Summer Wine Review Part 2: Two takes on Loire grapes
Marc Ollivier, he of the renowned Muscadets, steps into the rather overdone world of “animal” labels with his Vins de Pays “La Pépie.” (There’s a cartoon chicken, looking very drunk, on the front.) Still, unlike many of the conglomerates with their penguins and yellow tails and what have you, he’s a proven artisan, so we’ll cut him a considerable break. A darker color than I might have expected from a country Loire red, the nose is almost bubblegummy, to the point that I might initially have mistaken it for a Beaujolais. Light on the palate, with more of that cherry/ bubblegum flavor, there’s an impressive initial grip, and only the faintest hint of the bell peppers or pencil shavings or tobacco notes I’d expect from elsewhere in the Loire. But there’s depth to this that becomes apparent as the wine opens up, and it’s a cheerful little beast, too – so while not truly typical of Cabernet Franc, least not as I know it, there’s no question but that it’s an enjoyable, easy and rewarding summer wine. While the $13.50 price tag at Chamber Street Wines is perfectly reasonable given the quality, I hesitate to think how little it must cost at the cellar door.
I picked this up at Heights Chateau in Brooklyn at a Saturday afternoon tasting, totally intrigued by the prospect of a 100% Chenin Blanc from, of all places, the Languedoc. (Specifically, from the Limoux AOC, best known for its sparkling whites made predominantly from Marzac and Chardonnay.) Make no mistake, this is an entirely different animal than the dry, steely, age-worthy Chenins of the Loire (which reach their apotheosis in Vouvray and Savennieres). A solid yellow in the glass, this Chateau Rives-Blanques “Dédicace” 2008 emitted a tropical nose with plenty of mango, orange and peach floating around. Not a lot of acidity but a good full solid body. On the palate, a certain creamy buttery texture comes into play, suggesting the presence of oak fermentation and/or ageing. And guess what? Upon looking up the winery’s web site, I see that “AOC Limoux is the only white wine appellation in France requiring fermentation and maturation in oak barrels.” You learn something every day. Fair enough then, this is probably a fair representation of a still Chenin Blanc from Limoux – in fact, I gather that from a long time is was the only still Chenin Blanc from Limoux – but while it served its purpose once we got some food around it, I can’t say we fell in love with it the way Jancis Robinson (and others) have clearly done so. My problem is probably one of changing palates, in as much as I used to be easily impressed by this kind of bold, effusive wine. But these days, I’m looking for typicity. So if I want tropical fruit, I’ll take a good VDP Viognier from the south of France at the same price; if I want butter and oak, California has some perfectly good Chardonnays for only a couple of dollars more. And if I want a great Chenin Blanc, there are plenty places to find it in France… albeit in a markedly different style.