Several years ago a winemaker summed up his thoughts to us on barrel aging wines: “oak is fine, but wine is better.” As oaking maxims go, we find this a pretty good one. Oak can be a necessary supporting element, but when it’s the loudest voice in a cuvée it’s rarely a recipe for success.
Which is why we tasted the Domaine des Sanzay’s barrel-raised Chenin Blanc with a healthy dose of skepticism. Loire Valley Chenin Blanc is one of the world’s great wines, and so delightful is the blend of chalky terroir and orchard fruit it’s hard to imagine oak doing anything but messing it up. But even tired old tasters can be surprised from time to time.
Sanzay’s “Coinçons” [kwen-sawn] is pure Chenin Blanc from 50 year old vines. It’s fermented with wild yeasts in large oak barrels, then aged in oak (half new) with regular lees stirring for the élévage. This sounds like a recipe for a rich buttery wine, but somehow it’s not — the concentrated fruit from the old vines provides a sturdy enough base.
The oak is there, but it’s handled meticulously — like a white Burgundy made from Chenin. The nose shows quince, pear, toast, and earth; the mouth is dry and perfectly balanced between fruit, acid, and toast. Picture the shimmering golden fruit of a Meursault with the more exotic profile of pear and stones from the Loire.
This may not be the classic expression of Loire Valley Chenin Blanc we love so much, but it’s seriously delicious, and very well made. Serve with grilled swordfish or pan-seared scallops.
Sanzay Chenin Blanc “Coinçons” 2019
bottle price: $25