This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Apr. 2, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080402.php.
Wine Focus - Loire Chenin Blanc
Quick! Name the world's five greatest wine-grape varieties! Okay, I see a hand raised for Pinot Noir over there. Someone just called out Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly Riesling would make just about anyone's list; and from Northern Italy's Nebbiolo to the Chardonnay of White Burgundy and Champagne, there's plenty of competition to fill out the group.
Did anyone mention Chenin Blanc?
Arguably the greatest of the "undiscovered" grapes, Chenin Blanc gets relatively scant respect because, in many world wine regions, it's greedily over-produced in a bid for quantity, not quality, cranked out by the gallon as forgettable jug wine.
At its best, though, Chenin Blanc deserves parity with Riesling for rich, complex, minerally white wines of startling ageworthiness. And nowhere is Chenin done better than in France's Loire Valley.
Wine lovers who dub themselves "Loireheads" already know this, but it's surprising how many serious wine enthusiasts have yet to discover that the Loire's take on Chenin Blanc ranks right up there with the world's other top wine grapes. Complex, balanced, subtle and food-friendly, capable of aging into stunning complexity, Chenin Blanc deserves far more attention than it gets.
Vouvray is probably the most familiar appellation among Loire Chenin Blanc, but there's plenty more, from cellarworthy Savennières to less familiar names like Montlouis and today's tasting, Saumur; a dazzling array of worthy dessert wines (Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Moulin Touchais and many more), not to mention a regional sparkling wine - Cremant de Loire - that can be outstanding in its better examples.
We're featuring Loire Chenin Blanc as this month's Wine Focus in our WineLovers Discussion Group forums, and hope you'll join us in the exploration by picking up a Loire Chenin or two, tasting and talking about it with us. At least a little Loire Chenin gets out around the world, so it should be possible to join in wherever you live. But if you're in a Loire-deprived region, Please feel free to substitute Chenin Blanc from other parts of the world for comparison.
To participate in Wine Focus, simply click http://www.wineloverspage.com/forum/village/viewforum.php?f=18 and feel free to post a response in any of the discussion topics. Everyone may read the discussions; to post requires registration, but it's free and simple. We ask only that you register using your real name, or if you're shy, your real first name and last initial. We look forward to welcoming you to our friendly online conversations.
Today's tasting report features a 2006 Saumur ("So-muhr") from a district in Anjou, just west of Touraine on the South Bank of the Loire. Saumur white wines are made predominanty to entirely from Chenin Blanc, but it's permissible to blend in small amounts of Chardonnay and, less commonly, Sauvignon Blanc. I find Saumur similar to Vouvray, although in my experience it's more likely to be dry, and often reflects the district's limestone soils with a chalky, oyster-shell minerality.
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Château de Villeneuve 2006 Saumur ($15.99)
Clear straw color. Good, characteristic Chenin Blanc aromas, honeydew melon and a floral back note reminiscent of citrus blossoms. Dry and tart, medium-bodied with a chalky touch of minerality; some richness evident on the palate. A pleasant peach-pit bitter note shows up in the finish, ending with a slightly spicy touch of meyer lemon. Complex and balanced, mouth-watering acidity makes it a particularly good pairing with seafood or fish. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers. (April 1, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Perfect with scallops seared in butter with garlic and ginger and a touch of chili flakes.
VALUE: In the face of the falling dollar, a mid-teens price is about as good as you can expect for a Loire Chenin Blanc of this quality.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although it's ready to drink and very enjoyable now, this would be an excellent experiment in aging Chenin Blanc. Try cellaring a few for five years or even longer.
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