Vincent Carême, Vouvray Spring, 2007
When 2009 came to an end, for some reason the Wine Rambler got infected with the idea of developing new year's resolutions. Among the ones Julian came up with was to 'try more from lesser-known French wine regions like the Jura or the Loire Valley'. Traditionally, I leave France more to Julian, but his recent excitement about a Loire Chenin Blanc made me memorise the word 'Vouvray'. Vouvray is a region of the Loire Valley where they specialise in Chenin Blanc, wines that can rival Riesling in terms of their potential to age for decades. So when (following a phase of drinking much Pinot Blanc, Riesling and some Chardonnay) I came across a Vouvray that was recommended by trustworthy wine merchants Philglas & Swiggot, I did not hesitate and grabbed their last bottle. Lucky me, I can now say.
First of all there is the colour, a fine strawish gold, slightly brown, with a wonderful shimmer of gold and even more gold round the edges. Already impressed with the colour, the bouquet simply blew me away. It was so intense, even after a full day the empty glass made my kitchen into a wine sniffer's paradise.
In fact, I am not quite sure whether I can do this nose real justice. It was very sophisticated, bringing many different elements together into a well integrated nasal sensation. It featured a bit of straw; polished wooden furniture; caramelised sour green apple; herbal tea; vanilla-soaked peach; a fresh citrussy zing; a bit of exotic fruit; and medicinal aromas that were clearly stolen from a Riesling. Also, it brought back childhood memories of something I cannot quite place; at moments it was more like fruit, at other moments it reminded me of a special kind of semolina pudding my mum cooked for me, decorated with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. To sum up, the bouquet both excited and confused me, the latter in a very good way though.
On the tongue the Vouvray did deliver as well. It was well rounded, fresh, really mouth-filling and generally a very strong presence. Really pleasant fruit too, with lemon curd and mint plus candied fennel. The finish was long and really brought out the wine's shellfish minerality, nicely accompanied by ground black pepper and lemon zing. It goes without saying that the Vouvray also impressed with good acidity.
A fine wine at excellent value and a good incentive to keep an eye on Vouvray and Chenin Blanc, I would say.
Loire Chenin Blanc
If you really want to get the serious Chenin Blanc action you really need to try some Savennieres; it is the Platonic ideal of the grape. Much weirder and much more intense than most Vouvrays, they have the lowest permitted maximum yields of any French wine region which normally results in them being super-concentrated. They age forever, I've had 30 year old bottles which were still in good shape, but I prefer them quite young when they have the suggestion of recognisable fruit to them. Because the appellation is so poorly known internationally and the wines are often seen as curiosities the prices are embarrassingly affordable. The last one I had was a 2005, a great bottle of wine for not much cash.
One thing you can say about Savennieres is that they are not short on character. That character may not always be immediately attractive, but once you've drank a few you'll find yourself hooked.
In reply to Loire Chenin Blanc by David Strange
Re: Loire Chenin Blanc
Thank you for your recommendation, David. Savennieres sounds intriguing, especially as I currently feel very tempted by weird, and 'Platonic ideal' also does not sound bad. I will keep my eyes peeled for Savennieres.
p.s. I also read the review of the Silvaner on the page. Sounds fantastic - we are big fans of Silvaner's earthiness (see for instance this 25 year old Silvaner beauty).