The Craftsmanship and Geekery of Loire Chenin Blanc

The Craftsmanship and Geekery of Loire Chenin Blanc

Posted on Sep, 20. 2010 by

Categories: Wine

Francois Chidaine, and Montlouis in general, tend to fly under the radar for the most part, for better or for worse. Vouvray? Huet! Savennieres? Baumard! Montlouis? …? And, considering that Loire Chenin as a whole flies under the radar in the first place, they’re pretty much running in stealth mode when it comes to the wine world at large. While that may be great news for people like me (people who love, love, love Loire Chenin more than any other white wine and don’t mind their favorite estates remaining relatively inexpensive), I can’t help but continue to try to push this amazing wine on all of you. It is the essence of white wine geekery, very little (if any) oak, almost no forward opulence, but tons of minerality and fruit; depth and purity. Even their sweeter wines are precise and intentional without being cloying or lazy. This is the essence of Chenin Blanc: one of those things in life that you should experience as often as possible.

Me, I got hooked on Chidaine 3 or 4 years ago with his Les Tuffeaux, a cellar-worthy demi-sec that we tried at one of the Guild’s very first tastings (I still have every one of those bottles in my cellar, by the way). When Steph and I toured the Loire the following year, we made a special point to visit Chidaine’s understated little tasting room/wine shop in Montlouis, located just on the other side of the road from the river Loire. Having only tried the Tuffeaux, and not really having had much experience with Montlouis wines in general, we were nothing short of blown away! Why, oh why, does Vouvray (right across the river from Montlouis) get all the attention, while most people have no idea what/where Montlouis is? That’s the old name-game for you. In any case, Chidaine is the wine that opened my mind and palate to the wonder of Montlouis: their wines have the finesse and craftsmanship of Huet, the balance of minerality and fruit of Closel, and a playful softness that just warms my heart (really!).

These are some of my favorite white Loire bottlings, not only because of their beauty and precision, but because of their cellarability. They show pleasantly well up front, but can age for a decade or more, especially in the case of the demi-secs. And I know I’ll get no protests when I say that few things are as amazing as aged Chenin…so we’re bringing you this pre-arrival offer in order to get your cellar stocked. These bottles are not in the country just yet, but the importer is giving us the opportunity to pre-order them now (don’t delay…the high Parker scores mean little to none will be available by the time it actually arrives, and even then, northern VA will likely take whatever is left over); however, due to eminent dock strikes in France, we must have all orders by this Thursday, Sept. 23rd. Here’s what the Wine Advocate has to say about Chidaine:

A still youthfully energetic Francois Chidaine has continued to hone his long-ago manifest talents, even as (together with his cousin Nicolas) he oversees two estates (one formerly that of Prince Poniatowski in Vouvray, which accounts for 30% of total production). Based on their performance in cask, his 2009s – which weren’t harvested much earlier than his 2008s – surpass those of his Vouvray and Montlouis neighbors (many of whom bottled their wines in spring) for refreshment, clarity, precision, and minerality, even though alcohol levels center around a for these appellations relatively high 13.5-14%. As for Chidaine’s 2008s, while their acidity and minerality might strike some tasters as too prominent, I don’t think Chidaine hyperbolizes when he calls the vintage ‘magic.’ You have to look to the historical collections of regional leaders Foreau and Huet to find comparable consistently high quality, making it clear that Chidaine is one of the world’s finest craftsmen in the medium of white wine, not to mention a continuing source of amazing value.

So, here are Wine Advocate’s notes; pick and choose based on your personal tastes…if you don’t feel like reading any more, though, the Tuffeaux and Habert are where it’s at…

2008 Vouvray Sec Les Argiles
“Chidaine’s 2008 Vouvray Les Argiles delivers not just fresh lime, kiwi, and quince but also intimations of oceanic salinity and alkalinity on the nose. Its brightness, underlying density, and bitter suggestions of citrus pip and fruit pits lend a certain austerity, but this firm, tightly coiled Chenin needs another year in the bottle at least, I think, before broaching, and should perform well for at least half a dozen. 89 Points.”
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $18.15 • Premier Cru: $18.98 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $24.75
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2008 Montlouis Sec Clos du Breuil
“The Chidaine 2008 Montlouis sec Clos du Breuil delivers fresh lime, apricot, peach, and almond in the nose and on a tight, bright palate, shot through with saline and chalky minerality, all of which makes for a long, lip-smacking, rather Riesling-like show. Dense, energetic, and refreshing, this really deserves a couple of years in the cellar, I think (despite that naturally not being Chidaine’s commercial intention). It should make excellent company at table over a 4-6 year period. 90 Points.
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $18.15 • Premier Cru: $18.98 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $24.75
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2008 Montlouis Sec Les Choisilles
“A dry blend from various parcels that he essays most years but expects not to in 2009 – delivers aromas of fresh lemon, grapefruit rind, and white peach mingled with chalk dust and white truffle that put me (and him) much in mind of the corresponding 1996. Bright, tight, and faintly sizzling in phenolic intensity this combines sheer density with rapier penetration, leaving behind almost indelible impressions of citrus zest, white pepper, radish, chalk, musk, and white truffle. As with the corresponding Clos du Breuil, this practically defeats the usual commercial intentions for this cuvee in seeming to want a couple of years in bottle. If drunk young, decanting is advised. This outstanding value should certainly perform memorably for at least 5-7 (and, if in that respect too, if like the 1996, then longer). To resort to a musical metaphor, those less tolerant of dissonance and acerbity in their polyphony should be skeptical of my score. 92 Points.
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $22.55 • Premier Cru: $23.58 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $30.75
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2008 Montlouis Sec Les Bournais
“The 2008 Montlouis Les Bournais is another Chidaine of its vintage with sharp edges, bright penetration, and tinges of bitterness, here of lime and grapefruit with their pits and rinds. Strongly saline and chalky mineral notes saturate but there are admittedly fewer fine points accessible here at this early stage. Positively sizzling as well as exhilaratingly refreshing in finish, this wine doesn’t just draw your saliva; it practically picks you up off of your feet! I would give it at least two years bottle age and expect it to perform electrically for ten or more. There is a rare Franc de Pied bottling of Les Bournais from 2008, but sadly I have not had opportunity to taste it. 91 Points.”
2008 Montlouis Demi-Sec Les Tuffeaux [$25.75-R, $18.88-GC, $19.74-PC]: “There is I think no place on earth outside of the Loire where you can enjoy this kind of mind-boggling wine value. Chidaine’s (in all but name) demi-sec 2008 Montlouis Les Tuffeaux is redolent of almond extract, white peach, and quince, subtle peach kernel as well as zesty, bright citrus helping balance the wine’s residual sugar and its suggestions of honey and caramel, a balance maintained through an impressively long finish. The clarity, electricity, and infectious juiciness of the less residually sweet or botrytis-affected Chidaine 2008s are missing here, but one gains richness and while I have little doubt that this fine value will flourish for at least a decade, it is as close as this vintage comes to cuddly chez Chidaine. 91 Points.”
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $25.30 • Premier Cru: $26.45 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $34.50
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2008 Montlouis Demi-Sec Clos Habert
“Pineapple and tangerine as well as musky florality and pistachio extract mark the nose and lusciously refreshing palate of Chidaine’s 2008 Montlouis Clos Habert, in which residual sugar helps balance electric acidity, compliment its citricity, and reinforce flavors of white peach, quince, honey, malt, and toasted nuts. The aura of truffle oil that many of his 2008s have in common with his 1996s is totally alluring here (and, for junkies, a lot less expensive than an ounce of the real thing!) This becomes richer and deeper as it opens, with a sense of incipient creaminess, yet its kinetics and mouth-watering acidity never flag through a phenomenally persistent finish. Expect this scintillatingly complex Montlouis to be worth following for at least 20 years, and if you do drink it young, be aware that it tastes virtually dry thanks to its residual sugar being canceled by acids and buffered by extract. 94 Points.”
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $20.72 • Premier Cru: $21.66 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $28.50
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2008 Vouvray Demi Sec Le Bouchet
“The most white truffle-scented of the lot of Chidaine wines of its vintage, his 2008 Vouvray Le Bouchet also delivers deep, slightly torrified low-tones as counterpoint to the vintage-typical sense of citrus. Toasted almond and hazelnut; malt and honey; luscious, rind-tinged lime, pineapple, and tangerine, play on a palate of slickly oily richness, while truffle, musk, and otherwise ineffable forest floor and animal scents play in the background. At only 19 grams residual sugar, if this had the spiny, electric personality of the corresponding Clos Habert Montlouis (or, indeed, that possessed by most of Chidaine’s 2008s) it would probably taste totally dry, and as it is the sense of sweetness here is subtly integrated and hence highly discreet. This amazingly multi-faceted triumph for its vintage – not to mention phenomenal value – will almost certainly be worth cherishing and wondering at for the next 25 years. 95 Points.”
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $20.72 • Premier Cru: $21.66 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $28.50
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They also have a couple of excellent traditional-method bubblies, perfect for the holidays, at half the price of decent Champagne:

NV Montlouis Methode Traditionelle Brut
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $16.32 • Premier Cru: $17.06 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $22.25
Buy Now!

NV Montlouis Methode Traditionelle Demi Sec
Member Price: [private_member] Grand Cru: $16.32 • Premier Cru: $17.06 [/private_member]
Retail Price: $22.25
Buy Now!

One Response to “The Craftsmanship and Geekery of Loire Chenin Blanc”

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