Let me start by wishing you all a Happy and Peaceful 2018 and hope that the natural disasters that afflicted many in the wine world last year won’t be repeated.
As you might expect, my wife and I enjoyed some nice wines over the holiday period, but one white was a particular surprise (a pleasant one, I should add). It came from the cool Loire region in northern France and I assumed, for that reason, it would be crisp, fresh and citrusy. But Château de Fesles’ old vine Chenin Blanc ‘La Chapelle’ from Anjou (Majestic, £11.99) didn’t fit the pattern at all.
At 14% alcohol, it’s a big chunky mouthful. And then there’s the fruit character: not the green apples and citrus of a northern climate but ripe pineapple and mango with a touch of orange at first and all wrapped up in tangy, spicy oak.
So what’s going on? Part of the answer lies in the words on the label: ‘Vieilles Vignes’ (old vines), in this case mainly over 50 years. As vines age, their root system expands and so they can pick up more moisture and nutrients from the soil. At the same time, they tend to produce fewer bunches so all this extra goodness is concentrated into fewer grapes. The result is more intense flavour which shows through on the finished wine.
But it’s not just that. Often, grapes struggle to ripen in the cool Loire climate. At Fesles, they hand-harvest very carefully choosing only the best and ripest grapes. This may cut down on the amount of wine they make, but it ensures the quality. They are also moving towards organic methods which the owners believe will further improve the wine.
In the winery, fermentation is in oak barrels followed by 6 months on the lees. Interestingly, Fesles prefer 400 litre barrels to the more common 225 litre and shun new oak arguing that the use of larger barrels and older wood gives a more subtle oak character.
All this comes together to make a very classy full, rich white and a real bargain at the price. Drink it with flavoursome white meat or poultry dishes and you, too, may be pleasantly surprised.