I made a remarkable discovery today. It seems that Chenin Blanc isn't just made from ancient dryfarmed bush vines on the decomposed granite soils of the Swartland. No. Apparently it's also made in a place called the 'Loire' in France. Damn silly name, that. Can't see it catching on. Leave it to the experts on the African continent, I say.
Okay, there may be a light dusting of irony in the above, but it illustrates a point: there's so much excitement about the Chenins being produced by South Africa's 'new wave' (a wave we continue to ride quite happily, thanks), that people seem to have forgotten all about the Loire and its wonderful heritage with Chenin Blanc - aka Pineau de la Loire.
We felt it was high time we showed the region some love and went straight for the motherlode: a special cuvée, made only in the best vintages, from one of Anjou's most respected biodynamic producers - a wine which all three judges in the most recent Decanter panel blind tasting judged as the only 'Outstanding' wine in the Loire Dry Chenin Blanc category.
Château de Passavant and the 2014 vintage
Beautiful nose, melon, citrus, sweet apple, lovely acidity and texture, concentrated, with very good length. This is serious wine. Generally 2014 produced wines with more energy and tension than either 2013 or 2015, suggesting the best wines would benefit from some laying down. Here at SWiG HQ we lapped up the sample sent by winemaker Olivier, however, with nary a thought for the future. If you can wait, give it six months to a year, although this is bound to evolve beautifully for a up to a decade.
Château de Passavant is a family-owned estate in the upper Layon valley with a reputation for making bankably well-crafted Chenin. Passavant has been biodynamic since 2007 and Demeter-certified since 2011. Winemaking is done with as little intervention as possible. The wine is barrel-fermented with wild yeast, then aged in lightly toasted 450l barrels (20% new) for 18 months. Nothing is added (no sugar, no enzymes, no exotic chemicals with unpronounceable names) except a smidgen of sulphur (20mg/l) at bottling.
Passavant's Jarret de Montchenin is made from a selection of the best handpicked Chenin grapes (anything either green or botrytised is omitted), from its prized south east-facing schist slopes close to the river Layon. It's only produced in good vintages - there was none from 2010 to 2013, making the 2014 something of a rarity.
Winemaker Olivier Lecomte describes 2014 as "very good" for dry whites. Generally the vintage produced wines with more energy and tension than either 2013 or 2015 in the Loire. Here at Swig HQ we lapped up the sample sent by Olivier without hesitation or regret (my notes said 'open, rich and complex'), however as Olivier suggests, this wine will probably hit its peak after a couple of years in bottle.