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.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Maybe I was wrong....