One of my goals with Opening a Bottle is to encourage adventurous exploration of the world’s wine. It is far too easy to get stuck in a groove with your favorites and rarely venture beyond the same aisle of your local wine shop. In that sense, wine and wine tasting are not unlike groceries and home cooking: sometimes you have to buy some bok choy and see what you can do with it.
To help encourage this exploration — for both you and me — I’m going to start something new. This is the first installment in my 434-part series, A First-Taste Guide. Since complete conclusions on a wine region or wine grape cannot be made on one bottle alone, this series will instead focus on that first encounter: what to expect, background on its origin and reasons to try the wine in the first place, as well as my standard wine review at the end.
We’ll start with Vouvray Sec, an elegant white wine made of Chenin Blanc, which hails from the Loire Valley. Our ambassador for Vouvray Sec will be the 2009 Clos de Nouys Vouvray (Sec).
About the Appellation and Its Wine
Vouvray is one of many prestigious appellations along the Loire River in the north-central part of France. Famous for white wine (almost exclusively Chenin Blanc), this small commune is located within the Touraine, a region that has mastered sweet wine but also includes a personal favorite of mine, the dry, Cabernet Franc-based wines of Chinon.
But we’re not concerned with Vouvray’s sweet wines, partly because the American market has a preference for dry (sec) wines and you are much more likely to find Vouvray Sec on the shelf at your wine shop as a result. These wines carry a noticeable flavor of honey, which is counter-balanced by a strong acidity that makes them appealingly tart and intriguing.
Why Should You Seek Out Vouvray Sec
In a marketplace that celebrates big, bold and obvious flavors, Vouvray — like many of the Loire River Valley’s appellations — presents a compelling alternative. That’s not to say it is the opposite of big, bold and obvious (small, weak and obscure); but Vouvray Sec is most certainly subtle, delicate and, once you get to know it, vibrant. Vouvray Sec can also age as well as nearly any white wine, including German Rieslings.
If you love Sauvignon Blanc for its bracing aromas and tightly wound flavors, or Pinot Gris for its clean, crisp elegance, shake it up with a Vouvray Sec. They are compelling and go well with an assortment of dishes from the sea — buttery salmon or halibut, ceviche, even clam chowder.
My First Encounter
My first encounter with Vouvray Sec came from a bottle of 2009 Clos de Nouys Vouvray Sec (see below). To better get a sense for its aromas, I pulled it out from the refrigerator and let it sit out on the counter for 45 minutes (although it is so crisp and delightful, serving it chilled is utterly refreshing). Aromas that leapt from the glass included lemon and a unique herbal note that could be best described as a faint hit of lavender. The palate focused on stone fruits and honey, with the lemon-like tartness returning on the finish. It held up well for an hour after opening, retaining many of its most intriguing characteristics, most notably a flavor of apricot.
If all goes well, seek out (a) Vouvray wines that are less dry, (b) other Loire Valley appellations that specialize in Chenin Blanc, such as Anjou or Savennières, or (c) peruse South Africa’s white wines, which are dominated by a love for Chenin Blanc. That’s where I’ll head on my next stock-up run.
2009 Clos de Nouys Vouvray Sec
Vouvray AOC (France)
Grapes: Chenin Blanc (100%)
Rating: ★★★★ (out of five)
• Profile: ★★★★
• Food Friendliness: ★★★★
• Value: ★★★ 1/2
Recommended for: Would pair well with halibut or salmon, better if it is buttery. I would imagine this wine would also fair well with Thai and Chinese cuisine. Also an excellent casual sipper, and for the price, a few bottles for a party would go a long way.
Tasting notes: A delicious wine with full, round flavors on a light body. Predominant aromas are lemon with a touch of lavender. However, on the palate, rewards with bright apricot, a touch of honey and secondary notes of lemon zest and tea. The finish is distinctly mineral, creating a zippy, almost spicy feel.
Additional Reading on Vouvray and Chenin Blanc
- Wine School: Vouvray Sec – by Eric Asimov (NY Times)
- Chenin Blanc Wine Guide – by Madeline Puckette (WineFolly.com)
- Vouvray Info Page – by Loire Valley Wines (official website)
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