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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.

Discovering the Loire Valley has been a continually rewarding endeavor for me, I cannot think of the last time I have been disappointed by tasting a mineral driven Sancerre or spending some greenbacks on a vegetative Cabernet Franc from Chinon. The best part of buying these surefire wines is the ease on the billfold; red and whites that pair so well with an eclectic mix of foods like Pad Thai or seafood dishes and are able to do so at respectable prices. It would be easy for me to drink my way through the Northwest of France, pairing Muscadet with shellfish or a Bourgeil with braised veal shanks—an endless bounty of food and wine pairings—that would keep my taste buds and appetite stimulated. It is possible that I would exhaust my culinary prowess trying to keep the food ‘n wine matches fresh since the variety in the Loire is nothing short of amazing. It was with rapt regard for the Loire that I decided to throw a tasting event, in hopes of better acquainting myself with the intricacies of a terroir that deserved more appreciation.

I had a small group of friends over, each of which toted bottles of wine from various towns around the Loire River to be examined fully over a carry-out-Thai-meal. I procured a bottle of Clos Habert from Montlouis-Sur-Loire—100% Chenin Blanc from a town that is just south of Vouvray across the river. Other attendees brought an assortment of wines, those included:

05 Domain des Baumard Logis de La Giraudière, Anjour

04 Clos de Nouys Vouvray demi-sec

08 Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon

07 Benoit Gautier Vouvray

NV De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut

We began the night with the Françios Chidaine Clos Habert. Served perfectly chilled, the Chenin Blanc offered notes of star fruit as well as other tropical fruit notes, initially, and gave way to more herbaceous eucalyptus esters as the wine opened up. On the palate the straw colored wine was slightly off dry, maintaining some residual sugars on the buds with dried stone fruits and a good firm acidity (moderate); the wine tapered off with a medium finish but was pleasant.

The following wine was the older vintage of Benoit Gautier, another Chenin Blanc, this time from Vouvray, which sits Northwest of Montlouis Sur Loire. Visually the wine appeared almost the same; a straw colored liquid with medium color depth, but on the nose the wine had a little sulfur, some minerality and pleasing aromas of fresh white Stock (flowers). On the palate the wine was dry, with high acid, some citrus and a longer finish than the previous Chenin Blanc.

After the third Chenin Blanc—the demi-sec Vouvray—we transitioned into our first red wine of the night, just Southwest of Vouvray in Anjou. The 05 Domaine des Baumard was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, it was surprisingly fresh and soft. The tannins were refined, the acidity was moderate and the finish was short displaying some blackberry/raspberry combo with some red rose petals. It was light and easy drinking, not bad but nothing too exciting.

From Anjou we headed east to the appellation of Chinon, tasting 100% Cabernet Franc from Domaine Bernard Baudry. It showed some red fruit—a little less complex than I was hoping—on the tongue it showcased some earth and red fruit, with moderate acidity and tannins and a decent finish of fruit.

By far, the tasting was a success. We had had all but one of our Loire Valley wines (the crémant) when our Thai Food arrived and all of us had hit the spigot on the wines we wanted with the fare from Melannee Thai.

The white wines stole the show, the ability of Chenin Blanc—not one Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre was served—was remarkable. The diversity in one grape varietal from different appellations and/or styles along the Loire was pleasing. The Benoit Gautier Vouvray became the preferred wine for pairing with the Thai, the acidity helped propel the wine to the top, matching the vibrancy in the some of the citrus-y sauces and the spiciness of the dishes. The medium body of the wine was enough to support the noodle and rice dishes without overpowering any of them.

When we moved onto the Crémant, it was not as cool as it could have been by the time we served it and some of the zip was gone, however we threw it into the freezer and carried on, captivated by the various guises of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Without having served one Sauvignon Blanc from the appellation of Sancerre we were able to have a spectacular tasting and while not every wine hit the mark, none were bad and at least three of the wines I will be buying again. 251 wines left and I wonder how many more will come from the Loire?

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