Could someone please help me appreciate Chenin Blanc? There is so much love for this varietal among Somms and wine geeks, but I have to say that I just don’t get it. The descriptions are of wines that are right up my alley. I should love it…I mean, it’s versatility is interesting, but to me it seems like the iPhone of grapes; it can do lots of things in a mediocre sort of way. iPhones can play music, but not like a stereo system w/ a turn table. They can take photos, but not as well as a good film camera. They make phone calls, but not as reliably as a freaking landline.
Likewise, sweet Chenin is nice, but I prefer Sauternes or Auslese Riesling. Sparkling Vouvray is nice, but not as good as Champagne. Dry white Chenin can be good, but I like Chardonnay more. I was intrigued by the ageability of Savennieres, bought a couple bottles with 20 yrs of age, and they were not good (one oxidized, the other so-so).
I want to love Chenin, I really do. Please help! What am I missing? Any recommendations for a purchase?
My epiphany wine was the 2008 Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi Sec. A Chenin unlike any other I had ever had before - just absolutely energetic with a wonderful balance between sweetness and acid. I found it very easy to love this wine for exactly what it was despite not ”getting” Chenin before.
It’s kind of like Syrah where if you want something definitive, it doesn’t really do that. (I’m not saying Hermitage or whatever isn’t definitive Syrah, but it’s also not the only great version of the grape) Its greatest strength is it’s heterodox expression. It reliably produces good to great wine in all sorts of places and in so many different ways. I think that’s the key to loving it - you’ll not ever get a tiresome, predictable experience; Chenin is very individual.
I agree with you - demi-sec chenin does nothing for me. It just tastes like dry chenin to which someone added a couple packets of Sweet-and-Low for no apparent reason. The dry stuff is another matter. You need to taste an aged one if you want to get it. See if you can track down a '95 or '96 Huet and then you’ll see what it can do that chardonnay can’t (at least not without spending 20x the price). Also, don’t limit yourself to France. There is killer chenin in South Africa.
I don’t like the sweeter Chenins as well. Or rather, like you, it’s not that I dislike them as much as I just always find myself wishing i had a riesling instead. And I feel the same way about Sauternes to be honest.
But I think dry Chenin really has a wonderful textural quality and a wildness to it that you don’t get in chardonnay or riesling
I would definitely agree on demi-secs usually being chunky and bland (although in lean years, huet demi sec is really a perfect wine to my taste.) Yet in most other instances i find them clumsy, or did… I am starting to suspect that they may actually be just exceedingly young. Having had some really old Saumur demi-secs, and loving them, I began to wonder if my drinking window was just off by a few decades.
It’s really not that hard. If a dry Chenin from Huet in say 2017, or a 2017 Jacky blot single vineyard, or any number of Saumurs doesn’t do it for you, you are hopeless. For me, I’m drinking far more dry chenin, and far less white burg. Less white burg because of price, and often there is just less there, in comparison with the dry chenin.
Chenin grown on limestone and silex and made in a reductive style is so anti-oxidant that you don’t need to wait 40 years. Just buy a well-stored 40 year old Vouvray.
A suggestion mentioned upstream was 2008 Huet. Killer vintage at all RS levels. That’s a place to start. The 2008 Le Mont Demi-sec made me a little dizzy last time I had it, it was that good. It’s a very similar vintage to 1996, also a good place to start like you mentioned, Keith.
But for current release I’d recommend buying one bottle of each of the 2019 Huet Clos de Bourg and Le Mont Sec. Anyone who doesn’t like those probably doesn’t like dry Chenin and should pass.
Other possibilities for different styles of high quality Chenin in the Loire: Andre Foucault’s Domaine Collier Saumur Blanc, Baudry Croix Boisee, Richard Leroy’s wines, Jacky Blot, Eric Nicolas at Bellerive. There are also a lot more out there, especially on Schist.
A major issue however because of global warming is alcohol. Most Savennieres is too big now, and the wines at 14+% are often ponderous. I would personally avoid anything over 13.5%, and even that is almost pushing it for me. The 2019 Huet Secs were about 13.5%.
If i paint with broad strokes and we only talk dry Chenin, then i find two prominent styles. There is the one that, in its youth at least, reminds me of white Burgundy (not 1 to 1). And then there is the slightly oxidative style that reminds me of “Still Champagne”. With age a lot of them goes towards the “Still Champagne” style though, which i personally loves. Robinot and Mosse (some cuvees only) makes some beautiful examples of the the last style. But they are very low intervention in their production, so you need to live with that.
Some of the producers i have/or are adding to my own collection are: Huet, Robinot, Jacky Blot, Mark Angeli, Mosse, Nicolas Reau, Thibaud Boudignon, Arnaud Lambert.
There is also some good Chenin coming out from South Africa. David & Nadia Sadie is really good and affordable compared to the more famous Sadie.
As above, take a trip to Huet (I’d recommend sec.*) Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. If you try a few different vintages from all three bottling and you don’t like any then chenin isn’t for. No big deal.
All the recs are good ones. I was a doubting Thomas until some time in the early 90s when, thanks to my wife, I tried a glass of chenin (Baumard Savennières Clos de St.Yves 96 - I remember it well!) with an assortment of goat cheeses (which I was also wary of) - it was a moment of epiphany. Simple as that. Just writing this makes my mouth water, remembering the taste. The chenin and the cheese brought out the best in each other. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
If you can find some, Champalou’s wines from 2016 are good and accessible. I would be wary of Savennières nowadays because of premox issues due apparently to winemaking changes.
Julian, I agree with the beauty of this pairing with the emphasis on the dry chenin. If the OP doesn’t enjoy chenin this way, then that is just his fate. As an aside, I marvel sometimes how a regional food/produce often pairs so well with a wine from the same region. As I speculated here https://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=2692291#p2692291 which came into being first? Cheers.