Monday, February 11, 2008

François Chidaine, Montlouis-sur-Loire

François Chidaine is one of my favorite winemakers in the world. There are times when I can imagine drinking only his wines for the rest of my life. But then I suppose I need Champagne.

I managed to taste the 2007 barrel samples twice in the past week: once at the Salon and once at the estate. Many of them are still in fermentation, but it promises to be an excellent collection for Chidaine, more consistent and higher in acidity than the tricky 2006 vintage (although I like his ’06s very much, especially the Clos du Breuil, Clos Baudoin and Le Bouchet) and more classically balanced than the rich, ripe 2005s (as magnificent as those are).

Sometimes people get confused by the large array of wines, especially as Chidaine doesn’t use the designations of sec and demi-sec on the labels. However, they are actually quite consistent in character from year to year, so it’s easy to keep track of them. Here is a breakdown of Chidaine’s portfolio of wines, in the order that he generally prefers to serve them.

Vouvray Brut Pétillant non-dosé
Chidaine makes this wine by stopping the primary fermentation at 14 g/l of sugar, then bottling it with a little added yeast and fermenting it to dryness to produce a light sparkle. It’s usually a little lighter in body than the Montlouis Brut, with a strongly chalky intensity.

Montlouis Brut non-dosé
Chidaine picks his grapes for sparkling wine at about 11.5 to 12.5 degrees of potential alcohol. Like the Vouvray, he makes this wine by arresting the primary fermentation, but here it’s between 17 and 18 g/l of residual sugar, creating a slightly stronger mousse. It’s a dry, austere, intensely soil-expressive wine that never fails to excite me.

Montlouis Les Bournais
Les Bournais is a newly planted site overlooking the Loire river. It had been abandoned for some time, but Chidaine believes that this is one of the very best sites in Montlouis, and planted vines here in 1999. Unlike most of Montlouis, which is on clay and silex, or flint, Bournais lies on clay and limestone, and the name Bournais refers to the particular type of limestone found here. Chidaine’s goal is to vinify this dry, barring the occasional aberration such as 2005, and the result is a rich, full-bodied wine, probably the closest to Vouvray in profile of all Chidaine’s Montlouis wines.

Montlouis Clos du Breuil
Chidaine’s holdings here include several plots spread over 3.5 hectares, each varying slightly on a typical Montlouis theme of clay and silex over chalk. The vines average about 40 years of age, although the oldest ones are 80 years old, and this is always made as a dry wine (normally 2-4 g/l of sugar). It’s racy and extremely minerally, one of the classiest dry chenins of the area.

Montlouis Les Choisilles
Les Choisilles is a cuvée, usually blended from old vines in the vineyards of Les Epinais, La Taille aux Loups and Clos au Renard. It’s named after a type of black flint called (you guessed it) choisille, which you can see in Chidaine’s left hand in this photo (in his right hand is a different type of flint, called pierre à fusil). Les Choisilles is a concentrated, powerful dry wine that often needs several years to develop.

Vouvray Les Argiles
This is a blend of various plots surrounding the Clos Baudoin, including L’Espagnole, Le Haut Lieu, La Chatterie, L’Homme and La Reugnières. The clay here is deeper than in the Clos, giving a broad, rich girth to the wine. Chidaine vinifies this dry, usually around 4 g/l of residual sugar.

Vouvray Clos Baudoin
The 2.7-hectare Clos Baudoin is one of Vouvray’s legendary sites. It had previously belonged to the Prince Poniatowski, but Chidaine had rented the vines since 2002, and has owned the plot outright since the end of 2006. There are vines up to 60 years old here, but unfortunately the entire vineyard will have to be replanted due to a virus in the soil, and Chidaine has already pulled up one hectare of vines. The small amount of wine that he does make from the rest of the Clos Baudoin is sleek and fine, with noticeably more complexity and dimension than his other Vouvrays. It’s always a dry wine, as he thinks this vineyard excels at classic Vouvray sec.

Montlouis Clos Habert
The Clos Habert lies adjacent to the Clos du Breuil, on clay and a type of silex called perruches. Part of the vineyard is about 25 years old, with the rest 60-80 years old, and Chidaine uses these vines to make a tendre style of Montlouis with a lovely balance and minerality, usually around 20 g/l of residual sugar.

Montlouis Les Tuffeaux
Les Tuffeaux is a cuvée blended from 30- to 70-year old vines from various vineyards on clay and silex, including the Clos du Volagray and Saint-Martin. Like the Clos Habert, this is intended to be around 15-20 g/l of residual sugar, but it’s usually slightly richer and larger in body.

Fifty-year old vines in the Clos du Volagray

Vouvray Le Bouchet
Le Bouchet is a vineyard adjacent to the Clos Baudoin, on the same clay and chalk terroir as its other neighbor, the Clos du Bourg of Domaine Huet (in fact, the Clos du Bourg was supposedly a part of Le Bouchet many years ago). Of Chidaine’s two hectares here, half of the vines are young, with the rest 70-80 years old. The resulting wine is a rich, dense and voluptuously textured demi-sec, and Chidaine notes that aromas of white truffle and iodine are typical of Le Bouchet.


Steve Lanum said...

Thanks--this is the best description I've seen of the distinctions between these wines and their vineyards.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks, Steve. I know, the whole array of Chidaine can get quite confusing. But it's all worth the trouble.

alRON said...

Great article, thanks!

David McDuff said...

Great notes, Peter. It's interesting to me to see how they line up with my notes and impressions from my visit with Chidaine, both in Montlouis and Vouvray, back in 2004.


Ed Mills said...

Peter - hi - have just returned from Touraine region and bought a couple of wines from Chidaine's cave in Montlouis - only had a couple of minutes to choose (as rushing off to a wedding)...could you advise on when the 2006 Les Choisilles and 2005 Moelleux will be drinking (looks as if I should have taken my time and taken some of the other bottles on offer)...btw - thanks for the very helpful notes provided!

Peter Liem said...

2006 Choisilles is tasting good now. It will continue to develop, but in general I think it's good in the short- to mid-term. 2005 Moelleux, on the other hand, is one for the ages. It ought to live forever.

Anonymous said...

Sitting here in Berkeley with a just opened bottle of the Montlouis Brut, and stumbled on your blog while doing a search about Chidaine's wines. Thank you, Peter. What a precise, chrystal clear, intelligent, lean but and expressive appraisal of this super wine. Your writing is not unlike the Chidaine Montlouis!

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