Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WBW 37 - Indigenous Grape Varieties

And with this installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday, we enter the fourth year of monthly community wine blogging, a tradition Lenn thoughtfully brought to the wine blogging world. This month Dr. Vino is our host, and he has asked us to taste an indigenous grape variety, something less common perhaps.

I love French wine, but the good doctor ruled out what he called "the big six grapes" from France, namely Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. That rules out a lot of wine. Aha, but one of my absolute favorites grapes (behind only my beloved Pinot Noir) is not on that list.

Chenin Blanc is, in my opinion, the superstar white grape of the Loire Valley. Yes, Sancerre and Pouilly Fume produce highly regarded Sauvignon Blanc. But it's the Chenin Blanc wines that are so shattering to me. Amazing dry and off-dry wines from famous ouvray and Savennieres, and upstart appellations such as Montlouis sur Loire, Anjou, Jasnieres, and Coteaux du Loir. Sweet wines equal to any in the world from Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. And almost always a good value, too.

So in honor of WBW 37 I tasted wine made from France's Chenin Blanc. Three from Savennieres, each a dry wine made entirely of Chenin Blanc, each of them made by one of my favorite producers, Domaine du Closel. Closel produces three cuvees each year (that make it to the US): La Jalousie (a mineral driven wine that tends to be approachable at a young age), Les Caillardieres (usually off-dry, also hits its stride while young), and Clos du Papillon, the majestic wine from the butterfly shaped vineyard. Wines from Clos du Papillon can be enjoyed while young - they are always complex and tense, with unusual and thrilling flavors, but they are most impressive with age. In most vintages, Closel's Clos du Papillon improves with upwards of 10-15 years in the cellar, and in better vintages the wine can age like a vampire - it just will not die.

I tasted two new releases and one mature wine, but probably too mature, as we shall soon see.

2005 Domaine du Closel Savennieres La Jalousie, $20 (Chambers Street Wines).
Aromas of yellow apples and flowers, quinine (like in tonic water), and honey, with definite minerality. Yes, this is not your typical white wine nose - this is dry Chenin Blanc from Savennieres baby, and you should check it out! The palate is pure fresh rainwater, with a light texture, somewhat tense mouth feel. There are stone fruit flavors and also more quinine and minerals, and the finish is a bit spicy. This improved in the glass, so it might benefit from a year or so of aging, but that certainly is not imperative - this is beautiful right now. You could pair this wine with hearty fish dishes, like blackfish roasted in parchment paper with tarragon and market cherry tomatoes. Or lighter, simpler chicken dishes - maybe whole roast chicken with lemon, let's say. I personally think that if it's your first time with Savennieres, it's more fun to sip this on its own, as you get the full Savennieres effect, unfettered by the distraction of food. See what it's about, then have it with dinner another time. Whatever, do what you want. Who am I to tell you how to drink your wine?

2005 Domaine du Closel Savennieres Clos du Papillon, $33 (Chambers Street Wines).
Pumping it up about five notches. Darker gold in color, shimmering. Waxy nose, with lanolin (like in baby diaper gel) and roasted nuts. An amazing nose, and this is just a baby! When the flowers come, I can't even imagine how interesting this wine is going to smell. Melon and citrus fruit flits in and out. Weighty on the palate, but in a good way, firm and dense. There are apricots, quinine, and lanolin flavors, and hints of citrus, but it's really too young to tell what's going on with this wine - it needs more time. So pure and clean though, and so interesting already. Thankfully I have several bottles that will sleep for an extended period.

Pairing food with a Clos du Papillon is easy in that it is almost impossible to overwhelm the wine. This particular wine is the only one I have come across that I would serve with steak - it's got that kind of power. It might overwhelm lighter shellfish dishes, but other than that - chicken, pork...just give it a shot.

1995 Domaine du Closel Savennieres La Jalousie, $29 (Astor Place Wines).
What? A 12 year old Jalousie? Isn't that meant for young drinking? And from a middling vintage at that? Age the 2005 Jalousie if you want as an experiment, but why the 1995? Because they can - that's my only guess. All that notwithstanding, I had high hopes for this wine because great producers make great wine, even in middling vintages. And Chenin Blanc tends to age well, so let's see.

Nope, this was just too old, the color of honey, with a sherry-like smell. BrooklynLady couldn't go near it, and she'll drink Closel wines instead of orange juice in the morning, if you let her. Not corked or otherwise flawed, just over the hill and essentially undrinkable. And Astor should have tasted it and come to the same conclusion before choosing to sell it. After much argument, they gave me a store credit, I am happy to say.

So that's it - another installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday. I am excited to read the round-up on Dr. Vino's site when it appears. Until next time...


David McDuff said...

Nice notes, Neil. I'm not holding any older bottles from Closel, but I have drunk '95's from Baumard and Soucherie over the last few years. The last bottle from Soucherie was still holding in there but definitely starting to fade.

On the bright side, I have a decent handful of '96's from, again, Baumard and Soucherie which, based on last look, still have a long life ahead of them.

To my palate, only the greatest German Rieslings can give Savennieres a run.

The Cheap Lush said...

You know, I tried the same '95 La Jalousie from Astor, and endured much the same skunkfest. Tasted even worse the second day. Unlike you, I wasn't savvy enough to save some and take it back to the store. When I did complain about it to the buyer at Astor, he told me that he thought the wine had been spoiled by the ammonia-tainted corks that had fouled many of the '95 white Burgundies. I'm not sure I buy the explanation, but as you describe, the Jalouise was quite dead and sherry-like; it's hard to believe a mere ten year in bottle would have done that to a good Savennières. In any case, he promised to take the bottles off the shelf, but when I returned a couple of weeks later, there it was, a whole rack of Closel's 1995 La Jalousie, the $28 price tags dangling off the necks. Frustrating.


Anonymous said...

I think Savennieres is one of the great undiscovered values in the wine world - really Chenin Blanc in general. I thought your comments on the 05' were particularly interesting as I just had the 04' La Jalousie and absolutely loved it. It's interesting to hear quinine - I find there are so many interesting flavors in Chenin Blanc and the range is truly incredible when you taste something like Coteaux de Layon which is the same grape. If you are interested to read about my 04' experience check out this article - it sums things up nicely I'd say. I suppose the only downside is that we had a very odd tasting bottle as well, but with far less age than your 95'.

Brooklynguy said...

Hey David - I think this was more a case of aging the "wrong" cuvee. A '95 Clod du Papillon would probably be doing fine. And 96 was supposedly a better year out there than 95, right? I can't comment on German Rieslings - I'm an ignoramus in that department. But I agree that Savennieres is totally the bomb, the equal even to white Burgundy in power, interest, charm, and intensity.

Hey Alex - See, this is why I basically do not buy wine at Astor. Hard to beat their booze prices, so if I want a fancy bottle of rye or something, they have good prices (and they can't screw up booze). For wine, I really think I'm done with them. Clearly they have inadequate quality control, as those bottles should not be on the shelves.

Hi Russ - I really liked the 04 Jalousie too, but I think the 05 is even better - great balance. I will take a look at your article. Thanks for your comments and for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Baby diaper gel--now that's an evocative descriptor! Spoken like a true father. I'm not familiar with that product but I know what you mean by lanolin--sometimes I think of wet wool.

Great notes. Makes me want to hunt for the 2005 Closels, which have not yet appeared anywhere that I know of in Northern California. I'm no expert but sometimes I read that 1995 was better than 1996 in the Loire, and sometimes I read the opposite. I think I have, like, 2 bottles from each vintage--maybe this calls for a tasteoff. In any event, I've read that great strides have been made in the quality of winemaking at Closel over the past decade, so maybe your 2005s will enjoy longer lives.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this articles.

Joe said...

I knew you would go to the Loire! Nice choices - I love the Papillon, but I have not tried the others. Cheers!

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Steve - To me the baby diaper gel and lanolin refer to the same smell, and now that you say wet wool...that rings a bell too - probably the same smell. I've seen all three descriptors written before. My bias,. as a Brooklynguy with an 8 month old, is for baby diaper gel. And I would definitely gab whatever you can from CLosel in 05 - amazing stuff. Thanks for comments.

Hey Barefoot - no problem. Thanks for reading.

Joe-Am i really that predictable? So sad...

Anonymous said...

hey there, wine novice here... very helpful post on Chenin Blancs... how would you compare French Chenin blancs with South African ones? dr. vino also mentioned how chenin blancs were great springtime wines - would you agree?

Brooklynguy said...

hey bottles - glad it's helpful to you. there are good south african chenins, and if you want more info on them go through some NY Times tasting panel columns - they did one within the past year. i am personally not familiar. those i have tasted did not compare in quality at the same price to the chenins of the Loire. i think chenins are great in any season, really. maybe vouvray is more spring, but i would say that savennieres is a winter wine, in a way - its intensity can work with stews and cold weather dishes. but i drink them all year round without blinking an eye.

thanks for stopping by.

Wicker Parker said...

"It's the Chenin Blanc wines that are so shattering to me." This sums up my feelings, too; although after I crumble into a heap of joy, I am instantly reassembled, and the world has become fresh, and more than it usually is.

Thanks for the Closel report!