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Spring in a Glass

Aromatic white wines from France’s Vouvray region are a perfect match for spring cooking.

by Sophie Helene Menin

fromFine Cooking
Issue 116

Vouvray, the picturesque french wine region on the northern bank of the Loire River, is known the world-over for its elegant, eponymous white wines made from Chenin Blanc grapes. The wines’ aromas are incredible, evoking blooming orchards alongside stony brooks, with notes of acacia flowers, citrus, and ripe apricots, balanced by high acidity and a long mineral finish.

Not only do Vouvrays smell and taste of spring, they pair beautifully with the produce and cooking of the season. Their versatility complements everything from peas, asparagus, and morels to egg dishes, fresh herbs, cream sauces, veal, lamb, and poultry. So if you’re looking for something new to pair with spring fare, and you enjoy aromatic whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and Riesling, Vouvray is worth a serious look.

Limestone terroir makes the wine

The Vouvray region’s excellent track record with Chenin Blanc is due in part to tuffeau, the porous, chalky limestone that dominates the terroir of the Loire Valley, and from which the area’s fairy tale castles are built. With regard to viticulture, tuffeau beneficially retains water, encourages vines to dig deep into the earth, and imbues grapes with signature mineral undertones.

A Vouvray’s quality is wholly dependent on the quality of the Chenin Blanc used to make it; these wines are made in the vineyard, not the cellar. Some people even call them “naked” wines, since there is very little manipulation of the grapes after they’re picked. It’s no wonder that the region’s best winemakers are its most careful and attentive farmers.

Look for quality producers and vintages

A giant chasm exists between the style and character of high-quality and commercial Vouvrays. High-quality Vouvray is an essay in clarity, complexity, and liveliness; commercial Vouvray often tastes like confectioners’ sugar stirred into old apple juice. So be sure to look for winemakers who consistently produce outstanding Vouvrays, such as Huet, Foreau, Champalou, Domaine des Aubuisières, Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, and Chidaine.

Vintage also matters when buying Vouvray because the wines are so dependent on the quality and character of the Chenin Blanc harvest. Over the past decade, the 2002, 2005, and 2010 vintages were the best, followed closely in quality by the 2003, 2006, and 2009 vintages. Look for Vouvray bottled during any of those years and you won’t be disappointed.

Vouvray can be sparkling, dry, or sweet

While all Vouvrays are made from 100 percent Chenin Blanc, the wines are anything but homogenous. They come in a range of styles: sparking (pétillant), dry (sec), off-dry (demisec), and sweet (moelleux). With so many different options coming from the same grape, you could easily prepare a four-course meal and offer a different and distinctive Vouvray with each item on the menu.

Sparkling Vouvrays are the ideal apéritif. Produced in the same manner as Champagne, they have gentle bubbles that go well with briny oysters, creamy deviled eggs, and most hors d’oeuvres.

“Sec” Vouvrays are dry, almost chalky, with tinges of lemon, quince, and honey. These wines are ideal served with first courses or lighter meals, such as a goat cheese salad or grilled brook trout.

“Demi-sec” Vouvrays are truly beguiling. These off-dry wines possess deeper, more concentrated almond and truffle flavors and often a little residual sugar, which lends them a slightly sweet impression. Their compelling balance of sweet and savory flavors practically begs for umami-rich foods with similar complexity and depth, like morels with cream and fines herbes, and roasted veal loin.

Sweet “moelleux” Vouvrays are made with ripe grapes affected by the botrytis fungus (also known as noble rot), which causes the grapes to shrivel, thereby concentrating their flavors and sugars. Like Sauternes, another iconic dessert wine, these Vouvrays are a perfect match for rich cheeses and creamor fruit-based desserts because the wines’ earthy sweetness and acidity complements and brightens rich, sugary foods.

Explore Vouvray’s wide range of styles through these six bottles.

Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Pétillant, 2005 Champalou Vouvray, 2010 Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec, 2006 François Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir, 2009 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec, 2009 François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Botrytis, 2005
SPARKLING (PÉTILLANT): Domaine Huet Brut Vouvray Pétillant, 2005 ($29) Gentle bubbles and the flavors of quince, chamomile, and mint make this wine a delightful alternative to Champagne. Serve with seafood, canapés, and fruit desserts. DRY (SEC): Champalou Vouvray, 2010 ($20) This refreshing Vouvray offers lively acidity and hints of lemon, herbs, and honeysuckle. It’s a vibrant partner for salads, quiches, and soufflés. DRY (SEC): Foreau Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec, 2006 ($31) Elegant and complex, this dry Vouvray has a bouquet of apple blossoms and honey and a long, stony finish. Serve with fish and poultry. DRY (SEC): François Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir, 2009 ($20) This wine showcases Chenin Blanc’s characteristic honey and green apple flavors alongside notes of flint and oyster shells. Serve with meaty white fish, such as halibut or red snapper, and spring vegetables.  OFF-DRY (DEMI-SEC): Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Demi-Sec, 2009 ($36) This succulent wine offers quince, truffle, bitter citrus, and tropical fruit flavors; it can be savored now or aged for decades. Serve with veal, ripe cheeses, and fruity or creamy desserts. SWEET (MOELLEUX): François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Botrytis, 2005 ($30/500 ml) A silky, golden-hued special-occasion wine, this Vouvray exudes tropical fruit and bitter citrus flavors, along with mineral and truffled honey undertones. Sip it on its own to experience Chenin Blanc at its most poetic, or serve it with something sweet and indulgent.
Drink it now, or later

As if Vouvray’s natural acidity, intense varietal character, variety of styles, and affordability (even the best bottles can be purchased for under $40) weren’t enough, they’re also a collector’s dream because they age so well. In particular, the off-dry and sweet styles can evolve in the bottle for several decades, remaining fresh and vibrant all the while. Time softens their acidity and transforms their citrus, herb, and honey  flavors into almonds, caramel apples, and exotic fruits. Simply put, if you age a good bottle of Vouvray for anywhere from a few years to a few decades, you’ll one day drink a treasure.

Photos: Scott Phillips


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