Your New Favorite Grape
No one can argue the profundity that can be found in wines from the grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Yet, there is another (perhaps lesser-known) varietal that deserves equal praise. My forever “ride or die” grape, Chenin Blanc.
The aforementioned grapes are some of the most widely planted and recognized varietals that are the quintessential components of age-worthy Burgundy bottles and highly sought-after champagnes. You often find with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that even though they indeed offer some of the highest-highs, they also offer some of the lowest-lows. It can be quite the risk (without the guidance of your friendly wine shop professional) to shell out the money for a grand cru bottling which can sometimes leave you disappointed. While Chenin Blanc, on the other hand, is much less of a risk. You can find outstanding Chenin for a fraction of the price, and rest assured that even on “bad” vintages, top winemakers of said varietal are able to produce wines that are incredibly enjoyable.
Being that Chenin has far fewer plantings globally, subsequently there are fewer mass-produced, homogenized versions. It’s much easier to find that perfect bottle of Chenin, unlike Chardonnay or Pinot Noir where you may come across dozens of overly-oaky and lack luster versions before you find one you love.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is bad Chenin out there, but you certainly won’t be throwing away “grand cru money” in the process. There are also plenty of indicators of quality and style on a bottle of Chenin Blanc to prevent this from happening at all. For instance, if you were in the mood for a dry, still wine, just look for “sec” on the label which means dry in French. There are also off-dry, sweet and even sparkling styles of Chenin Blanc; it’s such an incredibly versatile grape that takes on so many different forms you can never get bored!
Chenin is predominately grown in South Africa and the Loire Valley with both regions being known for making impeccable wines from the beloved grape. The two regions each offer a wide range of styles that are bound to make any and every wine lover happy. Below are three such wines that we currently have in-store and available for enjoyment! These wines all happen to be from the Loire Valley, and will please the long time Chenin fan, as well as the newcomer.
Domaine Guiberteau, Clos de Guichaux (2016) — Saumur, France
One of the absolute best Chenin producers out there! You are guaranteed to have your mind blown with a bottle of wine from Guiberteau. If you’re looking for complexity, minerality, vibrancy, elegance and magic look no further.
At the helm of the estate is Romain Guiberteau who, after failing miserably as a law student, decided to take over from his grandfather and reclaim their precious vineyards that were being sold off to cooperatives in the area. Romain is truly a hero because their vineyards sit upon the most prestige hillside in all of Saumur, if not the entire Loire Valley, known as Brézé. Technically there are no “grand crus” in this region, but many aptly refer to Brézé as being the grand cru of Saumur. Most of Romain’s hectares (9.4 in total) are located in the greater terroir of Brézé, planted with predominately older vines (up to 80 years old).
Early on Romain was under the tutelage of Dani Foucault, head winemaker of Clos Rougeard, a domaine which has a cult-like following. Though in just a few years, Domaine Guiberteau has become one of the most sought after domaines in Saumur, with the wines being stringently allocated and found in some of the world’s best restaurants.
“Clos de Guichaux” is a monopole of the domaine in Bizay (a historic vineyard that is fast cementing its place as one of Saumur's finest Chenin sites), that is just south of Brézé, and sits along silt and sand soils on relatively soft limestone bedrock. It is a wine that is rounded and voluptuous, with an extra density than most of his other wines, yet still has that signature of mineral character and energy.
On the nose there’s layers of aromas, always with a flinty minerality coming through, demonstrating fabulous intensity and focus. The palate is beautiful and pure with a white-pebble definition to it. This is a wine that majors on purity and intensity, showcasing delicate fruit flavors with searing jets of minerality.
Domaine du Closel, La Jalousie (2015) — Savennieres, France
Chateau des Vaults in Savennières dates back to 1495, and was inherited by Michèle de Jessey in 1962 from her childless aunt Madame du Closel. Michèle and Jacques de Jessey turned the small family estate into Domaine du Closel. The entire vineyard is located on the most western hill of Savennières and includes some of the best parcels in the AOC: Les Caillardières and Clos du Papillon. The topsoil is shallow, very warm and consists of purple/green schist and sandstone, enriched with volcanic rocks (quartz, phtanites, ryolites and spilites) in the best areas.
13 of 16 hectares of vines are planted with Chenin Blanc, designated for Savennières AOC production. The “La Jalousie” is from one of the oldest estates in the appellation, using the domaine’s “younger” vines, roughly 20 years-old (which could be considered old-vines in modern standards). The vines grow on austere sandstone and quartz schist soils which gives the wine an edginess and mineral backbone. Vinification is done very naturally and with indigenous yeasts; sulfites are only added in tiny doses when needed and the wine is raised on its lees for 12 months.
The resulting wine is finely aromatic with notes of fresh blossom and just a touch of honey. A noted quince intensity and bright zesty fruit give way to a wine that’s super-fresh, but with a richness of concentration and gorgeous apple freshness on the finish.
Lise et Bertrand Jousset, Premier Rendez-vous (2015) — Montlouis-sur-Loire, France
Domaine Lise et Bertrand Jousset began in 2004 as a well-considered project and a shared desire. Lise and Bertrand’s philosophy has been the same from the beginning: to make wines for every moment in life, as wine is made to be drunk and shared.
They believe Chenin is an extraordinary varietal, one of the most beautiful in the world, (or THE the most beautiful!). According to Lise and Bertrand, Chenin allows them to express themselves fully as winemakers (and drinkers) from dry to sparkling wine, but it also requires a lot of work and attention, because it does not support mediocrity, and neither do they.
Their 11 hectare estate, in the appellations of Montlouis sur Loire and Touraine, are all biodamically farmed and harvested by hand to ensure care is put into each and every vine. The “Premier Rendez-vous” (aka ‘first date’) is a blend of Chenin Blanc from two different terroir in Montlouis: 1) 40 year-old vines on sand and silex soils over limestone and 2) 70 year-old vines on clay/limestone soils.
This is a beautiful and unique wine showing a myriad of aromas including a pronounced bruised apple & bruised pear, along with white flowers, orange blossom and a hint of salt-water taffy. More stone fruits appear on the palate with intense chalky mineral flavors and a mouthwatering acidity, ending with a long mineral finish. This is a lovely, pure and simply delicious Chenin to drink now or over the next 5 years.