I gotta say that I really love Chenin Blanc. This is a grape that can do it all, in its own inimitable way, from its home in the Loire Valley (like this evening’s Vouvray), to South Africa (where it has been cultivated for long enough that it has acquired its own destinctively South African name – Steen) to the vineyards of Mendocino in California.
And when I say it can do it all, I’m not being glib. Still, dry wine? Check. Sparkling, dry wine? Yup. Semi-sweet? Yes. Full-blown sticky? Definitely. Botrytis nectar? With the best of them… And though I begin the list of Chenin’s accomplishments with a fully dry (“sec”) wine, sadly wines labelled thus are the hardest to score. Why? Well, this and all of the other screwy exceptions and extenuating circumstances regarding Vouvray can be chalked up to region’s long and varied traditions that are then extremely poorly reflected on the labels.
Working from dryest to sweetest, (still) Vouvray wines are produced in the authorized styles “sec” (or “sec-sec”), “sec tendres”, “Demi-sec”, “Moelleux”, and “Doux”. In my experience though, only the last two classifications are reliably found on most Vouvray labels. Of the three dryer permutations, the Demi-secs are the most often encountered (liter per liter, most of all), with the tendres next, and the truly, fully dry wines seen least often; unfortunately, any and all three of these sweetness actual levels are all seen labelled simply “Vouvray”, so the numbers are working against you in getting a fully dry one unless the label explicitly says “Sec”…
So in many cases, unless you have actually tasted this or that Vouvray in particular, you can’t ever be sure what sweetness level you’re getting. But like I said at the start, I love Chenin Blanc, and though I favor completely dry wines with most of what I eat, I can hang with any of the three dryer types with most savory foods because of Chenin’s honed acidity, and thick, funky core . My Jenny, not so much…just a little too much sweetness in any wine, and she’s leaving me at least one glass in the bottle, so with the word “Sec” printed clearly on this label, we shared and shared (and enjoyed) alike.
Chenin Blanc’s assertive wang, if you will, and inherent corpulence make it a good match for soups, even in the fully dry form, so I served a classic potato leek soup as the first course, and then poached some sea trout filets, and slathered them with an uncooked horseradish and herb cream dressing, accompanied by butter-braised carrots with its old buddy parsley.
Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Sec “Bel Air” 2009
Very bright and pale sparkling white gold color. Pungent nose of Bosc pear, soft cheese, bruised aromatic herbs, sawdust, apricot, roasted pine nuts, and a flinty minerality. The palate is immediately intense, with a notable viscosity and muscle. The texture is chewy, but shot through with a clean, tangy acidity revealing a cornucopia of flavors of intense citrus, candied fruit, white pepper, sweet corn, honeydew melon, pineapple, and a hint of rose water. The finish is warmly rich but still tart, with lingering flavors of vermouth and oyster crackers.