If you’re looking for a winter-weight white wine, one that’s substantial enough to warm the insides yet elegant enough to dance intimately with many different foods, I’ve got a name for you: Savennières.
I make this recommendation with some trepidation. I love Savennières, but I will concede it’s not particularly likable. That is to say, it’s not an easygoing, friendly sort of wine. It requires a commitment, which is not necessarily a step that everybody wants to take.
I understand the feeling. Just as I often prefer a thriller to a work of literature, I sometimes don’t want to make the effort to ponder a wine. I just want to enjoy it. At those moments, I would leave the cork in the Savennières. But given the proper time, energy and sense of resolve, the rewards of a good Savennières are many.
This complicated wine is from the Anjou, a region on the sinuous Loire River near the city of Angers. Savennières is a tiny appellation, with wines composed entirely of chenin blanc planted largely on south-facing slopes on the north side of the river.
Most of the wines will be labeled Savennières, though a few bear the sub-appellations Roche-aux-Moines and Coulée de Serrant. Farther east near the city of Tours are Savennières’ primary chenin blanc siblings, Vouvray and Montlouis.
Like riesling, chenin blanc has the tremendously versatile capacity to produce wines ranging from bone dry to lusciously sweet. Up until the mid-20th century, Savennières was typically a sweet wine. Now, while you might occasionally find a sweet version, almost all the wines are entirely dry, unlike, say, Vouvray, which still produces a fair amount of delicious demi-sec and intensely sweet moelleux wines.
How does Savennières differ from a Vouvray? I have always found most dry Vouvrays to be slightly easier-going and more accessible, without the density, concentration or austerity of Savennières. Good dry Vouvray can age beautifully and evolve in complex and fascinating ways, but it doesn’t always require the same level of mental engagement as Savennières.
The challenges posed by Savennières begin almost immediately. Even a youngish wine, poured into a glass, can occasionally seem suspiciously dark, as if green-gold youth had aged prematurely into an oxidative amber.
Right out of the bottle, Savennières often has a strange aroma, almost like wet wool, organic but not something we conventionally associate with wine. When I had less experience with Savennières, I often wondered on first sniff whether the bottle might be corked or flawed. Almost invariably, the wine would turn out to be perfectly sound. With time and air, this aroma evolves into less-daunting components like straw and sweet grass, which combine with the more typical chenin blanc characteristics of flowers, chamomile and honey.
On the palate, Savennières is dense but not heavy, voluminous yet graceful with an exquisite succulence that draws me back again and again. This texture is one of the most alluring aspects of chenin blanc, and particularly of Savennières. It had better be attractive because when Savennières is young, the acidity can be unyielding and somewhat impenetrable. Even so, the wine feels wonderful in the mouth.
Eventually, with air, individual flavors begin to emerge, echoing the aromas with the underlying addition of a fine mineral tang, expansive and close-grained. With age, the wine deepens yet never quite cozies up, remaining somewhat austere in contrast to, say, a plump white Burgundy. Savennières most definitely benefit from decanting.
Because the appellation is so small, chances are you will come across maybe 10 or 12 producers if you are lucky enough to find a good selection. One of my favorites is Château Soucherie; I loved its 2010 Savennières Clos des Perrières, a mellow, complex wine with great finesse.
Other names worth seeking out include Château d’Épiré. The 2012 vintage of its Cuvée Spéciale is already available, and it will only get better with time. Domaine aux Moines makes a more exuberant style of Savennières. Its 2010 Roche aux Moines is lean yet rich, pure and delicious. Domaine du Closel makes a cuvée, La Jalousie, that offers an attractive introduction to Savennières for around $20-$25 a bottle.
New York Times