Tag Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

A Loire Newcomer

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chateau-chenonceau

Chenonceau – one of the most familiar and frequently photographed of the Châteaux of France’s Loire Valley.  But, apart from it being a wonderful sight, why is it heading my Bristol Wine Blog?  The reason: Chenonceau has joined the hundreds of other villages all over France entitled to claim Appellation Contrôlée (or Appellation Protégée as it is now officially known).

So, why does this matter?  Previously, wines from here were lumped under AC Touraine, which covers the whole of the wider area and includes some good and some not-so-good examples.  By breaking out of this general designation, the producers of Chenonceau (and there aren’t many!) hope to gain a real reputation for quality.

And, if the first example I’ve tasted from the new AC is anything to judge by, then Chenonceau will be a name to remember.  The Domaine de la Renne Chenonceau Sauvignon Blanc (£13.50) was the stand-out wine from a Bristol Tasting Circle evening of Loire wines hosted by a relatively new firm, Joie de Vin (Joiedevin.co.uk).   The owners, Tim and Jill North, specialise in sourcing good quality and good value wines from small producers in the Loire and the Languedoc-Roussillon.

chenonceaux

The Renne Chenonceau is beautifully balanced and with all the character of a good Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé but with, perhaps, a little more weight and richness resulting, in part, from 3 years maturation on the lees.  That may sound an extraordinary length of time – it does to me – yet the wine – from the 2013 vintage – still tastes young and fresh and, unlike many Sauvignons, looks to have several years of good drinking ahead of it.

 

Apart from this wine, the other tip I took away from this tasting was that Muscadet is back.  For so long, a source of dull, tart wines best avoided, I have begun to notice some improvements recently, a view confirmed by a couple of examples from Joie de Vin’s portfolio. 

So, 2 areas to look out for – and a supplier to watch, too!

Another Sauvignon

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We’re all familiar with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, but there are a number of other grape varieties with the word ‘Sauvignon’, or something very similar, in their names:

Savagnin, for example, is native to the Jura in eastern France and is used for the strange, sherry-like Vin Jaune – about as far from a Sauvignon Blanc as you can find.  For something rather closer in style, look to Sauvignonasse (also known as Sauvignon Vert and, in Italy, as Friulano).  This used to be grown widely in Bordeaux but, today, you’re more likely to come across it in Chile or Argentina.  Easily confused with Sauvignon Blanc in the vineyard, it rarely has as much aromatic character when vinified and often becomes quite flabby with high levels of alcohol.  Watch out for bottles labelled simply ‘Sauvignon’ without the word ‘Blanc’ following, particularly cheaper examples; they usually signify, at best, a blend of the two varieties and hardly ever make exciting drinking.

Surprisingly, despite the similar name and appearance, Sauvignonasse is not thought to be related to Sauvignon Blanc, but there is an interesting and most under-rated variety that certainly is: Sauvignon Gris.  Also known as Sauvignon Rose due to its distinctive pink-coloured skin, it’s originally from France (Bordeaux and the Loire) but has found its way (in small quantities) to South America and New Zealand where it is made into some highly drinkable wines.

Chile Sauv GrisOne of my favourite examples is from Leyda’s Kadun vineyard in Chile (Great Western Wine, £11.95).  This is to the south of the capital, Valparaiso, and planted in the 1990s just 12km (8 miles) from the coast to take advantage of the cooling ocean breezes.  These are ideal conditions for aromatic varieties like Sauvignon Gris (there’s plenty of Blanc planted there, too) and this wine is wonderfully crisp and intense with delicious pink grapefruit flavours and a long spicy finish.  Yes, there’s some similarity to Sauvignon Blanc, but this is distinctive enough to have both on your wine rack.

A ‘Wild’ Sauvignon

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Before I start this Bristol Wine Blog, I’d like to offer support and sympathy to the people of Nice and those affected by the terrible events of Thursday night.  Nice is a lovely city with kind, generous and hospitable people.  It is somewhere that we will certainly return to.

On a happier note, the members of the Bristol Tasting Circle are a pretty knowledgeable bunch so the wines for our ‘bring your own’ annual dinner are always interesting – how often have you tasted a sweet wine from Uzbekistan, for example?

My wife and I, rather than bringing 2 bottles, chose to take along a single wine to the same total value.  Fortunately, we share the philosophy of ‘drink less, drink better’ and a budget of £25 brought all kinds of wonderful wines into range – the sort we just wouldn’t consider for everyday drinking.  We were asked for a white to go with starter or main course, so what did we choose? 

A potentially tricky problem was solved when my wife noticed a New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc lurking on the bottom shelf at Corks of Cotham.  But, ‘you can buy a Marlborough Sauvignon for £7.99’ I hear you say, so this had to be something truly special – and it was!  Kevin Judd was formerly the winemaker at the iconic Cloudy Bay estate before he left to make wines under his own name and his Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon (£25) is one of his top offerings.

Greywacke Sauv Bl

‘Wild Ferment’ means that only indigenous yeasts – those naturally occurring in the winery -are used and the juice is allowed to ferment spontaneously; this is far less predictable than using cultured or introduced yeast, but, at its best, is capable of producing wines of remarkable depth and character.  In addition, Judd uses old oak barrels for the fermentation rather than the temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks seen virtually everywhere else in Marlborough.  A little risky but Judd’s view seems to be ‘let the wine be as it will be’ and, judging by the bottle we opened, it’s a view that works exceptionally well.

Not that you’d immediately say ‘Marlborough Sauvignon’ on first taste; yes, there’s the Sauvignon crispness there but, in place of the tropical fruits you might expect, a quite subtle rich, savouriness comes through – perhaps the closest match I could suggest is a Grand Cru Chablis.  A tremendous wine, a little individual in style, but just the sort to please real enthusiasts and a great match for all kinds of dishes.

Rotten Grapes make Great Wine!

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Ask a wine lover to name a sweet wine and chances are the reply will be ‘Sauternes’. This golden nectar is made from a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes (with occasionally a little Muscadelle as well) in a tiny area 6 miles long by barely 4 miles wide a short drive south of Bordeaux. Both the location and the grape varieties are vital to making Sauternes the wine it is.

Sauvignon Blanc is a naturally high acid variety and so adds refreshing ‘lift’ to the wine which, without it, could be dull and cloying. But it’s the Semillon that holds the real key. It is a very thin-skinned variety and, as such, is very susceptible to rot. Rot is normally an enemy to winemakers, introducing off flavours into wine, but in certain circumstances, a particular type of rot becomes a friend. And in the warm, damp, humid conditions often occurring during a Bordeaux autumn, this so-called ‘noble’ rot (or botrytis) can be found most years.

Botrytis works in a strange way. It attacks the berries and makes dozens of pin-prick holes in them. Add a little sunshine and, as the grapes are warmed, the moisture inside them starts to evaporate through the holes, concentrating the sweetness in the berries so that, when they’re picked and sent to the winery for fermentation, the yeast struggles to cope with all the sugar. It converts some to alcohol, but plenty remains to give a wonderful, luscious sweet wine.

Sauternes Ch FilhotThe most famous name of Sauternes, Château d’Yquem, sells for hundreds of £s a bottle, but the Château Filhot (pictured) is a remarkably good, elegant and affordable alternative, available quite widely including from Grape and Grind of Bristol for £12.99 a half bottle. Enjoy with desserts, of course (tarte tatin is a great match), but also with some blue cheese – Roquefort would be the traditional choice, but St Agur or the creaminess of a Dolcelatte would go well too.

Sancerre Style, not Sancerre prices

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ReuillySancerre and Pouilly Fumé, the twin towns of the eastern Loire, turn out some lovely wines. But, because they are famous names and always in demand, the best tend to be expensive (you can easily pay £15 – £20 or even more). And, if you go for some of the cheaper examples found in supermarkets instead, they can be quite disappointing. So, how do you get the lovely, racy, pungent flavours of a good Loire Sauvignon Blanc without paying these sorts of prices?

Look at a map of the area and, just to the west of Sancerre, you’ll see Menetou-Salon; a little further west and you come to Quincy and Reuilly. All three of these villages also produce Sauvignon Blanc in much the same style as Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, yet, as they are not nearly as widely known, prices – comparing wines of similar quality, of course – are far more reasonable.

Take Denis Jamain’s Les Pierres Plates Reuilly, for example. We opened a bottle recently and it went beautifully with some grilled sardines. It was absolutely textbook Loire Sauvignon with wonderful clean, fresh, gooseberry and green pepper flavours. Only a real expert could confidently say this wasn’t a high quality Sancerre. But, when you check the price, you’ll notice the difference: £11.50 from The Wine Society. And, in case you want to try value alternatives from the other two villages I mentioned, Wine Society also have Domaine Pellé’s Menetou-Salon (£11.95) and Majestic are offering Jean-Charles Borgnat’s Quincy (£11.49). Both recommended.

If you’re searching for reliable Loire Sauvignon even cheaper still, you may need to choose carefully, but I’d suggest you look even further west, over the border into Touraine, the region surrounding the town of Tours. At their best, wines labelled Sauvignon de Touraine can give you much of the same style and freshness as a modest Sancerre, but, production here is quite large and quality can be a bit variable, which is why I say you need to be selective. Above all, avoid Loire Sauvignon at bargain basement prices (which, these days, means below about £6) as cheap examples are often dominated by tart acidity with very little fruit – very unpleasant!

And finding bargains by seeking alternatives to famous names doesn’t stop on the Loire. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pouilly Fuissé and many others have their value alternatives. But that’s a Bristol Wine Blog for another day. In the meantime, just look around.