Monday, December 01, 2008

Loire Chenin Blanc Wine Dinner

I'm in a really great wine group now, and great ones are hard to find, trust me. This is a great one because the people are intelligent, easy going, and excellent company. And because our wine tastes are quite diverse. And also because we came up with a nice system for running the group. We rotate as hosts and the host provides everything. All the wine, all of the food, everything. The host picks a theme and decides how to explore that theme.

I like this system because it allows the host lots of freedom but also gives them lots of responsibility when it's their turn. It's also an egalitarian system - the host who feels flush can select 2002 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru wines as the theme. The host whose employer is requesting a 20 Billion dollar bailout from the Feds, and who is not feeling flush, can select Muscadets young and old as the theme. Although vastly different in necessary expenses, both themes are fantastic in the hands of our capable hosts.

We've had a great time so far but I haven't been writing about it because, frankly, who wants to invite someone for dinner knowing that the dinner and wine will be dissected in a forthcoming blog post? When I host, I'm allowed to write about it. Recently it was our turn to host wine group and I chose Loire Chenin Blancs as the theme. I looked through my "cellar" and decided to go with the following wines:

2004 François Pinon Vouvray Brut (Magnum)

2005 Huët Vouvray Sec Le Mont
2002 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon
2000 Clos Rougeard Saumur Brézé (by generous gift of Joe Dressner, just for this dinner)

2005 François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert
2002 François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition
1996 François Cazin Cour-Cheverny Cuvée Renaissance

1998 Domaine des Baumard Quarts de Chaume

I went with roast striped bass with oyster mushrooms for the dry wines and a pheasant pâté plate of sorts, including a dollop of home made quince paste, for the off-dry wines. Pear and honey cake for dessert. It pretty much turned out okay.
This night for me was further proof for me that the Loire Valley offers truly profound white wines at reasonable prices. Overall, the wines showed fantastically well. The exceptions for me were the Pinon wines - the Brut was fine but the 2002 Vouvray Tradition was just no good. Other people liked it, so it's just my opinion, but I found the seaweed/dried mushroom umami aromas to be extremely off-putting. And the 2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Clos Habert, one of my favorite demi-secs of the vintage, was in an awkward and closed phase on this night.

Here are some quick notes on the wines:

The Pinon Vouvray Brut was fine and lots of fun out of magnum, but objectively it just wasn't special wine. Other than H
uët's, I have yet to be truly wowed by any Loire sparkling wine, I must say.

The dry wines were fantastic, each with its own distinct personality. The Huët ($26 in early 2007, decanted 3 hours ahead) was the most delicate of the three, and although it was lovely during the dinner, it was utterly gorgeous the next day. Makes sense - the dry wines need time to develop. The Closel wine ($24 a few years ago) was in my opinion at the peak of drinking. Perfectly mature at only 6 years old (odd for a Savennières, but whatever), it was full of waxy ripe fruit, herbal, honey, and mineral flavors. Beautiful stuff. And the Clos Rougeard (over $60), which I decanted almost 6 hours ahead of time, was incredibly deep, although even with the decant, painfully young and during the actual dinner, not all that approachable. It's funny because about a half hour after decanting it was pretty fantastic. It goes through phases I guess. I wish I had saved some for the next day.

The weakest flight was the off-dry wines, although the 1996 Cazin ($26) was, for me, the wine of the night. And this is an interloper, a wine made from the Romorantin grape, not a Chenin Blanc. So sue me. It was gorgeous and completely harmonious, really in a great place. Mature and regal nose of ripe fruit with some interesting petrol and earthy notes. The palate was perfectly balanced with great depth of fruit and a great vein of acidity, and there was real viscosity here - this is dense without being heavy, long without being ponderous, just elegant and deep wine. Although I am not a fan of the 2005, my commitment to cellaring my '02s and '04s is renewed.

The 1998 Baumard Quarts de Chaume ($39) showed very well too. Incredibly beautiful nose of ripe orchard fruit, dripping with mineral intensity, and so fresh and youthful. This wine has a long life ahead of it. On the palate it's a wash of apricot and herbal honey supported by crackling acidity, loads of minerals, and a finish that lingers and changes, becomes pleasingly bitter. This wine had a cleansing effect on the palate, so different from most of the dessert wines I come across.


Unknown said...

That all sounds incredible. Pheasant pâté plate? Alliteratively delicious. Out of curiosity, was the Baumard a full bottle or a 375ml? Quite a steal at $39 if the former.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say, when the '98 Baumard QdC first came out, people were pissing all over it 'cuz it wasn't the up-front, unctuous & oozey goo-bomb that both the '96 and '97 were, but I didn't care because it was soon discounted to the point where I bought a case of halves (24 bottles) for only $13 each! And you're right, it is a singularly pleasing wine!


Anonymous said...

Great selections. I would've enjoyed trying all of them. How many people are in your group? I hope they enjoyed them, too.

Cliff said...

Indeed, it sounds like a wonderful set up, and a terrific set of wines.

jason Carey said...

Please dont' tell too many peps how good these wines are.. or the prices will go up... if they were from burgundy they would be 3 times the price..
Is the Closel really at peak already, I thought i would be closed down right now,, and am saving mine for a few more years...I loved loved that wine when it was young.

Cliff said...

Bklynguy is spot on about the Closel. It's weird how evolved it is. I bought mine on release and stored it professionally. They changed style, I believe that year; it's much riper and more forward than in the past. It tastes good now, but I don't see it getting a whole lot better.

Brooklynguy said...

JBH - it was, in fact, a 750. I was at the right place at the right time a few years ago...

Hey Brad - lucky you!! how many have you gone through so far? such a great feeling to find a deal like that.

hiya steve - there are 4 of us and then the significant others, and the host can invite additional people if they like. It seemed as though people liked the wines, and although everyone liked some of them, people gravitated towards different things.

jason - i hear you, but what can you do? the 36 people who read this blog aren't going to bump the price on their own. i loved the closel young too, and there was nothing to hint then that it would mature so quickly, or so i thought.

cliff - thanks for your comments. you are entirely correct - they changed the style with the 2002 vintage. longer hang time, riper fruit (higher alcohol level). the 2004 and 05 feel a bit more charged to me, maybe they'll age better. maybe not. whenever they're ready, they'll taste great.


Tracie P. said...

i had the '03 baumard QdChaume for the first time back in August...that botyritis fingerprint is evident but so incredibly delicious with that chenin minerality. it is a truly unique wine. i can only imagine what it would be with ten years behind it. mamma mia!

Anonymous said...

The 96 Cazin is just something else. Several months ago, I found a stray bottle at Astor in their cellar room that even they had no idea they still had. Drank it that night with the girlfriend. Boy oh boy. Nice slight smokiness, rich fruit, really beautiful. Really reminiscent of good semi-mature Riesling. Like the 97's from Germany. So excited about the bottle of the 2002 and the 2004 (which is also fantastic, btw) I still have in my cellar.

Brooklynguy said...

hey Gene - I love how Astor doesn't even know what Astor has. I thought that was my secret, to rummage around the cold room shelves underneath. Imagine what their basement must be like...