Wines made from chenin blanc, such as the one I discovered last week, can be more memorable than most chardonnays or sauvignon blancs, even if the grape isn’t as well known or appreciated.
I was reminded of this when a friend and I walked into a well-known New York wine bar and asked the bartender what she would recommend by the glass. We were in the mood for some interesting whites, not too heavy on the oak.
Out came a bottle of Chablis and another of Saint-Veran, both relatively simple French chardonnays named after their respective towns in the north and south of Burgundy. We took a taste of each. Not bad, but not distinctive, either, at least not these examples.
Then there was a third wine, a chenin blanc that turned out to be full of depth and character. It, too, was from France, from the village of Savennières in the Loire Valley. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m sure you’re not alone. Yet in Savennières, which is a much smaller area than the better known chenin-producing area of Vouvray, the grape finds perhaps its greatest expression.
Domaine du Closel’s 2002 “Clos du Papillon” Savennières is one of the more distinctive white wines I’ve tasted recently. While young by Savennières standards — some can develop for decades — the Clos du Papillon is a beautifully ripe but dry sipping wine with notes of apple, honey and apricot and touches of orange and vanilla. Almost golden in color, it has pronounced minerals, reflecting the ground’s deep schist and volcanic rock. Beyond aperitif duty, it will match well with lightly herbed chicken and fish.
As always when I find an outstanding wine, I wanted to know just what makes it so good. Some perspective came from the importer, Louis/Dressner Selections, whose Web site () points out that the Clos du Papillon is from “one of the top sites in Savennières, so named because the plot’s shape resembles a butterfly. The picking is usually late (October) and done in several consecutive passes in the vineyards so as to maximize the ripeness levels.”
Joe Dressner reminded me that 2002 had ideal growing conditions “with sun through the harvest.” He called it a “classic great vintage” and noted that Domaine du Closel’s current proprietor, Evelyne de Jessey (three generations of women have run the vineyard), has moved toward higher levels of ripeness in the fruit and rounder, fuller wines.
It all adds up to something delicious and complex. It’s also priced well at about $24 retail (a far better value than the wine bar tab of $12 a glass). In any event, in a world of increasingly cookie-cutter wines with little to distinguish one from the next, Domaine du Closel’s 2002 “Clos du Papillon” is lovely and original.
Bin End: Under the heading of the inevitable comes word of the "Sideways Wine Club." Brought to you by Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising, it seeks to capitalize on the success of "Sideways," the Oscar-winning buddy movie set in Santa Barbara County's wine regions. Wines sold by the club will be categorized as "Jack’s Favorites," "Maya’s Favorites" and "Miles’ Pinots" after the film’s main characters. Looks like the cheaper stuff goes under Jack’s name.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch