Golden Oldie - Savennieres, A Fine Loire White
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed May 17, 2006. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
Possibly one of the best Loire white wines by any definition, Savennieres is also among the least well-known and perhaps the least popular.
Why the seeming contradiction? Besides being made in relatively limited quantities, Savennieres may be one of the most difficult Loire whites to get to know. By its nature, this intense, mineral-laden Chenin Blanc is a rare thing for a white: a wine so one-dimensional and frighteningly acidic in its youth that it needs as long as a decade in the bottle before maturity brings it around to a rich, imposing complexity that ranks it among the great ones.
Sacrifice a young Savennieres before it is time, and - even more than with an immature, tannic red - you're almost certain to be disappointed. It's no surprise that a lot of wine lovers who've tried one or two young Savennieres have simply given up on the type and moved on to more accessible options.
But get your hands on a mature one, and it's a revelation, as well as, often, a very good deal. Because of its quirky nature, young Savennieres often go for very attractive prices in the $10 range. If you have the facilities, and the patience, you could do much worse than to load your cellar with a case or two of a current vintage for drinking around 2012.
Alternatively, at a somewhat higher price and marginally greater risk, do as I did: Keep an eye on your favorite wine shops in hope a dusty bottle will appear. I was delighted, if a bit wary, to find a bunch of 1997s from the respected producer Domaine de Baumard at a local shop recently for a little over $20. I checked the bottles suspiciously, but couldn't spot any sediment or cautionary darkening of color through the bottle, and the capsule turned freely, a small clue that no significant amount of seepage had worked its way out around the cork. I took the risk and was duly rewarded with a rich, complex Chenin Blanc that's still very much alive.
That's no surprise, really. Barring terrible treatment, Savennieres may be the most ageworthy dry white. A good example from a fine vintage can last 20 or even 30 years in a temperature-controlled cellar.
Domaine des Baumard 1997 Savennieres
This is a clear, straw-color wine with distinct glints of gold. Lovely aromas show still-vibrant white fruit with a dance of mature-white aromas that include almonds, butterscotch and banana oil. Full-bodied flavors are consistent with the nose, clean fruit and butterscotch shaped by lively acidity, with complex mineral flavors lurking just beneath the surface. Very fine wine, mature but by no means going around the bend. Ex Cellars Wine Agencies Inc., Solvang, Calif. (May 12, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Complex enough for sipping thoughtfully as an after-dinner drink, but it went beautifully with a robust fish dinner, fresh cod baked on a bed of thin-sliced potatoes with plenty of garlic and olive oil.
VALUE: Not a budget wine, but it fully justifies this local sale price ($12.99 in Kentucky), and then some.
WHEN TO DRINK: With abundant fruit remaining, balanced structure and only subtle oxidative flavors, this one should still have years to go before it fades.