Vouvray: a class act

A brief introduction to Vouvray…

The celebrity grape of the Loire Valley is Sauvignon Blanc. She’s famous for her role in Sancerre, a classic dry white known the world over. Sauvignon is certainly talented, but her strong character can sometimes be overbearing. An even more gifted grape making whites in this part of France is Chenin Blanc. She may not be as naturally striking, but she’s immensely versatile and never hogs the limelight. She is often at her best when playing her varied role in Vouvray.

Vouvray is a small town situated on the northern bank of the Loire, just east of Tours. Winemakers only produce whites here, and just from Chenin Blanc. But they coax a prodigious array of styles from it. Wines can be anywhere on the sweetness scale, so the more considerate producers will say on the label: dry (sec), off-dry (sec tendre), medium dry (demi-sec), medium sweet (moelleux) or fully, lusciously sweet (liquoreux). They also make sparkling (mousseux) and semi-sparkling (pétillant) – these too can be dry or semi-sweet.

The secret to Chenin Blanc’s success is the sharp, acidic side of her character. The grapes retain their acidity even when very ripe, ensuring a balanced and precise performance even in sweeter roles. It is also the key to Chenin’s longevity; in good vintages, Vouvray can last for 50 years or more. When young, the wines have aromas of green apple, pear and white flowers; as they age, they become increasingly complex and honeyed, nutty and toasty. If grapes are affected by the benevolent fungus known as Noble Rot, the wines take on further distinctive scents of mushroom, marmalade and saffron.

Different styles work at different times throughout a meal: sparkling Vouvray as an aperitif; dry or off-dry versions with rich chicken, fish or pork dishes; medium dry or medium sweet styles with fruity desserts; and fully sweet examples to finish off, just for pure indulgence. Some producers specialise in a single style, but most make the whole gamut. Names to look out for are Domaine Champalou, Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, Domaine du Clos Naudin, Domaine Vigneau-Chevreux, Domaine Breton, Domaine Marc Brédif and the legendary Domaine Huet. Sancerre may have the celebrity cachet, but the multifaceted, hardworking Vouvray is where the quiet talent lies.

First published in Living France magazine.