One of the first grape varieties that I fell in love with was Chenin Blanc. In most circumstances it leads to nice but rather conventional wines with aromas of ripe fruit, apple, pear, standard stuff to be honest. But it has the potential to be so much more. It can deliver wines which such vibrant fruit and depth that are irresistible. The best wines will instantly put a smile on your face and compel you to finish your glass just to have an excuse to top it up again. There are similarities with Riesling and I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I mixed up both varieties during the blind tasting as part of my exam on Monday, but it would help to explain their greatness. Both deliver wines that are based on acidity but whereas Riesling gives you wines that are focused, razor-sharp and laced with minerality, chenin is different as the acidity is used to give tension and vibrancy to the fruit, creating a more opulent but still clean-cut-like sensation.
Francois Chidaine is without question one of the few people in the Loire region who truly masters the art of chenin. Located in Montlouis, in times gone by often thought of as the neglected little brother of Vouvray he is a key figure in putting the appellation on the map as a region to watch and adore. He owns parcels in both Montlouis and Vouvray and while the wines are clearly characterized by terroir, they also are good examples of the signature touch of the winemaker. Unfortunately, Francois has been hit with a lot of setbacks over the past years though as he lost a huge part of his holdings due to hailstorms in 2012 and 2013. Luckily for him and his fans, fellow wine makers have come up with various initiatives, the most recent one being the auction here in order to raise funds so that he can continue and get through the financial hardship.
The wine to discuss this week is Les Choisilles 2009 from Montlouis. Named after a type of flint present in the soil, the wine strikes a charming balance between minerality and fruit. At first it is a bit closed so you would either need to give it some time in the glass or put it in a carafe. When I first tasted the wine a couple of years ago I was impressed by the fruit, not too ripe but nice and crispy like freshly plucked apples. It is interesting to see that these aromas have really evolved as I got a sensation of more candied fruit, the ripeness accompanied by a hint of honey but largely supported by minerality. It really opens up in the mouth after a while with that zingy acidity that I love so much but which is not too overbearing, creating ample richness in the finish. It has clearly benefited from a bit of aging in the cellar but I could easily see this going strong for another 5 to 6 years. The production is small due to the setbacks, but if you ever spot a bottle pick it up, tuck it away and you will be well-rewarded in due time!
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