2019 François Chidaine "Baudoin"
2019 François Chidaine "Baudoin"

A Heavyweight Chenin Blanc from François Chidaine

850 Words (Or So) on a Chenin Blanc in a Ridiculously Heavy Bottle

5 min read

This warrants a much longer essay, but: if you are swayed into make a buying decision by the weight of a wine bottle, please stop. It is a dirty secret in the wine world that consumers will spend more money on a wine if it feels substantial, so wineries the world over bottle many of their top wines in overtly heavy glass bottles. Whether it is the illusion of safekeeping for the cellar, or just the impressive ceremony of lifting the damn thing, this practice works.

But it is exceedingly wasteful, and has become the wine industry’s number one contribution to carbon in the atmosphere. A heavier weight requires more fuel to transport and ship. All for an illusion.

I’ve been meaning to step into this fray for sometime, so perhaps its unfair to burst this bubble by singling out a single producer. But with François Chidaine’s 2019 “Baudoin,” a declassified dry Vouvray, I found the wine bottle’s weight interfering with my pleasure of the wine. And yes, the feeling was one of guilt and my role in the waste chain.

But before we get there, let’s give this wine and its producer their due. François Chidaine is widely regarded as one of the world’s masters of Chenin Blanc. In their book The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste, Rajat Parr and Jordan McKay refer to him as the “pope of Montlouis and Vouvray,” a man who “knows his vineyards better than anyone.” He is certified organic, certified biodynamic, and his winemaking varies from year-to-year to best suit the conditions of each vintage. He also helpfully includes a sweetness scale on the back of the wine, as not all Chenin Blanc from his portfolio are vinified dry each year. It’s a bit like the approach taken by Domaine Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace.

Perhaps it is unfair to call out Chidaine, who has done a great deal to raise awareness of Vouvray and particularly Montlouis’s wines. However, a little internet sleuthing also reveals that this wine is soldout in numerous places, which tells me that if the glass bottle were to go on a diet for upcoming vintages, he wouldn’t lose revenue.

“Baudoin” comes from a single site in Vouvray, but French wine law demands that to call the wine Vouvray, it must be fermented and aged in Vouvray as well. Chidaine is based across the river in Montlouis, so he is forced to declassify this remarkable wine as Vin de France. Such is his reputation, however, that he doesn’t need to proclaim Vouvray. The exuberant nose is suggestive of crisp pears, springtime flowers, dried herbs and lanolin, the latter being a hallmark of the area’s great Chenin Blanc. So precise and clear is this note, that it seems to nudge the senses into a Mosel River Riesling space when you muse upon it. The finish has a wonderful “zing and linger” character to it. Indeed, this is young Chenin Blanc near its apex, and at $31, it is a steal given the quality and complexity.

But here is the issue: the bottle weighed 910 grams empty. That’s a whopping 1,610 grams full (or 3 pounds, 8 ounces) which is the more important number since that’s the weight when it is shipped. That is roughly 34% more weight than an average wine bottle. And for what? Better aging? More resilience when it falls off the rack onto the floor? Unless the wine has internal pressure from trapped CO2 (i.e. sparkling wine), heavy glass is entirely cosmetic.

If there is a saving grace here, it is that the volume of the wine is quite small, and Chidaine’s larger production wines tend to be in lighter bottles.

I have taken to weighing every wine that enters my home — whether as a sample or purchase — in hopes of better understanding trends and patterns, but also to start calling out the issue more to consumers, for producers only do this because it impresses consumers and juices sales.

Perhaps it is unfair to call out Chidaine, who has done a great deal to raise awareness of Vouvray and particularly Montlouis’s wines, and whose eco-friendly credentials in the vineyard and cellar are commendable (the estate is certified organic and biodynamic). However, a little internet sleuthing also reveals that this wine is soldout in numerous places, which tells me that if the glass bottle were to go on a diet for upcoming vintages, he wouldn’t lose revenue. In fact, he would stand to gain on savings by purchasing less glass. Given the worldwide glass shortage right now, I am sure its something he and many other likeminded producers are considering. We as consumers need to quickly get on board with lighter bottles to help make these decisions even easier.

For now, I am recommending the wine because it is so distinctive and a clear cut above many other Chenin Blanc wines out there. Plus, the wine is also already here, at the end of the supply chain. I am also not inclined to call for boycotts. Everything is a give-and-take. It is hard to know where to draw the line, and small, independent producers run a tightrope as it is. They are the lifeblood of keeping wine interesting and worth the intake. Furthermore, there are numerous large producers putting subpar wine in even heavier bottles, likely with less sensitivity than Chidaine to their environmental impact in the vineyard. They’re the one’s who require more public pressure.

But future vintages really need to be placed in lighter bottles, and certainly, on a macro level, we all need to be smarter in our buying decisions, particularly when heavier bottles come from larger-volume wines. If the wine feels heavy to you (and its reputation isn’t fully known to you), see if there is a slimmer alternative. And for those hefty bottles that actually include amazing wine, let’s keep tabs of repeat-offenders. After a while, those wines will deserve a “hard pass,” too. There’s plenty of great wine elsewhere, and tackling the climate crisis will require changes in buying behavior big and small.


There will be more on this topic in the months ahead, particularly the need to stop using glass bottles entirely for cheaper, ready-for-consumption wines. Stay tuned.


2019 François Chidaine “Baudoin”

2019 François Chidaine "Baudoin" ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleVin de France • Loire
Grapes: Chenin Blanc (100%)
Alcohol: 13%
Opinion: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
Food-friendliness: Versatile
Value: Exceptional

 

A beginner might like … exploring the distinctive aromas, tones and sensations from top-of-the-pyramid Chenin Blanc. Also, the price: $31 for a wine of this class is pretty remarkable.

A wine obsessive might like … teasing out the details from this wine versus other single-vineyard Chenin Blanc from Vouvray. The Clos Baudoin is informally considered one of the grand cru of Vouvray, even though this wine is legally not allowed to be called Vouvray given where it was bottled.

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