I try and avoid focusing on two producers in one offer, but to illustrate how dynamic and exciting Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is right now I thought today a perfect opportunity to break the habit. Saumur and Anjou are appellations with history as rich as any, but it's what's transpired somewhat recently that's warranted their relative gain in recognition.
Oregon-born, Brendan Stater-West followed his passion for wine all the way to Paris where he began working in a wine shop. He tasted a bottle from the renowned, Romain Guiberteau and knew he wanted to learn and work alongside the Saumur producer. A marriage to a lovely French woman made the move from bustling Paris to the gentle hills of Saumur a seamless one, and Romain Guiberteau took Brendan under his wing. Seeing Brendan's skill and work ethic, Romain leased him one hectare of vines situated next to his famous Clos du Guichaux lieu dit.
Brendan's hectare, named Les Chapaudaises, is located in the small village of Bizay, within a half-kilometer of Saumur's cherished hill of Brézé. The same sandy tuffeau limestone appears here and is the foundation of the fine-grained and elegant contours that's rightfully associated with Saumur's top sites.
Like Romain, Brendan's wines are based upon driving minerality, crisp citrus and orchard fruit notes, and are bone dry. Both winemakers block malolactic fermentation, a key in retaining the more taut and racy qualities of Chenin Blanc. Although a debut release for Les Chapaudaises, the composure and harmony of the wine points to years of familiarity with Bizay and Saumur. The wines of Guiberteau are among the great Chenin Blancs of France, and Brendan's cuvée belongs at the same table.
If Saumur and Brendan's wine can best be described as regal and disciplined, then Anjou and Patrick Baudouin are in fact much further apart in style than their close proximity would suggest.
Anjou's dry wines do not receive the same historical (and current) praise of their neighbors to the east. Nestled between the Loire and Layon river, the high humidity here is ideal for making sweet wines from botrytized grapes. Patrick's great work, however, is in the dry style and his La Fresnaye cuvée is the wine that highlights Anjou's potential.
Patrick's importer has used a JRR Tolkien book to convey the sense of the man and the wines from this 13.5-hectare estate. Without having met Patrick I can attest that the actual wine in the glass conjures magic, wizardry, and maybe just a touch of fairy dust. It's obvious from the first aromas to the texture of the first sip, this is simply unlike any Chenin Blanc you will ever taste.
La Fresnaye is a single hectare parcel planted on an amalgamation of ancient soils containing predomiantely gravel and limstone. It's made in the dry style, but carries the honeyed and exotic spices that are mesmerizing put in this ususually higher acid form. In the past these notes have usually come with an overt bruised apple quality that tends to turn me off in Chenin. But here, the real magic is the fresh and lively nature of the orchard fruit that's still loaded with these savory elements. It's a high-wire act on a mystical stage.
Loire Valley Chenin Blanc may hold the single greatest potential within its diversity of styles. These examples from Saumur and Anjou showcase wildly different sides of the coin. They will reward those who place them in deep pockets of the cellar, but they are unquestionably delicious in their generosity today.
2015 Brendan Stater-West Saumur Blanc Les Chapaudaises
$44 per bottle.
2014 Patrick Baudouin Anjou La Fresnaye
$32 per bottle.