Tasting Champalou Vouvray Sec 2005

What an delightful wine. Tasted at Cork & Co., a downtown wine bar, as part of an excellent French wine flight, I was blown away by this Vouvray. I had never heard of the producer until I looked them up as part of this post, and I will definitely be looking for their wines again!

Champalou VouvrayPale gold in color. When cold, I detected very pronounced apricot on the nose with some hints of orange blossom. As the wine warmed up, the scent of honey was unmistakable and intense.

There was a peachy sweetness on the palate that was offset by a hint of bitterness and strong minerality, creating an overall marmalade flavor. I was fascinated how the attack (the first flavors detected upon taking the wine in my mouth) was sweet, but then the flavors hit this wall of mineral, which stopped all the sugar but allowed my palate to pass through unscathed. The flavors all but disappeared after the “sugar wall,” leaving my palate seduced and then refreshed and clean, with only a lingering hint of unsweet honey muskiness to show for my swallow.

The wine is quite viscous, full-bodied, and would be a great pair for spicy foods. Hatch green chiles came immediately to mind, but any spicy dish would do. I really think you should run out there and try this wine, if only to experience the cleanly defined flavor progression alone.

French Wine RegionsVouvray is a wine made in the Loire Valley of France from a grape called Chenin Blanc. Traditionally, they vinify a sweet wine from Chenin Blanc, but a dryer style is coming into popularity, hence the indication on this wine “sec,” which is French for dry. The three major white grapes grown in the Loire are Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet; the major red varietals are Cabernet Franc, Gamay, and Pinot Noir. Loire winemakers, especially those in Anjou, make Cabernet Franc shine like a jewel. Try a red wine from Chinon sometime; you’ll thank me.

Chenin BlancChenin Blanc rules the region of Vouvray. It’s a vigorous vine, which reliably produces lots of fruit, sometimes too much. Because it’s such an easy grape to grow, or at least a very dependable crop, Chenin Blanc is grown all over the world. It was the jug wine Chablis pouring from California in the 70s, and I was shocked to learn that it’s still the third most planted wine grape there. Chenin Blanc is one of the major white varietals in South Africa, where it’s known as Steen. The grape is also supremely flexible, able to produce dry table wines, sparkling wines and sweet, thick dessert wines. Check out this description of different styles of Vouvray at Basic Juice.

What I find particularly fascinating about this grape is that the wines it makes are very age-worthy, and that’s not common of a lot of dry white wines. Really, for aging whites you either go Chardonnay, Riesling, or Chenin Blanc. OK, and maybe Semillon, if it’s made right. But if we’re going to be honest with each other here, and I hope we can do that, the only place you’re going to find lots of ANY ageable white wines is in Europe. Want to age a Chardonnay? Buy a Chablis. Want to age a Riesling? Pick something up from from the Mosel, in Germany. And pretty much the only people really making Chenin Blancs that will cellar for 10-80 years are in Vouvray. Yes, it really can be aged that long. The Caveman posted about a vertical tasting of Vouvray he took part in, which includes his tasting notes on older vintages.

Les ChampalousCatherine and Didier Champalou are a husband and wife team; Catharine handles the winemaking and the cellars, while Didier is responsible for the vineyards. They are both the children of vignerons (French for wine growers), and they met in college where they were both studying winemaking in 1976. They started their own estate in 1985, according to their website, and put all their energy into rigorous quality control and innovative techniques. They’re now one of the top estates in Vouvray, and their wine is imported to the US by the inestimable Kermit Lynch. (Check out The Wine Doctor’s excellent article about them.) Isn’t that the coolest story of successful people in love and all partners and shit? I think this winemaking family is the mostest, and I want more of their wine.

0 comments

  1. Loved this wine, too, and you’re absolutely right about how it would be great with spicy food. I liked the descriptor “clean” as well, which reminded me of just how this wine tasted. (I also have to admit it is good with chips and spicy guacamole…)

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