When the weather turns hot, oppressive and uncomfortable, the white wines of the Loire Valley of France take center stage. In a prior article I wrote about the Loire Valley for Marilee's website, I mentioned the three different areas of the Loire. The center area (Anjou-Saumur) is home to the white wine I'm writing about now -- Savennieres (pronounced sah-ven-YARE). It is the most extraordinary dry white wine, and possibly the greatest dry chenin blanc, in the world.
If you've become accustomed to drinking chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, your taste buds are in for a tasty surprise with a Savennieres. At a time when so many wines seem to be all fruit and forward tastes, these are earthier, bone-dry wines where hints of slate from gravelly soil produce a weighty underpinning on which the restrained taste of fruit rests. Savennieres are densely flavored wines with all sorts of tastes -- nuts, lemon, lychee, peach, white pepper -- but the single fruit taste that is notable is apple; sometimes off-the-tree juicy Red Delicious apples or tangy, crisp Granny Smith apples, sometimes spiced apples. The prominent characteristic is minerals, giving the wine complexity and a sense of place.
The vineyards for the chenin blanc grapes in Anjou-Saumur are spread over steep, south-facing slopes of volcanic schist. Yields from these vineyards are among the lowest in the Loire, which accounts, in part, for Savennieres' concentration and depth of flavor. It has been called the most cerebral wine in the world. The wine has a yellow-gold color, which becomes darker with age, and the wines become richer and somewhat more challenging. It is a wine that is known to age well for decades.
Drop into a wine store and ask to be shown to the aisle of Loire whites. If you find a Sancerre, Muscadet or Vouvray, get one because you can't miss, especially for warm weather. If there are any other Loire whites that you haven't tried, pick one up. If it's a Savennieres, great. Just remember that name and sometime in the future you may see it... and when you do, grab it. The title of this article is apt because you most likely won't find a Savennieres in just any store or restaurant -- but if you do it's a sign that the store or restaurant knows what it's doing.
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