Six New-School Chenin Blancs from Montlouis and Vouvray to Drink Now

Innovative winemakers in Vouvray and Montlouis are producing new and ever-more interesting expressions of chenin blanc, battle lines be damned. Here, six wines to try now, from pétillant to dry and still.

Loire Valley Chenin Blanc Frantz saumon

The Kanye vs. Wiz Khalifa-style feud between Montlouis and Vouvray aside, there are exceptional examples of chenin blanc to be found on both sides of the Loire river.

In Vouvray, there are the wines of the two stalwarts, Huet and Foreau, but they have far more serious competition than they used to. In addition to the producers below, keep an eye out for wines from young talents like Sebastien Brunet, Mathieu Cosme, Florent Cosme (Mathieu’s younger brother) and Michel Autran. And despite being labeled a vin de France, Jacky Blot’s 2014 Venise, his single-parcel Vouvray, is one of the appellation’s best wines.

There’s plenty of emerging talent on the Montlouis side, too. In addition to the producers herewith, look for still wines from Ludovic Chanson and Xavier Weisskopf’s Le Rocher des Violettes. And the approval of Montlouis pétillant has led to a blossoming of avant-garde sparkling wines; also look for Chidaine’s Méthode Traditionelle, Blot’s Triple Zero, and La Grange Tiphaine’s Nouveau Nez, plus Frantz Saumon’s buoyant Petite Gaule du Matin, which isn’t technically Montlouis due to the presence of grapes other than chenin, namely the local menu pineau.

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême “Le Peu Morier” Vouvray | $40
The Peu Morier vineyard is composed of silex soils on the première côte, the slope close to the river that produces many of Vouvray’s best wines. This forthcoming release is a good example of Carême’s style, which nods toward grüner veltliner in its savoriness: It’s spicy, with a green streak (think medicinal herbs) to balance the autumnal fruit. It’s also still super young, so keep an eye out for Carême’s “Spring” bottling, from purchased fruit. Importer: Cape Classics [Buy]

NV François Pinon Brut Vouvray Pétillant | $22
Pinon has great skill with traditional still Vouvray—his off-dry Les Trois Argiles is a case study in acidity making peace with sugar—but this shows how good sparkling Vouvray is when done right. In this case, that means leaving a bit of residual sugar when the still wine goes into bottle for secondary fermentation, then aging it for two to three years—longer than many Champagnes. (The bottle I tried was a 2012 base.) While Pinon’s non-dosé has a pleasing austerity, this one, with a bit of sugar (about nine grams per liter) is a bit plumper and less acidic, bringing a meatiness to the fruit and a quiet sort of spice—pink peppercorn and mace. Importer: Louis/Dressner Selections [Buy]

2014 Frantz Saumon “Minéral+” Montlouis-sur-Loire | $28
Keep an eye out for Saumon’s 2014 Clos du Chêne when it arrives, but in the meantime his workhorse Minéral+ remains one of the great pleasures of modern Montlouis. There’s a slight, welcome bitterness to it—like citrus pith—that helps to tie together its intense lemon and mineral aspects, as well as the tiny amount of residual sugar. These wines, like Blot’s, tend to get even better when you decant them. Importer: Selection Massale [Buy]

2014 Domaine de la Taille Aux Loups (Jacky Blot) “Clos de Mosny” Montlouis-sur-Loire | $34
You’re more likely to locate the 2012 of this single-parcel bottling, which comes from a parcel of vines up to 50 years old, closer to the Cher River, a tributary that parallels the Loire just south of Montlouis. He considers it his equivalent of Venise, on the other side of the river. A back vintage isn’t a bad idea, because if you want to see how Montlouis can stack up to a big white like Meursault, here’s your chance. It’s epic: fruit flavors so concentrated they give off a (false) sense of sweetness, balanced by a deep saline side and mustard spice. Importer: VOS Selections [Buy]

2014 François Chidaine “Clos Baudoin” Vin de France | $30
This is a perfect example of how the naming fracas defies logic. With 60-year-old vines, Clos Baudoin is one of the greatest plantings in Vouvray; Chidaine acquired it in 2007 from what had been the Poniatowski estate, a historic spot in a historic appellation. And here it is, hiding under a vin de France guise. Doesn’t much matter, though, because this is Vouvray as it should be: fully dry, dense and full of white-sesame savoriness. Importer: Polaner Selections [Buy]

2014 Lise et Bertrand Jousset “Bubulle” Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant | $20
The Joussets put Montlouis’ pétillant originel appellation to good use, with this bottling from their organically farmed parcels, made from vines averaging 70 years old on clay and silex over limestone. It’s plush but precise in its flavors and just a touch sweet—a very classic chenin expression, with an intense mineral kick that transcends most pét-nats. Importer: Fruit of the Vines [Buy]

Lead image: Frantz Saumon in his vineyards.