Monday, August 18, 2008

On Savennières Typicity

After writing recently about a couple of Loire Valley Chenin Blancs, a reader (who also happened to be a participant in the tasting) raised a question: just what are the typical characteristics of Savennières? If you look back through the comments to that posting, you’ll find my response as well as one from fellow Loire wine lover, Brooklynguy. I’d like to think that we both did a fine job; in fact, I think an amalgam of our two responses really nails it. That said, I thought it would be even more revealing to turn the floor over to Ms. Jacqueline Friedrich, author of the benchmark text “A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire.” In her opening to the section about Savennières, Ms. Friedrich writes about as good an encapsulation of the wine’s typicity as I can imagine:

“Savennières makes the ultimate dry Chenin Blanc…. It is, I think, the most cerebral wine in the world. When fully mature, it is breathtaking. All about majesty, the wine spreads across the palate like cream, revealing glimpses of flavor like an ever-changing landscape, a bale of hay, a whiff of chamomile, a basket of dried flowers, honey blended with quince and apricot or peach, the sting of citrus zests, a sonorous wave of minerals. Simultaneously taut and lyrical, bone-dry yet marrowy, it is a stroll along steep slate hillsides with Chenin. A wine of discovery, of reflection, Savennières is not for the uninitiated.”

Though that concept of “initiation” into a wine’s secrets may seem snobbish, I don’t debate it. Savennières, to me, is one of those wines, like the best Rieslings from Germany or fine red Burgundy, which can be very difficult to understand. Those that do understand often love them with a violent passion; those that don’t often write them off as overrated, just not for them or, worse yet, bad. Friedrich’s passion for Savennières, if it wasn’t already obvious from her opening definition, is made achingly clear in her description of a wine from Domaine des Baumard. I was reminded of her words when subjected to a serious ribbing the other day from some of my friends and coworkers regarding the sometimes tortured syntax of my own notes. Something about “titular subjugation,” I seem to recall.... Anyway, her description is one of the most poetic yet over-the-top wine tasting notes I’ve yet to encounter. Here it is, for your very own reading pleasure:

“A ’75 Clos du Papillon [was] so glorious it brought tears to my eyes. It is one of the six most memorable wines I’ve ever tasted. A fine weave of fleeting aromas and flavors, a whiff of menthol, then ginger, the mellow toast of the best oak (though it never saw a barrel), quinine, cranberries, and chamomile, and a long, sapid citrus zest and mineral finish. It was fully evolved yet fresh as dew. It was Balanchine, Petipa. Nothing could better express the combination of lyricism and tensile strength, the sensuality underlying sheer intellect, the ethereal floating above a solid base. Les Sylphides in a glass. It was like nothing else in the world.”

* * *

For those of you with an interest in the wines of the Loire Valley, I wholeheartedly recommend Ms. Friedrich’s book. First published in 1996, it does have the automatic shortcoming of any wine book that includes vintage and tasting notes: most of the specific wines she describes are no longer readily available. However, the depth of knowledge, both objective and personal, she applies to her subject matter makes it a book that I feel is without peer when it comes to coverage of Loire Valley wines. She’s not afraid to tell you what she likes and what she doesn’t, nor does she shirk from turning a stern eye on some of the Loire’s most noted producers. Again in the context of Savennières, her summation of the wines from the famed estate of Nicolas Joly, Coulée de Serrant, should be enough to set anyone thinking. I’ll leave that quote, though, to your own exploration.


Alfonso Cevola said...

wonderful post- thanks

Estelle Platini said...

Thank you David for this clear article. I am happy to agree on everything :-)
It's funny that you have chosen to herald the same tasting note as I had in March.
Friedrich's book remains the reference regarding Loire -- from my perspective. The explanations on the producers are balanced I think: good writing should avoid complacency towards the 'most noted producers'.
As you said -- because of the date of writing -- the book lacks information on the newer vintners. Here is where I get that: this very blog, Wine therapy (you need an account), French Scout (a local reviewer).

David McDuff said...

Thanks, Ace!

Et merci beaucoup, Estelle. If I had been aware of your excellent post, I surely would have included a link. Thanks for your kind words and for the suggested resources (including my site!). I do have a Therapy account, though I'm not the most regular of patients. I've also stumbled upon French Scout a couple of times in the past but thanks for the reminder.

I'd add Bert Celce's Wine Terroirs, which I see you're already familiar with, to the list of excellent Loire wine resources.

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