Wine Music : Vouvray

I think it is overdue for a new Wine Music post, and since I did a couple of recent posts on Chenin Blanc in general and Vouvray, in particular, I think I might as well complete my work and provide an appropriate musical match.

Let’s see, a song for Chenin Blanc has to be refreshing, to reflect the trademark acidity. It also needs to be at least a little sweet, to show that Chenin Blanc can be made in an off-dry style. I started my research with those guidelines in mind, and then, I found that there is an actual French band called Chenin Blanc,… The trouble is, well, it’s kind of a white supremacist, skinhead, hardcore punk band. You know people with shaven heads, bombers and baseball bats who like beer, fighting and not much else. I’m being quite literal here, their main song is called “Fight and Get drunk”. I guess they chose the band name because of the “Blanc” rather than the “Chenin” part.

I think pretty much everything about this band disqualifies them from being a good match. Now, I actually like punk music, I’m a big fan of the Clash, but I don’t think any wine can be expressed through a racist song. I don’t think I’ve seen a wine with a political agenda yet. So, back to searching for a Vouvray song then!

So, refreshing, sweet, spring-like… I think I have it! The song that goes with Vouvray is… Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

The sweetness is there, I’m a sucker for artists that express feelings through simple words. Metaphors are nice and all, but poetry is more touching when it feels real. The song is also refreshing, its part delivery of the lines, part melody and part pure gleeful singing of the chorus. Also, the name is Bubble Toes and Vouvray can be made as a bubbly, and yes, I’m aware I might be grasping at straws here.

Now, you may not agree with my choice, but I can tell you with certainty that it is still a better choice than a song, than any song, from the Chenin Blanc band…

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Greengages, it’s a Vouvray thing: Marc Bredif Vouvray AOC

Marc Bredif Vouvray Classic 2012

Region: Vouvray AOC, Loire Valley, France

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around $20

vouvray classic

Sometimes, things work out. Last Friday just a few hours after I had written a post on Chenin Blanc, I went to have dinner with some friends. As I took a look at the wine list, my eyes got caught on a bottle of Vouvray, probably the most famous Chenin Blanc AOC in France. I thought this was 1) a sign, and 2) a pretty damn good occasion to illustrate what I had just written about. Also, the bottle was pretty cheap for a restaurant, around $30 I believe. In short order, the bottle was ordered, opened and laid to rest in an ice bucket.

As I started to give some Chenin Blanc background to my (American) friends, I realized something. It would be difficult explaining Chenin Blanc without mentioning greengages given the fact that this is often the main aroma of the variety. I have never seen greengages in US grocery stores, even though they are pretty common in France. They’re a small, green variety of plum (called reine-claudes in French) so I had to give that bit of information. It was more useful than I thought since the wine turned out to be very greengagy indeed.

So, they look like this...

So, they look like this…

Eye: pale gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, stone fruits (greengages), citrus and flowers

Palate: Off-dry, high acidity, medium body, long finish (grapefruit)

Considering I drank this wine the evening after I wrote my Chenin post, I kind of went for a mental checklist while tasting it. Style? Off-dry. Acidity? Very high, mouthwatering even. Greengage aromas? Yes sir! On the nose, and on the palate both. It is a refreshing, medium body wine that checks off pretty much all characteristics of a Vouvray. The final is pretty long too and there are notes of grapefruit and white flowers to complement the greengage.

Food pairings: I had it with fried chicken. Given the high acidity of the wine any fatty dish would make for a good pairing. I think creamy cheese for instance would be a nice match.

Overall opinion: Good example of a classic off-dry Vouvray with a vibrant acidity for a reasonable price. I’d strongly recommend it if you want to get a good idea of what a French Chenin Blanc should taste like (or if you’re curious about the greengages thing)

So many puns, so little time

For the first time since starting this blog, I regret having decided to write in English. I like writing in English, I think it suits my style of writing and the way I think, but with today’s subject, it would have been a treat to write in French! See, I have a dirty secret, an addiction I can’t resist. I cannot stay away from a bad pun. It’s a disease, I can’t help it. Today I wanted to talk about Chenin, and this word is very close to the French word “chemin” (path, trail), tha possibilities where endless. But I write in English so you have managed to escape from “Tous les Chenins menent a Rome” or “Le petit Chenin qui sent la noisette” or even “Chacun sa route, chacun son Chenin”. God that would have been so great!

Chenin Blanc grapes

Chenin Blanc grapes

When it is not used for bad puns, Chenin Blanc is a white grape variety that, like many varieties, is originally from France but is now planted in many countries. The main characteristic of the variety is its high acidity. Because, or rather thanks to this acidity, Chenin Blanc can be a very versatile grape. It is actually versatile in two ways; first of all, it can grow in a wide variety of climates, from the cool Loire Valley in France to warmer climates like Australia. The climate and the soils will make for significant differences between Chenins from different regions.

The second aspect of this grape versatility is that it lends itself to a lot of different styles. Its high acidity can be used to enhance certain blends, but even in varietal wines the range of possibility is wide. Chenin can produce dry wines, off-dry wines and even sweet wines. It can be made into sparkling wine too. It lends itself well to noble rot, the use of lees or malolactic fermentations.  The same goes with use of wood. Chenin responds well to oak or even other woods but can also be made in a clean unoaked style. You can pretty much do whatever you want with Chenin in terms of styles and winemaking techniques. It should also be noted that this variety has a very long ageing potential, mostly due to, once again, its high acidity.  

Sparkling Vouvray

Sparkling Vouvray

Common aromas and flavors of Chenin depend on the style. Dry Chenins exhibit notes of reine-claude (greengage), pear, apple and honey. Off-dry or sweet styles can remind of peaches, marzipan or quince. And finally, Chenins from warmer climate have a lot more tropical fruit to them, like guava or pineapple.

The main region of production is the Central Loire Valley in France, a cool long river valley that flows into the Atlantic. Even within this region you can find a lot of different styles. The most famous AOC is Vouvray, near the city of Tours where Chenin Blanc is made into dry and sparkling wines during cool years and into off-dry or sweet wines in warmer years. Other Loire Valley AOCs for Chenin Blanc include Anjou (regional AOC), Montlouis (next to Vouvray), Savennieres (mostly dry), Coteaux du Layon (sweet).

Vines in Vouvray

Vines in Vouvray

The second home of Chenin Blanc is South Africa. There is twice as much Chenin Blanc planted in South Africa as there is in France; it is actually the most planted grape in South Africa where it is called Steen. South African Steen tends to favor an off-dry style with more tropical flavors than French Chenins. The main production area is Stellenbosch near the Cape.

So, to recap : versatile in climate and style, high acidity, Loire Valley and South Africa, good for making bad puns in French. Yep, we have Chenin Blanc covered!