Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Review: Chenin Blanc Surprise

I bought a bottle of Olek-Mery Chinon Cuvee des Tireaux 2006 white Loire wine on the recommendation of Crush, the midtown Manhattan wine dealer. They said they had tasted the Rosenthal-imported Chenin Blanc with small expectations and were "blown away."

I, too, was impressed. This little-known wine has incredible depth. I was most impressed by the unrelenting stoniness and the amazing structure. It's a Chenin of great presence.

Typically of a Rosenthal import, Domaine Olek-Mery is fairly small, with only 9 hectares of vineyards. It was founded by Jean-François Olek, a Poland-born nuclear power scientist. He and his wife didn't get to see much of the fruit of their labors. Olek-Mery died just after the 1991 harvest; his wife just before. Their two young daughters took over, and Nathalie Olek now manages the domaine. The vineyards are taken care of by the esteemed Baudry family and the wines are made by Bernard Baudry and his son, Matthieu. Well, no wonder we have a good wine here.

No chemical herbicides or fertilizers are used. The pride and joy of the domaine is the "Les Tireaux" vineyard, a special holding of older Cabernet Franc, with a recently planted plot of Chenin Blanc. It has a southerly exposure and soil of soft yellow chalk and sand. Most of the land is given over the the Cab France, which is what you see reviewed most in the press. But a very small amount of Chinon Blanc is now available. And that's what I got.

The nose begins with notes of ripe cheese, gooseberry, ginko and pear. The wine has a zippy, stand-up acidity, and a medium-rich mouth feel. I got flowering grass eucalyptus, asparagus, lemongrass on the palate, as well as metal shavings. At the back of the wine you hit this wonderful stoniness. Drinking the wine is a little like throwing piquant, green fruit at an old French stone fence.

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