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The Tightrope of François Chidaine’s “Les Bournais”

400 Words (or so) on Elusiveness in Chenin Blanc

3 min read

Wine does not have to come easily to be enjoyable. Sometimes, the thrill of the chase is enough. For instance, take Chenin Blanc from the Loire, a wine that prefers to be chased across a tightrope.

I’ve been tasting through a wide selection of Loire white wines recently — Muscadet, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé, and of course, dry Chenin Blanc. With the first two categories, I usually have an expectation that’s met, but all bets are off with Chenin Blanc. One version that raced the tighrope, but fell off, was Domaine des Baumard’s “Clos du Papillon” Savennières from 2015. Its loose ends never tied together harmoniously — I suspect, because I was tasting it at the wrong time. Some Chenin Blanc have an ugly duckling phase in their maturity, where things just don’t align. Eventually, this wine may come around, but it seemed fairly jaunty to me at the five-plus-year mark.

However, the truly great Chenin Blanc shine throughout their life, and I suspect that François Chidaine’s “Les Bournais” Montlouis-sur-Loire from 2017 is one such wine. It’s beautiful aromas were mild in their intensity, but conveyed a combination of tones I’ve never encountered together before: there were suggestions of apricot, guava, roses, alpine herbs and grass, and a slight tang reminiscent of yogurt. Through the palate it was creamy and rich, to which I wrote in my notes “feels like I should chew it.” Whether that sounds appealing or not to you, I think its safe to say that “Les Bournais” is not a straightforward wine — it challenges you, and just when it starts to make sense, it shifts. Fortunately, its elegant and mineral finish invites you to pursue it a little more, and the chase resumes.

François Chidaine is a biodynamic producer who has helped place the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation on the radar of wine professionals and Francophiles alike. It lies across the Loire River from stately Vouvray, and possesses more of a rebellious edge to it. “Les Bournais” comes from a north-facing vineyard that Chidaine planted in 1999, on soil that more closely resembles Vouvray (limestone) than Montlouis-sur-Loire (typically more sandy). I’ll admit that I have more tasting to do in Vouvray to make the following statement, but I’ve never encountered a wine from Vouvray as wild as this one. As much as it seemed to elude me, I kept wanting to climb that rickety ladder back to the tightrope platform and give it another go. You should, too.

2017 François Chidaine “Les Bournais” Montlouis-sur-Loire

2017 François Chidaine "Les Bournais" Montlouis-sur-Loire ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleMontlouis-sur-Loire AOC (Loire)
Grapes: Chenin Blanc (100%)
Alcohol: 13%
Opinion: ★★★★ 3/4 (out of five)
• Food-friendliness: Versatile
• Value: Very Good

       

A beginner might like: The fruit profile of this wine. It is potent and precisely tropical, but rather than conjure the familiar pineapple compote of Viognier or even ripe Chardonnay, it skews towards guava. This does not taste like “ordinary white wine,” and beginners who are skeptical of white wine’s charms should start here and see where the journey leads.

A wine obsessive might like: As Chenin Blanc ages, it begins to reveal notes suggestive of petroleum jelly or wet wool, which many wine obsessives flip-out over when it comes to Riesling. “Les Bournais” has it faintly, but because of that fruit intensity and the sprinter’s acidity, it seems to translate into a delicate, subdued form. Watch this aspect of the wine as it ages and evolves. I ought to buy another and give it five years to see what happens.

 

Note: This wine was bought with funds generated by our ticketed virtual tasting series. Support independent wine editorial and learn wine with me by visiting our Virtual Tastings page.

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