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Truly great Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc grapes
A bunch of Chenin Blanc grapes

It feels as though the list of "great" grapes is growing on an annual basis: new names added to the roll-call of supremely expressive varieties that can make something truly scintillating unblended with other grapes.

One of the more recent additions has been the Greek Assyrtiko. The roots of this Santorini-dweller just seem to suck up something from the soils in which it grows and squirt it straight into one's wine glass (the great Rhône wine writer John Livingstone-Learmonth refers to this as STGT i.e. Soil to Glass Transfer).

And then there are those go-to classics that have been flying the flag for terroir, one feels, since time immemorial. Riesling is something of a head honcho in this department. Yet there's another variety that rivals it for transparency and ability to transfix one with its complexity: Chenin Blanc...


I remember some years ago sitting in a miniature wine bar in Hong Kong, a tiny space that specialises in natural wine. The bottle we ordered created one of those rare moments when a liquid so entrances one that one doesn't want to move or stop sipping for the remainder of the evening. That bar was La Cabane (and I suggest a visit ASAP; just ensure you arrive early); the wine was a dry Loire Chenin Blanc.

A London tasting the other day reminded me of that occasion. The reason? Once again, I had a stunningly memorable dry white wine in my glass and once again it was a Loire Chenin Blanc.

This is a new venture by an American who travelled to France to teach English, became hooked on wine, worked for one of the Loire's great winemakers (Domaine Guiberteau), before being offered a vineyard from which to make the sort of wine he likes: "elegant, pure, vertical, with salinity from the limestone".

This is his first vintage. There is very little of this wine available; clients will be restricted to a single 6-bottle case. 


2015 Saumur Blanc Les Chapaudaises, Brendan Stater-West
£174 in bond per 6  Drink 2019-24


Thrilling nose, superbly defined and clear-cut. There are hints of Chenin lanolin to the glinting pear and apple fruit that's dotted with green, grassy scents and a sort of smoky minerality. The palate is utterly dry, even a touch phenolic; direct and compact (I am told that decanting this allows it to open up considerably). At the core, I find earthy, mineral, lightly saline acidity that's really firm and juicy. And it closes with arresting fullness and density. Fabulous. A "wow" moment. And an extraordinary first vintage.
   

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