Loire Gold

15 September 2012

I can’t yet bring myself to contemplate the vast array of cocktails I consumed while in New Orleans, so let’s start with something more easily digestible on this quiet Saturday morning: A glass of Savennières. This seldom-seen Loire wine is one of the best white values out there.

The World Atlas of Wine notes that this appellation occupies one of the Loire River’s rare steep south-facing banks, giving the wines an immediate leg up — south-facing hillsides (in the northern hemisphere, at least) receive the most sunlight and allow fruit to ripen most fully. The Atlas goes on to hail the dry Chenin Blanc produced here as “as dense and rich in substance as it is rigid in structure.” The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia puts it even more simply, noting that because of the favorable location and low maximum yields, Savennières produces “the world’s greatest dry Chenin Blanc.”

I find I can rarely afford to drink the world’s greatest anything. But drink I did. This isn’t Burgundy or Napa Chardonnay, after all. Savennières is hardly a household name, and that obscurity helps keep the price down. I found a 2008 Domaine du Closel “La Jalousie” on the by-the-glass list at Commander’s Palace, and at $14 for a six-ounce (about 1/4 bottle) pour, it’s not inexpensive. But it was worth it, and in any case, Commander’s Palace is no place for moderation.

The wine, a rich golden hue, had me at first sight, and its spicy aroma with a touch of cedar quickened my pulse a good notch or two. Sweet white fruit (like pears or apples) hit the palate first followed briskly by floral notes, ginger spice, tightly focused acids and some minerals at the end. Sheer delight. Unfortunately, its charms were overpowered by the turtle soup and the sneaky spicy heat of the redfish main course, so I was forced to order a darkly fruity glass of Morgon (a Cru Beaujolais) to compete with the fish. You gotta do what you gotta do.

But you don’t have to go to one of New Orleans’ fanciest restaurants to get a Savennières, where it might not pair well with the food in any case. Binny’s, for example, sells the 2010 Domaine du Closel for just $20, and the highly regarded 2008 Domaine des Baumard for just $23. These gorgeous wines should work beautifully with non-spicy fish, chicken, pork or pasta with cream sauce.

I spend only around $12-$15 for a bottle of wine most of the time, but now and then it’s worth it to cough up just a little more. With Savennières, you’re not paying for the fame of the name. It’s not a status symbol to own or pour a Savennières. You’re pretty much paying for the wine alone, and that’s what makes it such a stellar value.

SUMMARY

2008 Domaine du Closel “La Jalousie”: Rich, spicy and tightly focused. A little more expensive than I usually prefer, but the extra $6 or $7 buys a wallop of flavor, intensity and structure. Chill for an hour before serving.

Grade: A

Find It: Only about 30,000 cases are produced in the whole of Savennières each year, but many wine shops, such as Binny’s, will carry one or two examples. I’ve never had a Savennières I didn’t like, so feel free to take a risk on an unfamiliar producer.

 

Chenin Blanc, France - Loire Valley

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