The sun is shining, why not try a Chenin Blanc?
John Wilson asks: when are we going to rid ourselves of our Sauvignon Blanc obsession?
The shelves in my local wine shop said it all; the Loire section carried one Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne), two Chenin Blancs, and 22 Sauvignon Blancs. When are we going to rid ourselves of this Sauvignon obsession? This is not a criticism of the retailer, who is only meeting customer demand. Nor do I have a problem with Sauvignon, but the world of wine is full of so many interesting grapes and those two other above-mentioned varieties offer some of the greatest treasures of the Loire Valley. I will return to Muscadet later in the summer, but Chenin really deserves to be better known.
Loire Chenin comes in various guises, from cheap to expensive, but generally very good value, and from dry to sweet (and even sparkling too). In the right hands, it produces one of the world’s greatest and most long-lived wines. We should be drinking a lot more of it.
Dry Chenin Blanc from a lesser vintage used to be very acidic and fairly challenging. Nowadays it is typically made into sparkling wine, usually sold as Crémant de Loire. You can find some excellent dry white wines from better vintages, full of fantastic fruit and best served with food.
Off-dry Chenin is very popular and widely available. Marks & Spencer has the very tasty Ch. Moncontour (€15), SuperValu the La Vigne du Sablon (€14.95) and O’Briens the Les Dimes (€15.95). All are worth trying. Locally they would favour chicken in a creamy sauce with the demi-sec style, but I find it goes really well with pork dishes, including barbecued pork belly as well as mild creamy curries. Dry Chenin is a great partner for soft goat’s cheeses and white fish.
The most famous name for Chenin is Vouvray. You will find it in all of the above mentioned styles, but confusingly they don’t always let you know on the label. These days, much of the excitement centres on Montlouis, a region that lies across the river from Vouvray. The other big name for dry Chenin Blanc is Savennières. Here the wines tend to be softer, with more fruit.
Sweet Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon can be stunning, comparable with the greatest sweet wines of all, and usually at a fraction of the price. All of these wines last for decades, the sweet wines in particular, developing hauntingly beautiful complex flavours of grilled nuts, honey and quince. I recently tasted a range of exquisite mature Chenin Blancs from Domaine des Baumard (Searsons has an offer running in its shop at the moment) going back to 1967. Sadly space didn’t allow me include two brilliant wines from La Taille aux Loups, both priced at €27-€30, from winesdirect.ie. But whatever your budget, why not switch allegiance for one week and buy a Chenin Blanc?
Bottles of the Week
Chenin Blanc Les Hauts Lieux 2015, Vin de France, Famille Bourgier 12%, €13.95
Fresh, aromatic and dry with soft pear fruits. Drink solo or with white meats. Hake baked in foil with dill and lemon.
Stockists: O’Briens Wines, obrienswine.ie
Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2016, Domaine des Aubisières 12.5%, €14.85
Beautifully crafted lively dry Vouvray with mouth-watering peach fruits, edged with ginger and citrus. Drink with soy-glazed salmon steaks.
Vouvray Sec La Coulée d’Argent 2015, Bourillon Dorléans, Vieilles Vignes 13%, €21.50
Quite delicious; light, fresh lightly honeyed with peaches and quince, grilled nuts, with a richness and texture that marry perfectly with the acidity. Mild chicken curries.
Stockists: Karwig Wines, Carrigaline, Karwigwines.ie; J.J. O’Driscoll, Ballinlough, Cork, jjodriscoll.ie
Savennières Clos du Papillon 2013, Domaine des Baumard 13.5%
Glorious, sumptuous wine with expansive waxy fruits – melons and ginger spice, rich but impeccably balanced finish long and dry. Turbot with brown butter and capers.
Stockists: Searsons, Monkstown, searsons.com; Whelehan’s, Loughlinstown; One Pery Square, Limerick, oneperysquare.com; World Wide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie