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Vouvray 94One gets the feeling that bigger things are in store for Chenin Blanc, even if the noble varietal has fallen out of favor with my customers—treated like a pariah on the shelf, it’s poised to recapture their hearts and fill their baskets soon if but given the chance. I’m certain of this, and especially convinced after a group tasting last month saw the grape through its myriad and deliciously complex forms.

A Loire Valley native, Chenin Blanc has been flourishing in South Africa (known there as Steen) and beyond for centuries. It remains one of the best values in the market; hidden in plain sight, I was able to find Philippe Foreau’s 1997 Vouvray Moelleux for less than fifty dollars. A pittance paid for one of the benchmark producers of the Loire Valley—not just Vouvray—and preserved, in good faith, for sixteen years? The same wine in any other appellation, namely Burgundy, would fetch ten times that! This treasure was among many other affordably-priced and aged Chenin Blanc vacationing on the racks of my local wine merchant.

Our tasting highlighted its range as we opened with a Clos de Nouys Vouvray Brut—as in bubbles—and passed through to its sweetest guise, the Vouvray Moelleux. While the tasting incorporated foreign emissaries from prominent regions such as South Africa and California, it was Loire Valley that demonstrated its spectral mastery with ravishing examples.

Even our lowliest seven-fifty, hailing from the less prestigious Coteaux de Vendomois AOC, caused us some suspense, with its perfumed nose of mukhwas—Indian mouth fresheners—, peanuts and vetiver. The 2011 Domaine Brazilier was light-bodied, with laser-like focus and a lovely and deep finish.

Slightly overshadowed by its [AOC] cousin to the south, and my favorite bottle of the night, a 1994 Régis Cruchet Vouvray Sec that brought with it a long list of descriptors including apricot, marzipan, stock (white flowers, not soup!), grapefruit and wet stones. It took on a rather oily texture in the mouth, graced with an elegant frame contoured by mouth-watering acidity and leaving a pleasantly long finish.

We wrapped up the evening huddled over Foreau’s 1997 Vouvray Moelleux, still developing; with floral traces wafting from our stemware, each sip was sweet and wholesome like Persian pastry, honeyed and nutty (almond and pistachio) with orange marmalade and nuance on the finish.

The tasting quickly became an open love letter to Chenin Blanc; its coquetry was enough to have won fawning affection, yet it wasn’t any single seductive act that had moved us to be loyalists. Almost every wine that night over-delivered. We were privileged to see a window of vintages from 1989 up to 2011, offering a range of flavors and styles that painted a broad portrait of Chenin Blanc. I know I’m not alone when I tell you that I can see why Chenin Blanc stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Chardonnay or other international varietals, but I think that you get the idea too now.

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