One of the most enthralling forms of Chenin Blanc comes from the Loire Valley. The castles are enthralling too. Pair them together and you won’t want to leave.
Grown from the Pays Nantais on the western most side of the valley (known as the Lower Loire) to the Touraine district (known as Middle Loire), the Chenin Blanc grape thrives in this northwestern area of France. Interesting to note the western most sections of the Loire closer to the Atlantic Ocean are the coolest.
Most appellations growing Chenin Blanc are located on the banks and slopes of the Loire River. This article focuses on the Vouvray AOC joining my French #Winophiles group of wine-loving guys and gals. Scroll down for an intro of December articles.
If It Says Vouvray, You Know It’s Chenin Blanc!
Scenario- you’re in a wine shop looking for something new and happen upon wines that say Sancerre, Chablis, Cahors, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but no grape. Herein lies the dilemma- what’s in that bottle?
Most to many French labels state where the wine was made and/or appellation because it’s all about the area in France. Each of the four places I mentioned above experience specific climatic conditions, geography, and soils that make the wines produced unique. The same for Vouvray; it has flinty clay, marl, and tuffeau (90 million year old chalk and stone Turonian limestone) soils and a certain geologic identity (géologique s’exprime). In fact Vouvray has the highest concentrations of Tuffeau in the Loire. Bottom line- anytime you see Vouvray on the label you know it’s the Chenin Blanc grape! Note Vouvray is both a region and a wine.
Styles of Vouvray
Made in a variety of styles, Vouvray is brilliant dry (sec), off-dry (sec-tendre, which contains more sugar but still relatively dry), semi-dry (demi-sec), medium-sweet (moelleux, pronounced m’wah-leuh), or sweet (doux). From there you find them as still or sparkling wine. And they can be bone dry with a mineral character, show off stone and tropical fruitiness, pull in floral and honeysuckle, and please those with more of a sweet tooth.
Chenin Blanc is a flexible grape that buds early, ripens late, and has notably high acidity- a hallmark that produces vibrant wines. Because of that acidity it can age for decades. And also that acidity makes any level of sweetness less noticeable creating more complexity.
According to Loire expert Jim Budd, “…vibrant acidity is an essential part of Vouvray as it is also for neighbouring Montlouis. The soils of the Paris Basin tend to produce more vibrant acidity than those of Anjou on the hard rocks of the extension of the Brittany Peninsula. As Vouvray is towards the eastern limit of successfully getting Chenin to ripen the acidity is accentuated. This eastern limit explains why sweet Vouvray is less frequently possible to make than in Anjou.”
Ripening grapes can be challenging in this area budding up to the Loire River; the river provides a natural moist environment. In certain years, warmer and drier afternoons along with that moisture create an essential environment for Noble rot (botrytis) development on grape clusters. Only in these vintages are the classic and delicious sweet wines produced. Thus as Jim shared above, sweet Vouvray is made less frequently.
Next time you think about purchasing a Sauternes wine (which also ages incredibly well) instead try a Vouvray doux, it will wow your mind!
Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec 2016
Third generation Philippe Foreau and his son Vincent make the wine here, men who farm roughly 40 hectares of Chenin Blanc vines organically on flinty clay over tuffeau soils.
Grapes are hand harvested. During vinification, no malolactic fermentation. Ever. And minimal use of larger (300 liter) older barrels. The result? Linear, mineral-driven wines.
Although 2016 was a tough year with frost imposing a 30% reduction in yield at Domaine du Clos Naudin, warm and dry conditions came resulting in a distinguished vintage.
Why I Chose This Wine As A Holiday Favorite
This wine delivers a super aromatic profile (M+ intensity in wine speak) of honeysuckle, beeswax, yellow blossoms, and lemon drizzled apricots. It coats the palate with fresh intensity then the acidity strips it clean. Flavors include citrus, yellow plum, crushed limestone and smoky hints. Dry and bracing yet an almost seducing softness around the edges, it has so much to offer. This is one lively, precise, and concentrated wine!
For the holidays it’s a fabulous starter, aka entrée wine for charcuterie, seafood patés, oyster and shellfish plates, and buttery puff pastry bites filled with a variety of savory items. And it pairs wonderfully with white meats, spice and a little heat.
Mark and I always have a bottle of Foreau Sec on hand. A classic wine from a classic and quality producer. Note- if you can find a Foreau sparkling wine buy it!
A Second Wine Makes The List!
While shopping I came across a producer I’d heard about but not tasted thus I snatched this bottle from a local wine shop. Their inventory is about smaller producers making wine without the use of chemicals and additives- organic (referred to as ‘bio’ here in France), biodynamic, natural, synergistic, etc.
Mathieu Cosme Vouvray – Les Promenards 2017 Domaine de Beaumont
Both the man behind this wine and the wine itself are prominent and powerful. Ex-rugby player Mathieu Cosme joined his family winery taking it an organic then biodynamic direction after studying with Domaine Huet, another classic Vouvray producer. Here again Chenin Blanc grows on tuffeau soils and is plowed using horses. Sharp vineyard work and longer fruit hang time results in increased phenolic ripeness in his grapes.
Ten hectares of grapes are hand harvested, vinified with indigenous yeasts in large neutral oak barrels, and aged ten months in stainless tanks. Here the wines go through malolactic fermentation.
I added this wine as a holiday favorite because it has a presence that doesn’t stop!
Intense aromatic lemon lime zest, white flowers including white rose, barely ripe peach and apricot, and crushed stones jump out of the glass. After 15 minutes it softens sharing less zest.
A bone-dry first sip is fresh and energetic followed by zest, honeysuckle, and slight flinty smoke. The medium-bodied palate carries on with incredible length. After thirty minutes it softened again yet that zing carried on, the pleasure doesn’t stop.
A great pairing with shell fish, especially oysters… Mark and I never turn down a plate of oysters. We enjoyed it with a smoked mackerel chunky dip.
Find Philippe and Vincent Foreau and Mathieu Cosme Wines through Rosenthal Wine Merchant.
Other importers of Mathieu Cosme Wines:
In Wrapping up…
…Vouvray from Philippe and Vincent Foreau are classic and timeless, a great example of the best of Chenin Blanc.
Mathieu Cosme produces fabulous wines: Vouvray sec, sparkling, and under his Facteur label pétillant natural (pet-nat) wines. *Pet-Nat fan alert here!* Similar to the Foreau wine above, unbelievable quality and precision in his wines.
~ French #Winophiles Take On Vouvray ~
If you need further convincing to give Vouvray a try, here are lots more dry, sweet and sparkling reasons. Recipe ideas too! We’ll be chatting on Twitter Saturday, December 21st at 11am ET / 17:00 in France using hashtag #winophiles
Our host this month Jeff from Food Wine Click! shares “Vouvray Pairs with Cream”
Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Pairing a School Assignment with a #Winophiles Project: Moqueca + Gautier Vouvray Argilex 2012”
Lynn at Savor the Harvest discusses “Why I Chose This Wine as A Holiday Favorite”
Robin at Crushed Grape Chronicles discusses “The Multiple Expressions of Vouvray!”
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “Creamy Clam Dip with a Sauvion Vouvray“
Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “Monmousseau Ammonite Vouvray: Gussying-Up an Ad Hoc Holiday Feast“
Gwendolyn at Wine Predator shares “Carême Organic Vouvray and Lunch at Chateau de Pray“
Nicole at Somm’s Table shares “Champalou Vouvray Brut and a Very Lazy Cheese Night”
Jane at Always Ravenous shares “Vouvray with an Indian-Inspired Dinner”
Linda at My Full Wineglass shares “Dry and Delicious Vouvray for Easy Weeknight Dinner”
David at Cooking Chat shares “Spicy Lentil Soup with Wine Pairing”
Susannah at Avvinare shares “Vouvray’s Singular Moelleux Wines”
Payal at Keep the Peas shares “A Birthday and a Vouvray”
Liz at What’s in That Bottle? shares “Va-Va-Va-Vouvray! Get to Know These White Wines from the Loire”
Great choice for the holidays and they make great gifts as well.
Really great summary of the region and the grape!
I’m familiar with the Foreau wines but not the Cosme. I’ll definitely have to be on the look out!
Definitely, I know Cosme is available in the US Nicole.
Two interesting Vouvray wines I will be sure to look for! Great information on Vouvray in general, and the wines and estates.
This month made me remember how much Mark and I enjoy Vouvray!
Love this essay, Lynn! Here’s why…
I used to sell wine at the big-box Liquor Barn store back in the 80’s. Back then Chenin Blanc was widely consumed. But then the wine industry exploded with more varietals than could be imaginable. To me Chenin Blanc got lost in this expansion. Unfortunately, today not many know about it, and when it comes up in convo, it’s not talked about in good context. Too bad. It’s such a yummy varietal that pairs well with so many foods.
Keep writing about these varietals giving them the spotlight they deserve. I’d love to come visit Vouvray!
Well thanks John! Let me know when your ‘visit Vouvray’ ticket is purchased. I’ll meet you there!
I will have to search for the Mathieu Cosme! (And the pét nat..I’m another lover!) Your descriptions are so lyrical, this was a joyful read.
I dug into Cosme on line and with the man who owns the great little wine shop near me. He only carries bio, biodynamic and natural wines from smaller producers. You should be able to find his wines. When you do, love to hear your thoughts Robin!
Looks like you had a nice combo of a go-to Vouvray and a great new find! I haven’t tried either so need to be on the lookout for a chance to do so.
Yes! A classic and a everything but classic. Thanks David!
Will definitely be on the prowl for the Foreau Vouvray after this rave review. Thanks, Lynn!
Cannot recommend Foreau Vouvray enough. It was in my top ten this year.
Vouvray seems like such a study in contrasts: rich body but that bracing acidity. I’ll keep my eyes open for both these producers.
I’m betting you would like them Jeff, especially the Foreau which is more like a Huet wine. Thanks for your comment!
Two stunning Chenin Blanc wines! It never ceases to amaze me that they remain relatively underappreciated by most consumers. If I see either one of these bottles, I’m snapping it up!
I agree with you Lauren, underappreciated and fairly unknown. When you taste these two, please share your thoughts!