Saturday, 22 January 2011

Viavino Wine Course Session Three

Last Tuesday saw the third session of the Classic French Wine Regions wine tasting and education course I’m running.  The idea is to educate about the world of wine whilst also improving tasting skills.  In the second session we looked at the red grapes of Beaujolais (Gamay) and Burgundy (Pinot Noir).  This time round we looked at wines from the white varieties of the Central Loire (Chenin Blanc) and Bordeaux (Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle), comparing them with examples from around the world.

Wines 1 & 2 – Anjou Blanc and South African Chenin Blanc

We started with a comparison between two Chenin Blancs.  The first was an Anjou, which is found in the variety's homeland, the Central Loire.  Thanks to its racy acidity, Chenin Blanc ages incredibly well and this example, Anjou Les Genêts from Domaine des Sablonnettes, was no exception.  At seven years old it had developed a wonderfully full and honeyed nose that could mislead you into thinking it was sweet.  It also had great complexity deriving from the fact that the wine spends quite a time in barrel without being topped-up, which results in a flor like yeast developing on the surface that gives the final wine a characteristic a bit like a Vin Jaune or a fino sherry.  Rich, complex and long it was a cracker.

I bought this from the producer a few years ago and I'm afraid it's not available in the UK.  However, HG Wines, who are in St. John's Street (London) sell a similar Chenin by Sablonnettes for about £15.

The second example was from the high altitudes of the Cederberg National Park in South Africa; a Cederberg Chenin Blanc 2009.  This showed how versatile the variety is - it and the Anjou couldn't have been more different.  It was also a lovely wine but was clean and fresh, designed to be drunk young.  It had some of the aromatic profile you might expect from a Sauvignon Blanc, but less in your face.  Subtly fragrant and very crisp it was a really good example.

It comes from Waitrose and costs just shy of £8.  Good value and a really decent alternative to more overpriced Sauvignon.

Wines 3 & 4 – Dry White Bordeaux and Eden Valley Sémillon

The dry white we looked at from Bordeaux was a 2008 from Chateau Saint-Jean-des-Graves.  It was a classic Sauvignon Sémillon blend, though in the modern style which tends to favour more Sauvignon than of old.  It had the really agreeable balance you get when the two varieties are blended; clean crisp and slightly aromatic nature coming from the Sauvignon, but tempered by the Sémillon, which makes it rounder and gives it more mouth-feel.

We all agreed this was a great example and at less than £8 from Waitrose this comes highly recommended.

The new world example was a 2005 Henschke Sémillon called Louis from the Eden Valley.  This showed what  Sémillon with a bit of bottle age does in Australia when handled by one of the Country's finest producers.  It had all that unique waxy lanolin oddness that you get with aged Sémillon, with a slight oiliness that really coats the mouth.  It was still fairly crisp for Sémillon though with some citrus flavours also coming.  Very long and pretty complex, it's an unusual wine that makes for an interesting change from most boring whites on the market.

You can pick up a more recent release from for £17.65.

Wines 5 & 6  – Coteaux du Layon and Monbazillac

[caption id="attachment_675" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Botrytis grapes in Sauternes"][/caption]

Finally we looked at a couple of stickies, a Loire from Chenin Blanc and a South-West France example from Bordeaux varieties (Sauvignon, Sémillon and Muscadelle).  Both regions make naturally sweet wines from grapes that have been attacked by a fungus called botrytis, which is more affectionately known as noble rot.  This concentrates the juice, resulting in sweet nectar, plus it gives the wines a delicious and complex marmalade character.  It may make the grapes look disgusting, but it results in fabulous wines.

The Loire wine was a Coteaux du Layon Chaume 2009 from Domaine des Forges, one of the major producers of Loire stickies.  This had the characteristic streak of Chenin acidity that counters the sweetness so well.  It had some botrytis but was not a wine made entirely from noble rot grapes, making it lighter than it would be otherwise.  Lovely and clean it would be perfect with some foie gras or a fruit tart.

You can pick it up from Waitrose for about a tenner, which is great price for any decent stickie.

The South-West France example was a Monbazillac, which is wine made in the style of a Sauternes but slightly inland from Bordeaux in the Dordogne.  It's an appellation that's always a great alternative to Sauternes but much better value.  Our example was a 2006 from Chateau Sablines.  This was clearly sweeter than the Coteaux du Layon and had a much more pronounced botrytis character - really strong marmalade.  The acidity was still pretty good, but it was no where near as racy as the Loire stickie.  Long, rich and honeyed it was just as it should be and was great with Roquefort.

This too can be picked up from Waitrose, for around £8.

It was another fun week where lots was learned and some really good wines were tasted and discussed.  Next week we're looking at the red varieties of the same regions.  Happy drinking.


  1. Sweet wine and blue cheese is heaven. Thank you Hugo, even if I forget every single thing from this wine course this gastronomic revelation was worth every penny!

  2. Thanks Megan. You should try a piece of Stichelton from Neal's Yard (see my Christmas wines post) - it's a cracker.