Vouvray 'La Dilettante' - Irish Times wine of the week

he Irish Times - Saturday, May 28, 2011 Savennières whites with ageing potential Savennières produces some of the Loire’s more individual wines, with plenty of character, and price points to suit most pockets, writes JOHN WILSON FRANCE IS FULL of little-known wines dreamt up by local committees in times past. Sometimes I think an unpronounceable name is a prerequisite for an official appellation. These small areas, producing unique wines from ancient grape varieties, are fascinating to the wine anorak. But the general public rarely shares this enthusiasm and frequently ignore the wines completely. The Loire Valley is probably one of the worst offenders in this respect. Writing an article for a trade body, I once counted almost 90 different appellations. As the Loire produces every conceivable style of wine, the possibility for confusion is endless. However, some of the wines are worth investigating. One such appellation is Savennières which I first discovered while working in the UK. At that stage, Chardonnay was all the rage, preferably with lashings of new oak. At a tasting of French wines, I got particularly excited by the wine, so much so that when I got married the following year, we served the same wine alongside poached salmon at the wedding breakfast. After the event, I squirrelled away a leftover case, opening one bottle every year either of us remembered our anniversary. Some have been very good, but more recently a few were a little tired. But this year, on our 20th anniversary, we cracked open the very last bottle. Despite my concerns, it was sublime: rich, waxy and honeyed, but dry, with a lovely firm acidity. Savennières is made from a sole grape variety, Chenin Blanc. This is the second most widely planted white variety in the Loire, but cannot be described as the most friendly. It is never very forthcoming in its youth, and always full of acidity, although modern winemaking techniques have certainly helped make it more approachable. But given a few years it can blossom into one of the most sublime wines. Vouvray is the best-known name, but you will find Chenin Blanc throughout the central Loire, sometimes dry, sometimes sweet, or often sparkling. Loire expert Richard Kelley, in his free online Definitive Guide to the Wines of the Loire, gives a very accurate description of Chenin Blanc and Savennières in particular. “It has always been considered a cerebral wine – never facile – demanding contemplation, a wine characterised by its unforgiving, youthful austerity and razor sharp acidity,” he writes, “but then true Chenin is defined by the tension and nervosity derived from the levels of malic acid found within.” He also points out that Savennières represents less than a fifth of 1 per cent of all grapes planted in the Loire. My wedding wine came from Florent Baumard, one of the leading producers in the region. His wines are a little more approachable than some, apparently down to the fact that the wines undergo a malolactic fermentation, and therefore have relatively softer acidity. In theory, it should mean they do not age as well, as acidity is the key determining factor in maturing white wine, but my experience does not bear this out. Wine has been made in Savennières for centuries, having been first planted with vines by monks in the 12th century. At one time, it enjoyed great fame in the French court, and was a favourite of Louis XIV. After the second World War, it declined in popularity, but has seen a recent resurgence of interest. The original appellation in 1952 was for a demi-sec or sweet wine, but most are now dry. Within Savennières lies the single vineyard appellation of Coulée de Serrant, historically producing one of the great wines of France. In recent years, it has been run by Nicolas Joly, the dynamic high-priest of the biodynamic movement. I am a fan of some biodynamic wines, but cannot recommend his, as they are made in a very oxidative style. Over the river lie the vineyards of Coteaux du Layon, and their sub-districts of Chaume and Bonnezeaux, which produce some of the world’s greatest sweet wines from the same variety. Terroirs in Donnybrook, le Caveau in Kilkenny and James Nicholson (all of which do mail-order) have a decent range of wines from the Loire, including some from Savennières. Vouvray La Dilettante 2009 Catherine and Pierre Breton, 12%, €17.95 Catherine and Pierre Breton, leading producers in Bourgueil, also produce this fascinating dry(ish) Chenin Blanc, made by biodynamic methods. It has wonderful rich, luscious pineapple and peach fruits, seemingly low acidity, yet retains plenty of life. At a mere 12% alcohol, it is light, yet juicy. Try it with scallops or prawns. Stockist: Le Caveau, Kilkenny
Pascal Rossignol

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