Naturally high in acid, Chenin blanc, Pineau de la Loire or Steen (commonly used in South Africa) is a supremely versatile white grape variety that can be made into various styles ranging from mouth-puckeringly dry, steely sparkling aperitif to rich, voluptuous and intensely sweet bortrytis kissed golden elixir. Whilst we love taking small sips of some amazing sweet Chenin, preferably in front of a fireplace during winter, we do prefer to drink more of the bone-dry ones on a regular basis given our tropical climate here in Singapore.
We tried three different French Chenin blanc last weekend - Thomas Batadiere's "Les Cocus" 2019 (Anjou, Loire Valley), Domaine Guiberteau's "Saumur Blanc" 2009 (Saumur, Loire Valley) & Nicolas Camarans' "Selves" 2018 (Aveyron, Massif Central) and boy, they can't be more different!
If you're into wine colour and how it shows in a wine glass (not that it truly mattered organoleptically anyway), Batardiere's version was the most crystalline and had the lightest yellow core, which was not surprising, given its youth. Nicolas Camarans' Selves, just a year older, was cloudy, light orangey, almost coppery and provided a pretty strong contrast when lined-up next to Guiberteau's golden yellow Saumur blanc that is nearly a decade its senior.
Naturally made with minimal intervention, "Les Cocus" was perhaps the most steely and unfortunately also the most reductive when popped and poured. Some vigorous aeration was necessary to shake off some of those reductive characters to reveal notes of green limes, stone fruits, chalk and mineral tones. The wine softened somewhat and showed its more seductive charm after 24 hours but much of its austerity remained. A sleeping beauty worthy of a wine cellar and will likely be highly rewarding if you don't kiss her prematurely.
We were very excited to try Nicolas Camarans' wines after discovering his Fer Servadou recently. Flint, bruised apples, bitter lemon peel and grilled citrus immediately greeted our nasal sensors upon opening the "Selves" 2018. On the palate, the wine is quite tart with limes, pickled green mangoes and oxidative flavours. For those who love the more balanced natural funk, this should be music to your ears. Not quite the glou-glou type of vin naturel but one that needs you to pay attention to its elegance and restraint. Wine connoisseurs and the wine nerds would adore this to bits, not to mention those who love to do blind tastings.
Guiberteau's domaine blanc from vintage 2009 is something we are very familiar with since we have followed its transformation from bottling till today. Its signature high acid, greengages, lime peel, honey, ripe green mango and mineral profile is now layered with oxidative notes of bruised Anjou pears & Granny Smith apples, wrapped together with a touch of lemon drop. Drinking at its absolute peak now and punching way above its weight class and price. Too bad there are so few bottles left and their new vintages, much like the young "Les Cocus" and "Selves", will need to sleep peacefully in the dark before they can shine like a shooting star.