Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc Chante le Vent 2017
The most recent vintages in the Loire Valley are like the proverbial gifts that just keep on giving. I have tasted more exciting wines from this region in the past few months than I recall encountering for many years. I suspect it is something to do with the broad success the region has enjoyed with the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages. The first of this quartet was great for whites and good for reds, the next vice versa, and while the latter two were touched by frost, the quality of the wines is unquestionable. That 2018 looks just as good (admittedly I have tasted only a handful of samples from vat and cuve, and although I am back out in the region in December, January will be my first proper look at this vintage) means that there has never been a better time to be a regular drinker of the wines of the Loire Valley.
Chinon is naturally a focus for me, being the region’s leading red wine appellation. This weekend, however, I pulled the cork not on one of this region’s many red wines, but one of its whites. Although Chenin Blanc has a long history in Chinon, it has always remained a niche interest; the appellation is of course dominated by Cabernet Franc, with red and rosé wines accounting for about 95% of the appellation’s output. There are a handful of domaines which have a long-established relationship with Chenin Blanc though, and Domaine de la Noblaie is one of their number.
There has been Chenin Blanc planted here since the time of Jérôme Billard’s grandfather, the Corrèzian Pierre Manzagol. “In my grandfather’s time it was only him, Ligré and Raffault making white wine” Jérôme once told me. “He always continued with it, as he felt it was an important part of Chinon’s vinous heritage”. The white side of Chinon is so important to the story of this domaine that Jérôme is one of very few who make two Chenin Blanc cuvées (indeed, I did wonder if he may be completely alone in this, although Bernard Baudry is another). There is the oak-vinified La Part des Anges, and the steel-vinified Chante le Vent. I like the purity and precision of the latter, although I have bottles of both in my cellar, and each has their role to play (which I choose to drink on any particular day really depends on what I am eating with it).
Chante le Vent is named for the sound the wind makes as it sweeps across the Billard residence and vineyards. It was previously known as La Grande Ourse for just one vintage, 2016, but a challenge to his right to use this forced a change of name. As noted above the vinification has no contact with oak at any stage, no malolactic fermentation, and an earlier bottling then La Part des Anges. The focus here is fruit and mineral, rather than oak and structure. In the glass the 2017 Chinon Blanc Chante le Vent displays a polished straw-lemon hue, with an understated degree of pigmentation which seems entirely in keeping with the winemaking philosophy, with no suggestion that there is any oak or oxidation here. This is a wine with concentration, and character, but it all comes from the fruit, brought precisely into focus by Jérôme’s approach. The nose confirms this character, being dominated by multifaceted fruit aromas, including orange citrus, peach skin, tangerine, kumquat, mango and pear, at all times given vibrancy by a minerally, quartzy-limestone lift. Although I have long been a fan of this cuvée, the 2017 vintage seems to speak with greater confidence than ever. The palate is equally fruit rich, being loaded with vibrant citrus and stone fruit flavours, effusive with chalky citrus pith notes as well as the tension of peach stone and river pebbles. It is a combination that feels generous and ripe but also bitter and interesting. Engaging and textural, this is a brilliant example of why Chenin Blanc deserves its place in Chinon. 94/100 (19/11/18)
Read more in:
- My detailed profile of Domaine de la Noblaie
- A report on a Visit and Tasting at Domaine de la Noblaie
- My report on the Loire 2017 vintage
- My guide to Chenin Blanc