2011 Ludovic Chanson "Les Cabotines" Montlouis sur Loire
Oh Chenin Blanc, there’s nothing quite like it. Exotically honeyed, yet taut, bright and briny, it is one of the most satisfying wines one can drink. Upon first sip, a synesthetic drinker might even experience a vision similar to a photographer’s golden hour--a world bathed in warm sunshine and dreaminess.
Well, maybe that’s taking it a little far, but there is something sunny about it…
I have a very distinct memory of my first Chenin Blanc experience. French and funky, it was unlike anything I’d ever had. Immediately I was entranced by its aromas of yellow apples, honeycomb and something else, something at the time I didn’t recognize, something savory and even salty. This savory character has since been described to me as wet wool, wasabi, hay, ginger and oddly even coleslaw. (I’m not sure I get the coleslaw thing, but you get the picture). However you experience it, it’s unique to this varietal.
Though Chenin Blanc is now planted all over the world, the benchmark examples come from the Loire Valley in France. While Vouvray is perhaps the most famous appellation for Chenin Blanc production, lately Montlouis, its much smaller neighbor across the River Loire has been gaining the affection of Chenin lovers everywhere. Because of the cooler northern exposure and slightly sandier soils, wines from Montlouis can be a bit leaner and more mineral focused. They are typically vinified in a dry or dry-ish style as opposed to Vouvray which can be dry (sec), half dry (demi-sec) or in-your-face sweet (moelleux). Montlouis once had a reputation for austere wines of no great providence, but a new generation of growers has been working tirelessly to change that sentiment. Many of them recognize the importance of organic farming, hand-harvesting to ensure ripeness and minimal intervention in the cellar, practices that have greatly elevated the reputation and the quality of this once underappreciated area.
Ludvic’s wines are no exception. In 2006 after spending 14 years in pharmaceutical research, Ludvic quit his job, purchased a plot of land in Montlouis and decided to pursue his wine hobby. Just a decade later, and with no previous winemaking experience, he is widely recognized as one of the rising stars in the area.
His 2011 “Le Chanson” Montlouis-sur-Loire is quintessentially Chenin-y with aromas of ripe yellow apples, honey and lanolin on the nose, and persistent mouthwatering acidity on the palate. It is dry without being austere, holding the impression of sweet fruit without being cloying or heavy. This wine begs for a cheese plate. Despite popular belief, wine and cheese are not an easy match at every go of it, but this will work beautifully with most.
2013 Lime Rock “Kota” Pinot Noir
For our red wine we travel to the northern island of New Zealand, to Central Hawke’s Bay, the oldest wine region in New Zealand. This crescent-shaped region, which looks suspiciously similar to a pacific-lined bay nearby, is relentlessly sunny allowing for ample ripeness of both red and white varietals.
This month’s Pinot Noir comes from Lime Rock Wines, aptly named after the limestone ridge formed from a 3 million year old seabed that stretches through Central Hawkes Bay. A tromp through the vineyards at Lime Rock would reveal crushed barnacle shells embedded with large scallop and oyster shells, locally called kota, that can be as big as its namesake bottle.
The Lime rock winery was founded in 2000 by husband and wife winemaking duo Rosie Butler and Rodger Tynan just next door to Rosie’s family home on the “Limestone Loop” in Central Hawkes Bay. The couple spent the 15 years prior working in Australia, Rosie in oenology and viticulture and Rodger in Bio-diversity and ecology. To describe their approach to farming and vineyard management, they coined the term “Vit-ecology”--the healthy combination of viticulture and ecology. They believe minimal disturbance to the soils is key to preserve natural biological processes and site complexity. Weeds and plant cover are welcomed in the vineyard and are recognized as nutrient recyclers and erosion protection for the soils. Their high elevation steep vineyards have little risk of diseases thanks to the breezy weather and do not require large inputs of water, nutrients or energy. I think it's safe to say these grapes are pretty happy; the wines can’t help but be lovely. The highly drinkable 2013 “Kota” Pinot Noir is fresh and fragrant with with crunchy red fruit, dried citrus peel and a warm spiciness. The palate is lush without being heavy and there’s a beautiful balance between ripeness of fruit, mellow acidity and silky tannins.
Chill it 20 minutes prior to serving to optimize your Kiwine experience.