Friday, October 06, 2006

Domaine du Closel Savennieres

Savennieres is one of the great Loire Valley appellations, producing amazing white wines made from the chenin blanc grape. The wines are usually dry with pronounced minerality, and when well made, offer beautiful stone fruit and honey flavors. Many wines made in Savennieres can improve for decades with cellaring. These are impressive and serious wines, and represent an amazing value when considered with wines of equal quality from Burgundy, for example.

There are several top notch producers of Savennieres, including Domaine du Baumard, Chateau d'Epire, and Nicolas Joly, proprietor of Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, one of only 3 vineyards in France to have status as its own appellation. My personal favorite Savennieres producer is Domaine du Closel. Their website explains their history, describes their vineyards and various cuvees, so I will not go into that here. I will instead describe my visit to the Domaine a year ago.

BrooklynLady and I were well into our Loire Valley trip at this point, and she was nearing the end of her well documented patience for wine traveling and tasting. We got in our tiny little rental Renault and drove from our guest house in Chinon (view out front door on the left), looking for the small village of Savonnieres. Did you notice that? I spelled it differently...because its a different village! After arriving in that village, which looked very industrial, and not at all like a place where grapes are lovingly grown and transformed into world class wine, I asked the friendly people at a car repair shop on the side of the road. They adopted the project of locating the wineries as if it was a quest to find their lost children, immediately broke out the laptop and we were off to the internet!

When we determined that BrooklynLady and I were looking, in fact, for another village entirely, much laughter ensued. Off on our way, with the wife's patience eroded to near danger levels. This all changed when we found Savennieres. A beautiful and quaint village with 2 streets and a little tabac (newstand, but usually offering coffee and even some booze to go along with your smoking and visiting and gossiping and newspapers). In the tabac I asked the guy behind the counter in my halting French if he knew Domaine du Closel.

He smiled and said "yes, I know her. She eez right 'ere, mah friend," and pointed to an older lady perusing the newpapers in the back of the store. He was pointing at Michele de Jessey, introduced to me as Madame de Jessey, the General Manager of the Domaine. She was absolutely charming, and asked if we could give her 15 minutes before visiting her so she could prepare to receive us properly. She suggested that we tour the little 18th century church in the center of town.

When we arrived at the Domaine, Madame de Jessey greeted us at the gate, and October being harvest time, a long low truck overflowing with green grapes passed us as the gate opened. "Would you lke to tour the vineyards before you taste the wines" she asked. Mais bien sur! "Our dog will guide you, just follow him to the vineyards." And yes, we walked behind what clearly is the most intelligent labrador retriever in the world down a little path, through a gate, up a hill, and into the Clos du Papillon (BrooklynLady with smart Lab in Clos du Papillon). There the dog waited for us, and then wehn we turned to leave he scampered out in front again and led us back to the path, but then around the Domaine, through the vegetable garden, and back to the tasting room near the front gate. I expected him to shake my hand and wish me "bon chance" before taking his leave.

We tasted several vintages of Les Caillardieres and of the the Clos du Papillon, the top cuvees of the Domaine. We also tasted the sweet wines that they make in hotter vintages, such as 2003. Everything was truly wonderful, and we were so charmed by our experience that we remain top fans of the Closel wines, keeping several bottles in the cellar as well as a few for current drinking.
The 2002s are just amazing, winning the NY Times Savennieres tasting a while back. These are beautiful wines, but sadly are mostly sold out now. I have a couple each of the 2002 Clos du Papillon and Les Caillardieres in the "cellar," and if I can be patient and well behaved enough, I willlet them sleep until my first child, due February 11, is well into his/her teens. The 2003 vintage, as in most of France, was very hot. There was no dry Clos du Papillon that year, only a sweet wine. Here are some notes on the recent wines:

2003 Domaine du Closel Les Caillardieres, $17.
Tasted back in March, 2006. We had it with savory parmesan chicken, sweet potato puree and salad. Initially all citrus on the nose, it blossomed over the next hour. Minerals, citrus, and quince, figs on the palate with a long finish.

2004 Domaine du Closel Les Caillardieres, $22.
Enjoyed with Deetrane, Pristine, and BrooklynLady over brunch of fried flounder, fried green tomatoes, and fresh corn. Pretty citrus and honey aromas, with some fresh grassy smells too. Definitely off-dry, with clean and acidic stone fruit, and rich figs, wrapped in light honey. Just delicious and very food friendly. It evolved in the glass, and probably could improve with 1-3 years of age.

2004 Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon, $24
Although enjoyable now, this wine should probably spend some time in the cellar to allow the various flavors to uncoil and show themselves. Intense minerals, particularly on the finish. Very dry, some quinine and bees wax at first, herbal flavors and quine on the mid palate. A lighter body and less viscous texture than Les Caillardieres. Plenty of acidity keeps this wine refreshing, but you can tell that it needs some time. It might improve for 15-20 years, but will be more expressive in 3-5, I would guess.

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