Chenin Blanc: Soil Makes the Difference

3/1/17 -

Francois Pinon

It's no secret that we at Chambers Street Wines are big fans of the Loire Valley and the astounding range of expression its varied terroir gives Chenin Blanc. Within the lower Loire where Chenin is king, geology varies more than climate: granites, schists, quartzites, sandstones and  ancient, weathered limestones alternate along the valleys and divides of its eleven principal appellations. The chalk hills of the Paris Basin that dominate Touraine and Saumur unevenly give way to the weathered "old rock" of western Anjou and the Pays Nantais, called the Massif Amoricain. Such geologic multiplicity offers the intriguing possibility of tasting how the soil composition of each region influences the final expression of a single grape variety.

There is the Cretaceous chalk of Vouvray, giving Pinon's wines a shimmering ripeness of fruit that feels almost haunting alongside their bracing acidity. Montlouis, long known for outstanding whites, has gentle slopes with wind-blown sand mixed into the chalky soil - Jousset's wines from here offer a lively, lighter palate and addictive drinkability, while the brilliant 2015s of Francois Chidaine offer an intense and scintillating structure for possible long aging. Source du Ruault's single hectare from clay soils over Turuonian limestone shows a restrained side of the grape, highlighting the piercing clarity of pure fruit and cool minerality. Domaine de la Roche Bleue has long been impressing us with the sultry density of its Chenins, from clay and silex soils over limestone in Jasnieres and Coteaux de Loire. Domaine les Grandes Vignes in Anjou, on weathered schists rife with dark mineral nutrients, offers  fresh fruitiness and a range of texture among the cuvees. Fresche's everyday Anjou Blanc is a staff favorite as gulpable as it is affordable.

Although the best producers of Chenin Blanc in Anjou now focus on dry wines, the region was historically known as one of the great sources of sweet wines in France, especially from the cru appellations of Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux. We're happy to offer today the superb Bonnezeaux "le Malabé" from the Valliant family at Grandes Vignes - the only Bonnezeaux certified organic and Biodynamic!

Galileo once purportedly said that "wine is light captured in water", and I cannot help thinking he must have been referring to Chenin Blanc. Drinking it is a deeply pleasurable study in sensory contradictions - it is a grape that offers structure alongside freshness, textural density amidst soaring acidity, luminous fruit rooted by deep minerality - and its evolution in the glass is unfailingly generous. As our daylight hours ever so gradually lengthen, Chenin's luminous iterations may just be the perfect harbinger of spring. - Karina Mackow

[Credit to James E. Wilson's "Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines" for background information on the influence of Loire soil composition in this article]

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