The wild Loire river runs from the Atlantic ocean deep into France's center, and there is beautiful, diverse, and historically under-appreciated wine throughout its entire length. But the middle section, from Angers to the city of Tours, is where Chenin Blanc rules. A varietal with a real talent for expressing the land, it sucks up available minerals and gives wines of generosity or austerity depending on the soil and locationnot to mention the personality of the winemaker.
Exposed limestone cliffs are a singular feature of this part of the Loire, and walking past one of their many caves you can feel a blast of cold air even during summer. The cliffs are a natural wine fridge and were used to hide precious vintages during World War II. Soil compositions vary, but the grape's defining feature is a racy backbone of acidity that holds even the riper, plumper styles together and pairs well with food.
From the intense wines of Savennières in the west, through the simpler Anjou appellation that also gives us decadent sweet wines, to the honeyed bottlings of the Vouvray and Montlouis regions and the diverse expanse of the Touraine province in the east, there is maybe no better example in the world of the range of one grape. We're trying to keep the bottle price under $40 here, and there is still so much value in the Loire (despite the recent tariffs on many European wines).
If you want to try something really crazy, seek out Clos de la Coulée Serrant. Every vintage is different, and many are an event. For pure class, look for Domaine Huet with their three distinct vineyards and varying levels of sweetness. You might cry at the beauty.
2018 Les Terres Blanches Les 3 Poiriers
By Matt Penman
About the Wine
Ah the Chenins of the Loire, one of the great wines of the world in my humble opinion. I spent a week biking shakily from winery to winery in 2009 after a tour in France, and was blown away by the range of the wines and the commitment of the winemakers, and have spent the last 12 years seeking out more and more of them. On the nose this is classic Anjou Blanc; honey, wild flowers and pear, and on the palate you have a lively dancing yet focused wine, with a touch of bitter grassy notes and just the right amount of oiliness to round out the mouth feel. Pretty proud of my pairing, as we drank it with a lemony pasta of white asparagus and corn, with the wine loving the grana padano cheese sliced on top... this wine also has incredible length, and towards the end of the bottle, (as it approached room temperature) I noticed more smokey and stoney flavors. My only criticism would be the slightly "hot" alcohol presence that tended to jump out from the overall structure. Regardless, I will definitely seek out more bottlings from this husband and wife team who have been working their land in the village of Oiron with as little intervention as possible since 2004. This is beautiful wine respectfully chaperoned from the soil to your glass.
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
Importer: Fruits of the Vine
What I'm Listening to Now Antonio Carlos Jobim: Urubu (Warner Bros, 1976)
2018 Le Rouchefer Anjou Blanc
By Baptiste Trotignon
About the Wine
In this quiet region of France which I have a specific connection (grew up nearby), a few miles under Angers, René Mosse (with his wife Agnes) settled in this vineyard of 40 year old grapes in 1999 to develop their vision of a biodynamic culture of wine. Their two sons Sylvestre and Joseph have taken over, but the boss René (that I was lucky to meet on the spot recently and who is by the way a deep jazz lover!) is always around.
His cuvée "Le rouchefer" is typical of this grape, which is still better after a few years. The nose invites you to a delicious feeling, very supple but with this "earth smell" that I love. When you drink it it has this perfect balance between a light acidity (much less than his brothers from Muscadet area) but with something fatty that fulfills you and makes you feel good! It's not a sweet wine (like Coteaux du Layon) but has a brilliant balance between sweetness and dryness typical of many natural white wines. Enjoy!
Region: Anjou, France
Importer: Domaine Mosse
What I'm Listening to Now Egberto Gismonti: Árvore (ECM Records, 1991)
2018 Nicolas Joly Les Vieux Clos
By Kristin Korb
Bass & Vocals
About the Wine
Winemaker Nicolas Joly says, "Before tasting good, a wine must be truly genuine." This applies not only to wine, but to great jazz musicians as well. Sometimes, it takes a while before we really understand and appreciate the uniqueness of a particular artist. For me, this was Betty Carter. I dig her now, but I didn't when I heard her the first time. I had to keep revisiting her music to open my ears and allow her music to resonate within me.
I feel the same way about the 2018 Les Vieux Clos from Nicolas Joly. I had to revisit this wine a second time, but I'm so glad I did. This golden, honey-hued gem is made from late harvest grapes, but it is no dessert wine. It is a round, intense nectar with tropical undertones and an acidic bright finish. It also clocks in at 15% alcohol, so it demands your attention.
Decant this baby so you can savor all it has to offer. The finish lingers on the tongue like a great song lingers in your ears after an amazing performance. Buy several bottles and revisit it over time.
Region: Savennières, Loire, France
Varietal: 100% Chenin Blanc
What I'm Listening to Now Betty Carter: Feed the Fire (Verve, 1994)
2017 Deboutbertin Achillée
By Jochen Rueckert
About the Wine
I spent the first 3/4 of my life thinking white wine was for people with tight pants and/or Apple-product-consumers only; just recently, waves of orange wine eroded my disinclination towards whites not quite to the point of an embracebut a tepid bro-hug of sorts, no pun intended. This not-too-spendy Chenin Blanc, a strong suggestion to write this review though stealthily disguised as a gift for my 46th birthday, boasts notes of apple, pear, serious stank, and hints of did-I-open-a-bottle-of-cidre-by-mistake (possibly a term not officially in the wine nomenclature). A young couple and two horses produced this bottle in Anjouthe western edge of the Loire Valley; I drink a lot of wines from there but have no idea where exactly that is, really. Google tells me I have played in the area with my quartet and now I remember the 6 am TGV. Pretty light and a little sweet, this wine is unusual even for experienced natural wine drinkers; I was pleasantly surprised in the beginning and maybe a little over it at the bottle's end, so I'd recommend enjoying this with a friend.
Varietal: Chenin blanc
Importer: Fruit of the Vines
What I'm Listening to Now Crazy Homeless People: Screaming Outside My First Floor Window (In Harlem, 2021)
NV Les Vignes Herbel La Pointe
By Damion Reid
About the Wine
Chenin Blanc is one of my favorite white grape varieties because it transports me to a time when I first fell in love with natural wine. Nadege Lelandais is one of those winemakers from the Loire Valley in France that has been creating beautiful wines with extreme care since her start in 2005. She grows Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc on a triangular vineyard called "La Pointe" practicing organic and biodynamic methods. Being amongst winemaker royalty in the Loire Valley, she has managed to carve out her own space in the region, allowing her wines to coexist in a unique space for connoisseurs.
"La Pointe" is a multi-vintage blend of Chenin Blanc from years 2016 and 2017 with no added sulfur. Chenin Blanc wines from Herbel generally have citrus notes and are full bodied. This unique blend of two vintages transcends those tasting notes, while maintaining a familiar Herbel character with a dry finish. The dryness of this wine is met with a more complex mineral and stone subtly that makes this cuvee more easy to consume than anticipated. A wine that will keep Chenin Blanc lovers wanting to explore this wine, as it transforms over a day if allowed. La Pointe is a worthwhile journey that won't disappoint accompanying food or consumed just by the glass.
Region: Loire Valley
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
Importer: FiFi and Steven Graf
What I'm Listening to Now Greg Osby: Art Forum (Blue Note, 1996)