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Although there is great Chenin Blanc produced throughout Anjou as well as on the limestones of Saumur, Chinon, Vouvray and Montlouis, the classic and historic home of Chenin in France continues to be on the schistous soils of Savennières, on the right bank of the Loire southwest of Angers. And while the region's styles and fortunes have changed over the centuries, there is no doubt that the four producers featured today are making some of the world's great white wines, that belong in your cellar and on your table!
Vines in the region date back to Roman times but it was monks from Angers who planted the first serious vineyards at Savennières. "Among the first to do so were those from the Abbaye de Saint-Nicolas, who planted vines close to the Loire at La Roche-aux-Moines (which translates as the monks’ rock) in 1130." The wines were much enjoyed by the French and English nobility and even "commoners" were permitted to plant vines and build manor houses in the 15th century, leading to a long period of popularity for the regions sweet wines. Two hundred years of decline followed until new investment from Paris and abroad brought new vineyards and new chateaux - those that have survived being Domaine aux Moines (Tessa Laroche), Château de la Roche aux Moines (Nicolas and Virginie Joly), Château des Vaults (Evelyne de Jessey Pontbriand) and Château d’Epiré (the Bizard family).
Change began in 1952 with the creation of the Savennières AOC and the two crus, "La Roche-aux-Moines" and the "Clos de la Coulee de Serrant" - however the style of white wine produced, as in all of Anjou, was sweet, and decline continued until only 50 hectares remained in production in the 1970s. What followed was a period of change and adaptation, highly influenced by the Domaine du Closel, with a gradual shift to dry wines. By the time I encountered the wines of Savennieres in the 1980s, dry wines were more the norm, but often harvested early and loaded with SO2 and somewhat undrinkable until 10 years of age or more. At a tasting at Domaine du Closel in 2010 (?) featuring every vintage going back to 1959, my favorites were 1967 (!) and the sensational1996 Clos du Papillon. Happily, over the last 30 years, the estates featured today have brought these great terroirs into focus with brilliant results. Of course great wine starts with great farming, and the top estates in Savennières are all practicing organic and/or Biodynamic agriculture with living soils bringing health and vigor to the vines.
Regarding geology: "the appellation is located at the transition point from the soft limestones of L’Anjou Blanc to the harder schists of L’Anjou Noir. The bedrock is predominantly schist, the town of Savennières itself located on the schist and schist-gréseux of the Unite de Saint-Georges, but there are numerous complicating geological features though, including seams of spilite and rhyolite, along with sandstone and quartz." - for fascinating and beautifully detailed reports on the geology, vineyards, wines and winemakers of Savennières (and the entire Loire Valley!) we urge you to visit thewinedoctor.com - a subscription is highly recommended!
Since taking over the estate from her mother in 2001, Evelyne de Pontbriand has taken the Domaine du Closel in Savennières to the highest level, and now produces some of the worlds' finest Chenin Blancs. Evelyne converted the estate to organic farming, certified in 2006, and to Biodynamic agriculture, certified in 2015. In 2019, a great vintage for the Loire Valley, the domain's top cuvée, the "Clos du Papillon," is particualrly outstanding. Vinified dry, the wine shows extraordinary concentration and depth combined with great minerality and acidity - although it is superb now, the wine should drink beautifully over the next 20 to 30 years. A bit softer and more forward, the 2018 "La Jalousie" is outstanding as well, showing an exuberant nose with aromas of lime zest, white flowers and herbaceousness, while the palate offers flavors of zesty lime and bright pear with a crunchy minerality underpinning it's medium body and lively acidity.
Domaine aux Moines is now solely operated by the very talented Tessa Laroche, tended organically, and now with biodynamic practices as well, farming under 10 hectares of Chenin Blanc. The vineyards stand next to the famed 'Coulée de Serrant' on South-West facing hillsides of predominately schist soils. Since her arrival Tessa has been improving every detail to be able to make more precise, transparent, complex wines. The results are spectacular and she is now one of the best examples of Roche-aux-Moines, and of course also Savennières. Today the wines are now exemplars of what the appellation can and should be, and this domaine is arguably the appellation leader, a position Tessa claimed after just a few vintages at the helm.
"Damien Laureau is one of four or five vignerons who today define what the Savennieres and Savennieres-Roche aux Moines appellations are capable of. He has long been a leader, in terms of the sheer quality of his wine, in both appellations. Today he is joined at the top of the tree by a number of his peers, including Tessa Laroche of Domaine aux Moines and Eric Morgat. His work in the vineyard has long been organic, although it is only recently that he has sought official certification of his practices. He has oats, clover and other greenery planted between the rows, feeling that this benefits the soil, bringing life and breaking up the soil structure, and when the soil is worked over the oats act as a natural fertiliser." He is careful not to pick too late as he wants to avoid a high level of botrytis in the harvest. As a result, the wines are a beautiful balance of richness, concentration, lively acidity, and length. Damien's "Bel Ouvrage" is made from a blend of three terroirs located in eastern part of Savennières near the village of Épiré. These are grey schist and rhyolite terroirs, including one that is adjacent to the Coulée de Serrant. More backward and slow to evolve, Bel Ouvrage is aged for 12 months in neutral French oak then 11 months in tank before bottling.
Eric Morgat is today recognised as one of the leading vignerons in the Savennières appellation, although like the similarly talented Damien Laureau Eric started with close to nothing, and this recognition has been hard-won. "Coming from a family that has been cultivating the terroirs of Anjou for more than two centuries, in 1995 I created my own estate in the heart of the Savennières appellation. I was 25 years old. This allowed me to reconcile my thirst for adventure and novelty while remaining attached to my land and Angevin roots. The vineyard was entirely created by buying wasteland or abandoned plots. I have thus selected the best terroirs, certainly difficult to work, but all carrying great promise. Today I cultivate 6 hectares entirely planted with Chenin." The Fidès cuvée is fermented not in barrel but in fibreglass cuve, the wine then going into barrel, coming back out into fibreglass after 12 months. Although the time in barrel has not changed, the barrels are smaller but older, so the new oak influence has been severely curtailed. The malolactic is no longer encouraged. Combine all these features into one and the new Morgat style is much more tense and minerally from the outset." winedoctor
These beautiful wines will arrive by Friday, January 5th, please allow a few extra days for pick-up/shipping
"The 2019 Fidès is a pure, richly concentrated Chenin Blanc with huge power and attractive bitterness. A frost-affected crop, the low yields have packed a lot of interest in this mid-weight package with a firm line of acidity driving through the core. In this vintage, the pH is low, and there was no malolactic conversion, adding to that sense of power and direction. The long finish is almost salty. If I were going to be punched in the face, this is the way I would want it to be done, but you might want to wait for it to calm down." — Rebecca Gibb, Vinous
100% Chenin Blanc. La Jalousie is a blend of several parcels of younger vines planted in schistous soils on gentle hills. Like the rest of the Closel vines, they are biodynamically farmed, low-yielding and harvested by hand. They are the first of the estate to be harvested, when the grapes are pale yellow, crisp and totally healthy. The bunches are direct-pressed, then fermented with native yeasts and a small amount of sulfur in tank. The wine is tank-aged on its lees, without any exposure to air, for 9 months before bottling. Normally, Jalousie doesn't go through malo but in the warm 2018 vintage, it did so. Jalousie is intended to be a modern rendition of Savennières: approachable and fresh in its youth, as a result of not being over-ripened, botrytis-influenced or long- or wood-aged. An exuberant nose with aromas of lime zest, white flowers and herbaceousness. The palate offers flavors of zesty lime and bright pear with a crunchy minerality underpinning it's medium body and lively acidity. Lithe and lovely! Giselle Hamburg
Domaine aux Moines is operated by an incredible mother/daughter (Monique & Tessa Laroche) team organically, and now with biodynamic practices as well, farming under 10 hectares of Chenin Blanc. The vineyards stand next to the famed 'Coulée de Serrant' on South-West facing hillsides of predominately schist soils. Since her arrival Tessa has been improving every detail to be able to make more precise, transparent, complex wines. The results are spectacular and she is now one of the best examples of Roche-aux-Moines, and of course also Savennières. The 2020 is a superb Chenin Blanc showing elegant aromas of pear and quince with limeflower and citrus, quite complex and pretty. The superb shist terroir of "Roche aux Moines" is fully captured in this wine which has fabulous depth of white fruit and mineral flavors with very firm acidity and citrus, anise and stone in the long finish. Wonderful now with a full-flavored fish dish, this wine will cellar beatifully for twenty years and more.
"The Clos du Papillon is a small valley at mid slope, beautifully exposed southwest to the light of the Loire. There are schist, rhyolite but also quartz. The topsoil layer is very shallow (60 cm) which provides excellent drainage for rainwater. The vine growing conditions are difficult, forcing it to develop its roots deep in the rock cracks to draw nutrients. The climate in that parcel allows for a level of highly advanced maturity, with grapes that concentrate aromas under the action of botrytis. The body and the very long finish make the Clos du Papillon a gastronomic wine to accompany lobster, scallops, smoked fish, Turbots, Saint Peter. It is also interesting with delicate white meats such as veal or capon, along with truffles or mushrooms. Classic mountain cheeses like old Salers, or 5 to 6 years old Comté are equally delicious with this great Savennières." - Domaine du Closel. "This is perhaps one of the appellation’s best-known vineyards, outside of those blessed with cru status of course, The soils are composed of schist and quartz, while the vines are of four different ages, both young and old. The élevage featured 18 months in barrel. The nose of the 2019 is fragrant and minerally, loaded with schisty minerals, citrus fruits, honeysuckle and elderflower. It still feels gloriously young. The palate is fresh and pure, with grip, energy, acidity, and a fine sense of balance. While this cuvée naturally ages well, I think I could drink this now. Top work." thewinedoctor.com
The grapes in Les Caillardières are harvested later ; the berries are golden, producing wines with aromas of baked apple, exotic fruits, raisins and toasted almonds. That terroir gives the wine a very silky texture, characteristic of these sandstone schist parcels. This wine is vinified and aged in barrels and reveals through natural micro-oxygenation this slightly bitter aftertaste that will give an interesting body to the wine. "The 2019 Les Caillardières is like a piece of beef cheek that needs softening up in the slow cooker; this is almost chewy. The 2019 is young and needs time in bottle to gain its mellow character. There's masses of concentration here in a medium bodied package with buckets of structure, line and length. A very impressive style, showing both variety and texture." Vinous
(Tasted in Feb 2016) "This has been one year in barrique, then ten months in cuve, then it was bottled. A beautiful definition to it, wonderfully polished yellow plum substance, with a broad texture, and piles of grip. Quite pure, defined, but with very expressive fruit, precise, minerally and bright. It culminates in a long and grippy finish. This is very impressive. Fine potential here." thewinedoctor.com