Domaine de la Noblaie Chinon Blanc Chante le Vent 2019
“O, lachrima Christi, c’est de la Devinière, c’est vin pineau. O, le gentil vin blanc, et par mon ame ce n’est que vin de tafetas”
– Gargantua, Rabelais, published 1542
Chinon is famed for its red wines, which today account for well over 90% of this appellation’s production. Even in plucking this figure from the air I am being conservative, as in reality the white and rosé wines combined account for just a few percent.
Writing in Les Vins de Loire (Parisienne dEditions Techniques et Commerciales, 1956) Pierre Bréjoux, for many years the Inspector General of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, gave us his opinion on both the rosé and white wines of Chinon, which had been anointed with appellation status less than twenty years before. He described the former as magnifique, praising the leading vignerons for selling the rosés they once held back for their own consumption, but he had equally warm words for the white wines of the appellation.
Bréjoux singled out the white wines of Ligré, on the south bank of the Vienne, opposite the town of Chinon, for particular praise. These wines, he tells us, once enjoyed great renown, and were admired by the celebrated author François Rabelais. In his novel, Gargantua, Rabelais wrote of the gentle white wine made from pineau (Pineau de la Loire, an old synonym for Chenin Blanc), describing it as “vin de tafetas”. Interpretations of this phrase vary, but he is likening it to taffeta, a high-status material which at that time would have been made purely from tightly woven silk (although modern taffeta can also be fashioned from synthetic materials). Whatever nuances you believe may hide within the words, it is most certainly a compliment.
In promulgating the white wines of Chinon Rabelais was not seeking out the unusual or obscure. They may be relatively rare today, but at the time Pineau de la Loire was king (it still is, of course – no arguments please) and it was planted on the rolling slopes which ran from Vouvray down to Chinon and on to Saumur. Cabernet Franc was a later arrival in the region, its exact origins and the route travelled uncertain, although it seems most likely it migrated here from the Basque territories that straddle the modern-day border between France and Spain. It was phylloxera that did for Chenin Blanc in both Chinon and Saumur, growers choosing instead to replant with Cabernet Franc. In Saumur Antoine Cristal (1837 – 1931) was a firm advocate of planting red rather than white varieties, while Chinon seems merely to have fallen in step.
Ever since the replanting the white wines of Chinon have remained an intriguing but still rather niche interest. Chenin Blanc was one of three varieties admitted into the Chinon appellation (the third, often forgotten after Cabernet Franc, was Cabernet Sauvignon); that Chenin Blanc was given a listing in the appellation was a nod to its historical role in the region, rather than an indicator of its significance at the time.
Turning back to Pierre Bréjoux once again, in his guide he singled out a handful of crus in Ligré for the high quality of their wines, among them La Noblaie, Le Vau Breton and the Clos de Galonnes, all of which are today in the possession of the Billard family, of Domaine de la Noblaie. The latest white release from the domaine is the 2019 Chinon Blanc Chante le Vente, one of two cuvées of Chenin Blanc Jérôme Billard makes. This cuvée tends to have a stricter, purer style, usually vinified in stainless steel, although in recent years Jérôme has been experimenting with amphoras and working to put more texture into the wine. In the glass this 2019 has a very pale straw hue, and the nose presents aromas of dense pithy fruit, with salted oranges, candle smoke, touches of wavy peach skin and crushed pebbles of chalk. There follows a cool, crunchy and saline middle, with polished and mineral fruit, dusted with white pepper, chamomile and mint. It has a very complete style, tense, with some good pithy energy in the length, with modest acidity. Polished and supple, I can think of no better description of this other than vin de tafetas. Rabelais obviously knew what he was talking about. 92/100 (20/12/21)
Read more in:
- My detailed profile of Domaine de la Noblaie
- My report on the Loire 2019 vintage
- My guide to Chenin Blanc