Chenin, With So Many Faces
It seems I'm always writing about Chenin Blanc, or at the very least, definitely drinking too much of it to remember I should actually write blogs about this wonderous varietal. Which is a shame, because I'm not putting my mouth where my heart is at. Chenin Blanc is one of my favourite grapes. It's the best wine (better I might add, than Riesling) for Cantonese food, and it's also the most under-priced varietal in the city.
In Hong Kong, it's a sad thing to be a white wine that isn't Bourgogne Blanc. There's been so much hype generated by the large wine importers in Hong Kong that many local wine consumers in Hong Kong often seem afraid to say they admire anything else. Let's face it, there is a peer pressure to express love and devotion for Burgundy. If you don't like it, most people remark condescendingly that, "soon you will", with the implication that your palate isn't sophisticated enough at the moment to appreciate the nuances of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Côte d'Or.
Don't however, get the wrong idea. I love the whites wine of Burgundy. If there is a decently aged, ready-to-drink Chablis or Puligny-Montrachet, or Corton-Charlemagne or whatever I'll be there. But I also love the alpine fresh Chardonnays from the Valle d'Aosta in the Italian Alps (Les Cretes), or the skin-mascerated orange versions from Slovenia/Fruili (Movia, Radikon, etc), or the piercingly mineral / nutty, oxidative examples from Jura (Ganevat, Tissot, Labet, Bornard).
Which brings me back to Chenin, and why it is amazing. All those Chardonnays I mentioned earlier need time. They need lots and lots of aging to really show what they are made of. If you are purchasing 1er Cru or Grand Cru Chardonnay (from a famous producer) within two years of bottling, don't bother. Store them away. The characteristics that distinguish that wine won't even show yet. Drink Chenin instead.
Chenin Blanc is the most diverse white grape variety in the world. It can be dry, off-dry, and sweet. It can be minerally, savoury, herbal, citrusy, floral, or fruity. From its traditional home in France to its adopted abode in South Africa, it thrives. Even within France itself—no, even with its spirtual home in the Loire Valley—it expresses its individuality in the most stunning ways. It's delicious when young, and due to its high acidity and complexity, is one of the longest living wines in the world. Many examples from the 40's are still alive and well.
Take a look at Savennieres (which doesn't only mean Joly...), and tell me those wines aren't awesomely unique with their intense nuttiness. Or at Vouvray, where winemakers like Domaine Huet, François Pinon, and Philippe Foreau make some of the most vibrant, immortal, and seductive off-dry wines. Let's not forget Chidaine from Montlouis either, Thierry Germain's dry Chenin L'Insolite from Saumur, or the hundreds of other young exciting Chenin producers emerging every year.
Or Eric Nicolas's Domaine de Bellivière in the Coteaux du Loir.
Domaine de Bellivière is a certified organic estate that has been biodynamic since 2008. It's one of the most well known natural producers in the Loire, but to be honest I haven't had much experience with their wines. From what I've read online, they make around four off-dry Chenins. Two are from Jasnières, while L'Effraie is a young vine bottling from Coteaux du Loir. It's deeply golden as you can see, but clean without any trace of oxidation. It has some Chenin typicity such as notes of honey, orange blossom, herbs, and wax—but there is something really strange about the aroma that tastes wild, earthy, medicinal, and alpine-y.
Like many fans of the estate, this intrigues me. It's not a wine flaw (as others have noted similar "alpine/fir/mint" notes), just an element of the terroir. It proves this grape is so complex and quirky. It's challenging, like good Savennieres is, and makes you stop to consider these little nuances.
We only have a few bottles left of this wine and have marked it down for clearance. Try it, along with some of our other Chenins and let us know what you think!