Loire expert Jim Budd led this online tasting, kicking off with an overview of the extensive Loire Valley region, but focusing in on Chenin Blanc and a revival of interest in the variety. Jim explained that the revival is not so much in increased plantings, but a revival of interest in acheiving high quality with Chenin Blanc.
Chenin is grown mostly in the centre of the Loire Valley, the east where the grape changes to Sauvignon Blanc tending to have a more continental climate with later budding that does not suit Chenin. The same goes for the western region around Nantes, where the cooler conditions suit Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet) more. The chalky limestone soils of the centre, part of the Paris Basin, also suit Chenin and are part of the reason why there is a large sparkling wine industry based around Saumur.
Jim expressed his love for the diversity of Chenin Blanc, making sparkling, dry, medium-sweet and fully Botrytis sweet styles. Another change he has seen is the growth in the somewhat trendy Savennières region, its vineyards tripling in area since the 1990s, and especially among young growers who pick a little riper and use less sulphur, making these wines, which have always aged well, drink earlier whilst still retaining their capacity for longevity.
The wines selected by Jim for the tasting certainly showed the diversity of the Loire and of Chenin Blanc, proving the points made very successfully.
(2020) Made from 100% Chenin Blanc, quite a rich colour to this, with a touch of copper to the green, and plenty of toast, nuttiness and autolytic richness on the nose, Cox's pippin fruit and touches of preserved lemon. The palate has a mouthfilling style, with abundant fruit sweetness and I'd guess a relatively high dosage, lots of apple here - again nutty English apples, a little bit of phenolic grip like lemon peel or melon rind, and a finish where the inherent sweetness is balanced by good acidity. This bottle disgorged July 2020.
(2021) Sadly, Frédéric Mabileau was killed in September 2020 in a micro-light accident. The 49-year-old vineyard for this wine was picked selectively when the berries were fully golden in colour. It was fermented in large foudre with natural yeasts, and aged in foudre for 16 months. It has a gorgeous nose of crushed almond, butter, mint and ripe red apple, almost Meursault-like and very appealing. Creamy and yet juicy on the palate, that crispness of acidity defines this, layered with ripe but not too sweet fruit and that light butteriness, it is a treat to drink.
(2021) Harvest for this cuvée takes place in October, with well-ripened, fully mature grapes, so a touch of sweetness would be expected. It is vinified in oak barrels where the wine ages on fine lees for 11 months. In practice the wine is sweet only in terms of fruit ripeness, a certain weight to the texture too, but clean and bright Chenin aromatics running from apple into firm peach, a little lusciousness on the lips before very good acidity kicks through. Could work with aromatic Chinese food this one.
(2021) Soils are mainly sand and silt on sandstone and schist, this cuvee aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, followed by a further 4-6 months in tank. There's a really appealing stony, mineral and taut character here, apple aromas span nutty Cox's pippin to green apple, the picture balanced between richness and alacrity. Gorgeous palate too I must say, textured and creamy, but with brilliance and a long, very fresh and vibrant finish that is mouth-watering.
(2021) Farmed organically and in the processing of gaining certification. Fermentation part in barrel, part in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts, then also matured in combination of barrels and steel on the lees. Labelled as 'Sec Tendre', this is a whisker from being dry, but the light touch of residual sugar gives immense drinkability. On the nose there's a distinct gravel and smoky mineral character however, a lively expressive wine, with a touch of leafy herbs and lemon. The palate has that gentle sweetness, but shimmering acidity too, ripe, clean apple and citrus playing against that easy-going, and quite delicious balance of the finish.
(2021) This is late-harvest Chenin from shale soils with quartz on clay and sand. The vines in the Saint-Aubin region of Coteaux du Layon are over 40 years old, and the wine is made in stainless steel tanks. Buttercup yellow, it has a glorious nose, all ripe stone fruits, honey and glycerine, there is surely a little Botrytis present here too. In the mouth luscious and fully sweet, richly textured but shimmering with acidity to balance. A stand-out bargain, but note most retailers have moved to the following vintage at time of review.
(2021) A 'Sélection de Grains Nobles', made from Botrytis-affected grapes which were hand-picked from vines averaging 40 years of age. A medium- to deep, lightly-burnished gold, the nose has mint and a little honey and glycerine note, lemony but quite subtle. The palate has a delicious hint of tobacco and saffron, lots of apricot and peach fruit and terrific acidity, a streaking and fresh lime juice finish, giving this great balance into a long finish as the sweetness persists. Price for a 50cl bottle.