KQED Food Blog: Bay Area Bites: Sweet Chenin!
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Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Sweet Chenin!
A couple of weeks ago I posted a piece about hosting a wine tasting. This past week my tasting group got together and tried the wines, coming away amazed at the versatility and elegance of a grape that is hardly seen at all in California.
Around these parts, Chenin blanc suffers from too much heat. Our wonderful summers typically leave this grape lacking in acid and robbing it of its delicate aromas. In the Loire, however, I discovered that it can produce wines with elegance, complexity and intensity to rival some of my favorite German Rieslings.
All of the bottles for my tasting came from K&L Wines. The staff there was kind enough to help me select wines for the flight in light of my lack of familiarity with the region, and they did a great job.
My favorite dry wine of the flight was the 2003 Domaine Fouet Saumur Blanc. Although it might be a little on the lean and steely side for some tasters, this was what I had always imagined Chenin to be like. Delicate and lilting aromatics laid over a framework of stout acidity with hints of the region's trademark flint flavors just begged for oysters or any other fresh catch. And at $11.99, a great bargain to boot.
Although I found the dry wines of the region intriguing, the off-dry and the sweet bottles were downright amazing. With just enough sugar to balance the generous acidity, the 2002 Domaine des Baumard 'Clos Ste.-Catherine' was a knockout. Floral aromas mixed with flint and honey to bedazzle the nose, and the interplay of sugar and acid on the palate was perfectly in balance. This bottle contained everything I look to German Riesling for, but landing just on the delicate side of a Spatlese. At $39.99, perhaps not as inexpensive as you might be able to find from the Mosel but well worth trying. Excellent.
And finally, what was perhaps the star of the evening: the 1995 Philippe Foreau Vouvray Moelleux. The term 'moelleux' comes from the French term for bone marrow, 'moelle', and indicates softness or richness. In the Loire, it indicates a rich, sweet wine, possible only when the weather conditions are cooperative enough to allow the fruit to hang on the vine long enough in order to produce the requisite sugar for this designation. Our bottle was heady stuff. To the nose it was rich from the moment of pouring, with honeyed notes and a rich, nutty, almost Oloroso Sherry character. All of this continued to evolve and change over the course of the tasting, at times revealing delicate floral aromas and other times offering pure, crystalline fruit. On the palate, it offered an amazing interplay between the luscious, voluptuous sweetness of its residual sugar and the firm acidity which kept the wine structured and in balance. The finish went on and on, managing somehow to be both sweet as well as crisp. No cloying sugary aftertaste which can be the worst part of an out-of-balance sweet wine here; this was just beautiful.
Previously offered at $42, this elegant bottle has been reduced to $30 and, if you beat me back there, you might still find a bottle.

Thank you again to the staff of K&L Wines for helping me put together a wonderful tasting filled with wines I'd never tried before. Their knowledge and expertise made my experience as the tasting host a happy one.


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