean to say that they can't be fun though, and so today it is time for me to indulge in a tradition we invented for the Wine Rambler a few years ago: the first wine to be reviewed in any year would not come from Germany - to remind us, as far as that is necessary, that there is so much more to the wine world than us krauts.
This year my choice is a little conservative at first glance - that fits the historian cliché nicely - as it is from France. However, not a Claret or Burgundy, no, it comes from the beloved Loire.
The Loire is one of my favourite French wine regions, and that is partly due to what they do with Chenin Blanc. With some notable exceptions I find the Loire interpretations of this grape variety the most exciting, and considering how much I love a good Chenin Blanc that says a lot. I am particularly in love with the Vouvray, but I also learned to appreciate the dry, more substantial, sometimes even austere, style that comes from the area around Savennières. As a rule these wines can be a bit of a turn-off in their youth, although these days some producers, like Damien Laureau, work to make them a little more approachable - but also a little less capable of long ageing. Every once in a while I like a more substantial, no nonsense white, so when I opened my bottle of the 1999 with some hearty food I wasn't too worried either way.
I had heard that the 1999 had already gone past its peak, and a darker yellow gold colour with touch of orange brown seemed to confirm that. The nose had clear signs of age too and was overall quite muted at first, but after a couple of hours and served a little less cold the Chenin seemed to remember it still had some life in it: ripe fruit, peach and apple, with sharp honey and rich wax aromas are blended with dried apricot, a touch of furniture polish and some almost fermented notes - not quite opulent but certainly rich. On the tongue the Savennières feels quite dry and almost tannic but also carries on the rich fruit from the bouquet and is very flavoursome. Dried raisin, some pine tree and honey feature alongside a well rounded richness and a waxy texture that is livened by lots of freshness. So much so that despite the roundness the wine tastes fresher than it smells - in particular with food when the fruit flavours come out more and the wine feels very much alive.
There is something in the texture and attitude of these wines that makes a lovely contrast to the German whites I usually review here, and that makes it a great choice to kick off the wine year 2014. Unless you too happen to be a German wine blogger with a non-German tradition for the first wine of the year you of course won't care about this - but it matters not as the Savennières is good enough you should have some anyway.
Chenin Blanc, a nice change of scenery
While Riesling is the king of white wine grapes to be sure, it is good to see someone giving Chenin Blanc some attention for a change; as it can be fun & interesting as well.
Of course the Loire is the natural home town of Chenin Blanc, I had one at the beginning of 2013 from Anjou; I can't remember the exact location now. But you got green apples, crispness, some floral notes. All in a good wine for salad and starting a multi- course meal before moving on to other wines.
Interestingly enough at the same dinner, (it was rather wine centric) we had a Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc. And I preferred this one to the Anjou one as I felt that it was richer, a bit drier & crisper and most importantly was a bit more herbal & aromatic than the Anjou one.
I would recommend Ken Forrester particularly their Old Vine as it is a good example of what Chenin Blanc can do in South Africa.
In reply to Chenin Blanc, a nice change of scenery by S.M.
Thank you for sharing this,
Thank you for sharing this, Solomon! Most of the South African Chenin Blanc I encounter tends to be cheaper stuff in London pubs and it is usually not very good. I have heard good things about Forrester but never tried it; the most exciting Chenin from SA so far was from Lammershoek - if you are interested I have written something about it my my Impressions from RAW 2013 article (towards the end of the article).