When I'm asked what turned me on to wine, I respond, often ineloquently, that it is the intriguing tangle of climate, geography and culture. Occasionally, the follow-up gets dropped: "What do you mean?" What I mean can be summed up in one word: "Vouvray."
The winemaking tradition of this Loire Valley region is tied directly to its geography & climate. Vouvray is home to the Chenin Blanc grape. This region does possess a distinctive wine style. However, the style resembles something akin to a sliding scale; a moving target if you will. Additionally, the character of wine in most, if not all, bottles of Vouvray is decided upon by mother nature. Rather than aiming for a preconceived expression of Chenin Blanc, the vignerons of Vouvray take what the earth, wind, rain, etc. deliver.
To the casual wine drinker, Vouvray can be mighty confusing. One bottle may offer dry, crisp wine with echos of honey & peach. The next bottle could yield sweet and richly decadent nectar. Indeed, without a magnifying glass to inspect bottle labels, Vouvray newbies could take up head-scratching as a full time job.
Let's run down the styles you might discover in a bottle of Vouvray:
Sec - dry. In average growing seasons, Vouvray is bottled as a dry, crisp white wine. Occasionally, dry Vouvray possesses such acid-induced austerity, that several years of aging are almost mandatory.
Sec-tendre/Demi-sec - off-dry. Growing seasons that allow a little extra grape hang time in the sun often produce wine with more sweetness balanced by still-present mouthwatering acidity.
Moelleux - "marrow" or mellow. This is where mother nature starts getting generous. A long, mellow growing season makes for pleasantly plump grapes that, while sweet, do not produce wines with too much sugar junk in the trunk. Good moelleux Vouvray is sweet, but not syrupy, with enough life-giving acidity to age many years. Well-aged wines of this style can grow old, complex and compelling.
Liquoreux - oh so sweet. When the perfect growing season is combined with a little magic, Vouvray for the ages becomes possible. The 'little magic' is noble rot, which is a result of the voodoo that she (Mama Nature) do. If the right natural jackpot of temperature and humidity is hit then shriveled, visually unappealing grapes, produce, sweeeeeet, concentrated juice with special sauce. Vouvray of this type can age literally for decades and evolve into something that is not of this earth.
Of course there is no better way to understand Vouvray then to set off on a multi bottle expedition. To get you started allow me to recommend two friendly & affordable examples of Vouvray 101.
Champalou Vouvray AOC, 2004 ($16) [imported by Kermit Lynch]
- Chenin Blanc from the Vouvray appellation in the Loire Valley [12% alcohol]
- Pale, white gold in color
- Fresh peach & honey scents along with subtle floral notes
- In the mouth, Champalou is both dry & surprisingly stout. It is quite crisp, yet also, weighty on the tongue. This Vouvray offers simple fruit flavors of peach with hints of fresh squeezed OJ
***.5 (3.5 stars out of 5)
Perfect with a little take-out curry, Japanese tempura, or Stephen's scallops.
Once these wines establish a baseline for you. You may want to go full-monty-Vouvray. The Caveman recently took part in a Vouvray tasting. His notes will give you an idea of what to expect from other styles and well-aged Vouvray. Beware this journey may just turn you into a full-time Vouvray seeker.