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Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc 2014

Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc 2014

The Loire Valley is full of vinous rarities. The first instalment in my exploration of the Loire Valley’s varieties, published just over a week ago, serves as an introduction to some of these viticultural curios, from François-Saint-Meslier to Tressallier, and many others between. It is not only the rare varieties that stand out as distinctive and unusual though, sometimes everyday varieties can do the same, depending on the context. First, take the Loire Valley’s leading (in my opinion) white variety Chenin Blanc. Secondly, take the region’s most exalted red appellation, Chinon, renowned throughout the wine-drinking world for its red wines, most commonly 100% Cabernet Franc. Apart, there is nothing unusual about them. Put them together though, and we have suddenly have a wine that is quite out of the ordinary; white Chinon.

There are more than 200 growers tending vineyards in Chinon, and the vast majority of the wines they make are of course red, as noted above predominantly Cabernet Franc. As with a number of the region’s other red appellations Cabernet Sauvignon is also permitted, but only up to a maximum 10% of the blend. The red wines account for 85% of the appellation’s production, with 13% – again, Cabernet Franc with up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon is the standard recipe – accounted for by rosé. That leaves the whites, which are pure and unadulterated Chenin Blanc. This variety accounts for no more than 2% of the appellation’s production. That’s perhaps 200,000 bottles each year, divided between dozens of different domaines. These wines can be hard to find even when visiting Chinon, as good growers sell out quickly.

Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc 2014

Despite clearly being a niche interest, Chenin Blanc is not a new phenomenon in Chinon. One lieu-dit, Champ-Chenin in Savigny-en-Véron, much of which is worked by Olga Raffault, is even named for the variety. It is planted with particularly old vines, and is the source of this domaine’s white Chinon. Another parcel in the lieu-dit Les Picasses, in Beaumont-en-Véron, not the section belonging to Olga Raffault this time but Jérôme Lenoir of Domaine des Roches, dates to the late-19th century. It is a variety that has waned and waxed within the appellation though. Jérôme Billard credits his grandfather Pierre Manzagol with being one of the very few to carry the torch for the variety during the 20th century. “In my grandfather’s time it was only him, Ligré and Raffault making white wine” he once told me. “He always continued with it, as he felt it was an important part of Chinon’s vinous heritage”.

Today, however, the pendulum has swung back the other way, and many domaines have some Chenin Blanc planted, often less than a hectare, each little parcel a secret island in a sea of Cabernet Franc. Indeed, the popularity is such that the authorities have put in place regulations to prevent further planting, reflecting a historically established precedent that the appellation is red first, everything else second. So these wines are destined to remain rare. They are worth getting to know though; although many offer nothing that could be considered superior to the best white wines of Saumur or Vouvray, surely the two archetypal examples of Chenin Blanc grown on limestone (not all of Chinon is limestone of course, so the comparison with the best of these two appellations might not be fair), from the best growers the wines are noteworthy. So far, the two most exciting Chinon Blanc cuvées I have encountered have been the La Croix Boisée Blanc from Bernard Baudry, and the wine featured here, the Chinon Blanc from Domaine de la Noblaie, in this case from the 2014 vintage. It comes from a limestone terroir (always more promising than sand or gravel) and is fermented in stainless steel. The wine has a deceptively fresh and pale, lemon-yellow hue. It does not immediately suggest great impact, but that is exactly what this wine possesses, with plenty of candied citrus peel, a wonderfully concentrated dried-fruit depth, a lemon freshness too, and a pure limestone bite underpinning it all. In the mouth it shows a wonderfully tense start, succulent but with a fresh, minerally, stony backbone, a wine with lots of ripeness and texture but also a bright, acid-fresh frame. A wine that is long and bright; it would be fascinating to see how this ages. This is a very impressive example of Chinon Blanc, from what is one of the leading domaines in the appellation. 17.5/20 (14/9/15)

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