NWC – 14th Jan – Loire Chenin Blanc

Firstly these words won’t do this tasting justice, led former Chairman and founding member of our group. As well as the fantastic wines shared from his cellar he has unlimited stories about his time in the wine trade and the wine makers he got to know throughout his career. Just one example was his friendship with René Renou, called one of the most influential figures in French wine on his death some years ago. The theme was particularly around the unique character of Chenin in the Loire and the aging potential from some of these top producers.

Domaine des Deux Arcs, Saviennieres, 2018 was by far the youngest wine of the evening but with real fruit intensity of pear lemon curd on the nose with a touch of cream soda. Quite ripe fruits hit your palate with some oxidative caramel on the finish. Lacking a little acidity, especially for Savennieres! Group discussion was that this was the ‘style’ of the wine rather than some premature aging but I wasn’t so sure, hard to find in UK but retails for around £15 in France I believe.

A trio from Domaine des Baumard was next, again from Saviennieres, a producer Roger had imported for 5 years in the 2000s. Firstly their cuvee, Trie Speciale, 2007. It was notable that these wines were under screwcap, apparently they were one of the first top French domaines to adopt them in 2001. This seemed apparent from the initial character of smoke and reduction (despite the wine being decanted well in advance). It does blow off with a little quince and tinned fruit cocktail peeking through. A glycerol, oily character dominates the front and mid palate but you’re left with a pleasant tang of lemon salinity. ~ £30

The Clos du Papillon appears to be their top cuvee with the 2018 available for around £40 in the UK, and though we were drinking the 2006 it could have been 10 years young. Both these 2 wines needed so much time, perhaps because of the closure. It was a touch leaner than the last but will quite rich vs trad Saviennieres and had more peachy stone fruit with a hint of pepper of the finish.

We finished with their basic estate wine from 2003 and despite it retailing at around £15 it was probably the most drinkable of the 3, though all were well made. Despite the very hot vintage it had great acidity with a lovely lime cordial nose. The palate had a nutty complexity that wasn’t present in the other wines yet along with some preserved lemon character.

The same year but less successful was Chateau Varennes, Savennieres, 2003. The hot year was definitely more apparent with a muted nose and quite a simple palate. Perhaps this was an advert for screwcap on lesser wines?

Our final (dry) Saviennieres was a extra bottle from another member. Into the ‘big name’ domaines with Coulee de Serrant. These now trade for £100, this 1986 was bought around 10 years ago for a bargain £10 a piece. There was some debate as to whether it was a faulty wine, I was definitely detecting some TCA on the nose. The palate did seem in a better place, very soft citrus fruit and quite fresh with still good acidity. Once of those bottles that you know is not quite right but you can’t put your finger on why.

Onto Vouvray and more stories, this time of Noel Pinguet from Huet visiting Nottingham 30/40 years ago to deliver a tasting at a local hotel! Our first Huet wine was from the Le Mont vineyard and was Sec, 1995. This was immediately evocative of ‘proper’ Loire Chenin and my favourite style. Age has softened it but it has that classic wet wool, honey, honeysuckle nose that really couldn’t be anything else. Whilst golden in the glass the acidity is still zippy with luscious cirtus fruits and a touch of sweet and sourness.

Huet, Clos du Bourg Sec, 1992 was dialed up a bit with a more intense and rich nose but perhaps a touch more advanced with some walnut creeping in. There was also a bruised apple note and discussion of malic acid being a touch too high here.

Our final wine of the domaine was Huet, Le Mont, Demi-Sec, 2002. The wine of the night for me. Fabulous balance and with only 18g of residual sugar as well as 20 years down the line it had shed its primary sweetness to reveal burnt orange and pineapple. Other members found some rum and raisin in there but I must confess I’ve never had rum and raisin in my life so I couldn’t tell you! As ever with great Loire Chenin all of this was packaged around a core of perfect acidity. The Huet wines have their fans among those in the know but have never fetched particularly high prices, these wines available at £30/40 or pick up some with 10-15 years age for £50.

Follow that you say. Well before the sweeter wines, and billed as some respite from CB a Filliatreau, Saumur Champigny, 2004. I found this Cab Franc pretty hard work and not too typical of a leaner style I might have expected. Quite a concentrated musky ruby colour it was quite ripe on the nose but dominated by an earthy beetroot character and a savoury note that continued onto the palate. A few people really enjoyed this but most would find it challenging I think.

Chateau de Suronde, Quarts de Chaume, 2004 took us firmly into sweet territory. The only Grand Cru in the Loire, given this status in 2011. Premium price too as the 2003 is available at £60 for a half bottle in the UK. The nose was disappointing, quite muted generic botrytis and a hint of glue as correctly noted by someone. The palate didn’t have the Chenin acidity I’d have hoped for although the concentration was very good and some nice complexity of spice and mulled notes on the finish. Perhaps expectations were too high but too often for me botrytis homogenises a wine.

Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Coteau du Layon, 1998 could not have been more different. The QdC was deep amber but this pale gold and incredibly light on its feet. Lovely pineapple nose, touch of floral honeysuckle and jasmine. It didn’t have the concentration of flavours as the previous wine but the freshness more than compensated and it was my favourite of the sweeter wines.

Domaine Rene Renou Bonnezeau Cuvee Anne, 1995. A treat to try and again in great shape with plenty of time left, as could be said for many of these wines. It was similar to the QdC but a little softer in all areas, as you might expect a further 10 years down the line. A combination of marmalade and nuttiness gave way to a balance that the QdC didn’t quite have. Perhaps a touch of peach iced tea creeping in too.

Finality a rarity, as if we hadn’t tried enough sough-after wines of age. Coulee de Serrant, Savennieres, Moelleux, 1995. To our understanding not a huge amount of sweet Moelleux wine is made by this Domaine but there are some recent releases at around £100 but for older vintages you’re probably looking at £150+ a bottle. Despite 12.5% it has a boozy Armagnac nose and was quite unlike any of the other wines. I really enjoyed a surprising bitter quinine finish but the consensus was that it was an ‘odd’ bottle, storage perhaps? Still more than enjoyable if not singing

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