Thursday, January 14, 2010

Checking in with Chidaine

Maybe I was wrong....

When I first started to drink the Montlouis wines of François Chidaine with regularity, beginning with the vintages of the late 90s, I was taken with their precision and focus, their expression of terroir, and with their downright forward deliciousness. I also expected them to age well, especially the demi-sec "Clos Habert" and the top sec cuvée "Les Choisilles." Everything seemed to be in place: balance and richness in the one, brilliant acidity and the physiological extract to back it up in the other. I drank plenty but also made sure to sock away a few bottles of each, plus a smattering of François' other cuvées, across several vintages.

After a co-worker of mine mentioned that a bottle of 2004 "Les Tuffeaux," usually a sec-tendre expression of Montlouis, that he'd opened over New Year's weekend was much more evolved than he'd expected, I figured it was about time to check in with a Chidaine myself. Thing is, I've actually had the same reaction to several of François' wines over the last few years. Darker color, more oxidative character and less primary fruit than I'd expected relative to their age.

Montlouis-sur-Loire "Les Choisilles," François Chidaine 2002
$18.50 on release. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: (was) Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Sure enough, the '02 "Les Choisilles" turned out to be little darker than I'd expect from a 7-8 year-old (Chidaine recommends keeping it from 10-15 years). Think of the color of clover honey but with an amber edge to it and you'll be on the right track. An initially oxidative, slightly briny nose quickly led to big aromas of waxy apples, bosc pear and quince, all flavors which were echoed on the palate. Its round, stony up-front mouthfeel was in stark contrast to a nervy, tongue-twistingly acidic finish, all of which lead to pretty damn good length on a finish full of tangy, limestone minerality. If it sounds to you that I liked it, you're right, though I will say it was definitely on the complicated side. It also evolved and changed quickly in the glass, showing the return, after an hour, of oxidative notes reminiscent of Oloroso Seco Sherry. By the next day, what was left in the bottle (nearly half) had lost almost all of its nerve and liveliness, going over to the round, ripe but flat flavors of baked apples.

Granted, the wine above from the 2002 vintage is theoretically not all that old in the context of Loire Chenin Blanc, and I'm not so "worried" (or scientifically intrigued) that I'm going to rush to open my remaining bottles, but my evolving experiences with Chidaine's wines make me wonder if they'll reward being kept for much longer than their ten-year mark.

Is it a question of a simple terroir difference between Montlouis and nearby Vouvray or slightly more distant Savennières, both regions known for producing long-lived Chenins? Certainly, the difference between sec and moelleux cuvées figures in there, as a well balanced moelleux (or demi-sec) has an ace in the hole in the form of residual sugar when it comes to some guarantee of longevity. Or perhaps it's a question of sulfur dioxide, with the extremely low levels used by Chidaine having an impact on the longevity of his wines in bottle.

I'm going to go way out on a limb and say that it's most likely some combination of all of the above. And that's not even getting into the question of vintage character.... In any case, I'd love to hear from anyone out there regarding your thoughts on the age worthiness of Chidaine's Montlouis, or regarding your first hand experiences with older bottles of "Les Choisilles" or any of François' other cuvées.

10 comments:

Terence said...

was very underwhelmed by the chidaine wines when i visited their cave in 2009. i wondered why everyone was so effusive in their praise of the pleasant-but-nothing-special wines. thank you for the perspective.

TWG said...

I recall that consensus at Wine Disorder seems to indicate a drop off in quality(age worthiness) after 2004, likely due to expansion. I don't have any bottles older than '04, but had acquired a bunch of '05 since I enjoyed '04 on release so much.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

David, a timely post. I opened a 2003 Chidaine Vouvray Le Bouchet tonight and wrote about it on my site. It's an '03, what do we expect? But it's also pretty advanced, even for the vintage of the sun. I'm left wondering if the sulfur levels are an issue here, because that more than anything to my experience will factor into aging. I'm curious now to go back to an '01 Chidaine I have and see how it is. As I write, delicious wine, but curious.

bill l said...

should we open my last bottle of '99? habert i think.

David McDuff said...

Terence,
That is you, T, yes? Did you visit at Cave Insolite and taste from bottle or did you go to Chidaine's cellar(s) and taste from barrel. If the latter, the wines are very, very hard to assess in their unfinished stages, especially as Chidaine vinifies by plot and by tri before blending for bottling.

TWG,
Yes, there's definitely a general perception that Chidaine may be spreading himself too thin. I'm not sure it was the expansion to Vouvray so much as the subsequent step into his Touraine négoce project(s) that may have pushed things in that direction.

Vincent,
Thanks for the link in your write-up. As I suggested in my post, I too think sulfur (or lack thereof) can hardly be discounted as one of the factors in the seemingly rapid maturation of these wines. When you taste the '01, please do stop back with a report.

Bill,
Kind of you to offer. Whenever you're ready....

Anonymous said...

I found a bottle of '02 'Choisilles' consumed about a year ago to be just weird (a bottle issue?). An '02 Vouvray 'Le Bouchet' recently was kaleidoscopic, in a good way. Subsequent vintages ('04, '05, and '06) have not appealed--too fat and, in the case of a 'Clos Baudoin, way too advanced in terms of development. I have more to drink through but, for now, Chidaine is sort of off of my personal 'approved list.'

Director, Lab Outreach said...

I think Vincent may be onto the answer. I don't buy the expansion theory. Chidaine's low-end Touraine's are great everyday wines. Making them is to big a distraction that he can't maintain quality in the single-vineyard Chenins? The guy brews beer for something to do and sells the results out of the shop he and is wife opened. I think he can handle the spread. But I think the minimizing the use of sulfur thing may come into play in terms of age-ability. That said, I had an '02 Tuffeaux recently (my favorite of the Chidaine Montlouis bottlings) and it was exceptional and showing signs of potential longevity. Which is not to say you haven't made me nervous about the Chidaines I have tucked away.

David McDuff said...

Anon,
There's still a bottle of the '02 "Le Bouchet" in my mixed stash of Chidaine wines, so thanks for the promising note. I wouldn't go so far as to scratch François off my "approved list," but I have backed off of automatically buying into the wines since the '05s were released.

Director JDH,
I certainly want to think you're right about the expansion not being an/the issue. My personal interactions with Chidaine, who is intensely focused, fastidious and quietly proud of his work, tend to suggest that you should be right; I wouldn't expect him to have a problem handling his work/responsibility load.

The more I think about it, sulfur treatment combined with vintage character in each cuvée does seem to be the most likely culprit. I'll continue to hold at least a few bottles to see if there's not the chance that they're going through that Loire Chenin mid-life slumber phase, even though my gut tells me that most of the wines would be better drunk sooner than later.

Samantha Dugan said...

David,

So I too checked in with my beloved Chidaine and much to my shock and sadness I too found that a wine I had been waiting to savor had become far more advanced then I had hoped. Took a bottle of 2000 Montlouis Clos Habert to dinner a couple of weeks ago to share with a fellow Chidaine lover...we both took one sniff and gave each other the, "WTF?" face. Spoke to my sales rep and he had noticed that the wines were not holding up or retaining as much freshness as they once had. Not the end of the world, we will simply have to drink them younger but I did think of you and this post at dinner and mentioned both your experience and mine to my sales rep. Thanks for the heads up dude....time to rethink the age-ability of these wines.

David McDuff said...

Sam,

Thanks for sharing your experience and consulting with your friends, as well.

Oddly enough, I haven't been in any rush to start working my way through the rest of the Chidaine wines in my cellar, most of which are from the early vintages of the '00s. I'm actually open to the experience of continuing to let them develop, just to see where they go. But you've at least inspired me to check in with one of them sometime soon. I'll be sure to report back.

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