You had me at “Vouvray”
October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
Reprinted from Portland Press Herald, September 15, 2010
Why isn’t Chenin blanc more popular? Why don’t more wine lists at restaurants that profess to know about accurate food pairing include more Vouvrays than Chardonnays? What is it about lower alcohol content, seriously crisp acidity and subtle, tantalizing sweetness that is not worth celebrating?
Chenin blanc is one of the great white grapes to match with food – in a rarefied league with Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc – and reaches its highest form in the Loire Valley region of France known as Vouvray. Chenin’s naturally high acidity, which allows it to take form as everything from dry sparkling wines to spectacular dessert wines, also makes Vouvray such an able food partner, as well as endowing it with the capacity to age exceptionally well: “moelleux” Vouvrays (those with more residual sugar than the “sec”, or dry, varieties) have been known to go more than a century; the Savennieres listed below would be fascinating 20 years from now, so buy several and track it.
When tasting Vouvray, first notice its transparency – its ability to pick up the minutest of elements from terroir and climate variation and reflect them brilliantly and clearly. Vouvray is, above all, clear, honest wine; any foolish tampering (for instance, use of new oak) is instantly revealed. Only winemakers who respect their grapes and land enough to practice restraint in the cellar produce good Vouvray; others don’t make bad Vouvray, they just stop trying altogether.
Many Vouvrays are also perfect whites as the weather turns colder, with full body and trademark honey notes, as well as unmistakable (and for whites, rare) earthiness. As you alter your menus in line with the autumn, consider these foods and preparations that match exquisitely with Vouvray: fried seafood, cream sauces, winter squash, edamame, veal, pork, mushrooms, vegetable soups and mildly spiced sautes/stir-fries. Indeed, Chenin’s green-leaf notes link better with vegetables than almost any other wine (exception: Gruner Veltliner) – an increasingly significant advantage given the way more and more of us are eating these days.
Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Sec “Bel Air” 2008, Loire, France, $18 (Devenish). Racy, sleek and vibrant wine. Lacks the sweetness some of us love, but for bone-dry-heads, this is it. There’s muscle along with sinew, though, and feral musk. Fascinating three-dimensionality at first, then kind of funnels toward pinpointedness as it finishes.
A. Monmousseau Vouvray “Clos Le Vigneau” 2008, Loire, France, $20 (Davine). The big thing here is how it evolves over time, in both mouth and glass, hitting notes of sweet, sharp, bitter. If you like stories, taste this wine and watch it narrate. Like the Raimbault, it starts wide open but narrows as it goes. For that reason, a friend and I agreed that this is the perfect wine for fried fish: It can hit the fat of the coating, the sweet of the dipping sauce, and the spritz of lemon at the end.
Champalou Vouvray 2008, Loire, France, $19 (Nappi). Open-air spirit, dry-grass nose, powerful lemony finish, fresh. Bright and lean, totally dry but not light-bodied – just achingly delicate. Fast but full.
La Craie Vouvray 2009, Loire, France, $15 (Central). Not only does this have delicious honey, it has the beeswax too: a textured, lingering mouthfeel. Apples mid-palate, laced with dried herbs like thyme and rosemary. “La Craie” refers to the chalky soils of this wine’s terroir, and lends traits of talc, porosity and real grip. I’m dreaming of a grilled Roquefort-and-caramelized-onion sandwich
J. Moreau et Fils Vouvray Demi-Sec 2006, Loire, France, $13 (Central). We’re moving toward the more viscous, lusty, nectar-y end of the spectrum here. Pears. Cream. Live mammals. Still ringed with acidity and clean as a whistle, but with a cool guitar-feedback quality of heft and fuzz.
Damien Laureau Savennieres 2006, Loire, France, $28 (Central). Savennieres is the crown-jewel subregion of Vouvray, a schist-filled microclimate capable of producing intense, regal, monumentally structured wines like this one. This is what you drink with big cold-weather meals now and 20 years from now, laughing at your friends who spent twice as much on a Burgundy with half the wild spirit of the Laureau. Aged 18 months to bring out its … its everything, minerally and large, with soft smoke and insistent hazelnut, try it with scallops, rich sauces or strong cheeses.