It is often said that Chenin Blanc is the most versatile grape in the world. Capable of producing fine wines dry, sweet, still, and sparkling, and covering a fascinating array of aromas and textures from bracingly mineral to tenderly honeyed and everything in between, this noble cépage unquestionably deserves our full appreciation. At table, the Pineau de la Loire, as it is also known, truly shines. A natural companion to myriad world cuisines outside that of its home of northern France, it can easily hold its own from apéritif through dessert, refreshing and energizing all along the way. Cream, spice, fat, salt, and countless other flavors shine when paired with Chenin in one of its many incarnations, facilitating the job of the home cook, host, or partygoer. This Chenin Blanc sampler features three diverse and unique manifestations of the grape. Catherine and Pierre Breton’s Brut, from biodynamically farmed vineyards in Vouvray, is all about its fine bead and the zesty refreshment it provides. Downriver in Savennières, stony schist soils yield a more austere wine, defined by its breadth on the palate with a backdrop of unforgiving minerality. Aged in chestnut and acacia casks, this is Chenin Blanc from the history books. Finally, back in Vouvray, the Champalou family has crafted one of the variety’s most decadent and long-lived embodiments, a late-harvest jewel wherein only the best grapes, selected berry by berry, have yielded a nectar concentrated with dazzling honeyed goodness lifted by a lively acidity. Vive le Chenin!
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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