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Domaine François Chidaine

Chenin Masterclass: The New Releases from a “Sublimely Great Producer”
Domaine François Chidaine

What more can we say about this inspiring Loire Valley grower? Our thesaurus is running low on superlatives. Instead, here are a few words from the press: “Chidaine is one of the world’s finest craftsmen in the medium of white wine” (David Schildknecht); “The Pope of Montlouis and Vouvray—just a sublimely great producer” (Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay); “There are times when I can imagine drinking only his wines for the rest of my life” (Peter Liem) and, “The modern ascendence of Montlouis essentially wouldn’t have happened were it not for François and Manuela Chidaine” (Jon Bonné). You get the drift.

 

Most of the wines we offer today spring from two contrasting vintages. Following the run of warmer seasons, 2021 marked something of a return to the chiselled and racy Chidaine style of 2010 and 2014 (with a touch more ripeness). Late last year, François told us he loves the ‘coiled’ style of the year and believes the wines will really come into their own with a few years of aging—even if, in our opinion, the wines are already looking open for business. 2022 was a sunnier year with an earlier harvest. However, well-timed rains, along with cooler nights later in the season have imbued Chidaine’s ‘22s with terrific freshness and vibrancy. Expect luminous yet beautifully structured dry Chenins with excellent density underscored by ripe acidity and the clap of phenolic tension.

 

Regarding news from the domaine, François and Manuela’s daughter, Alice Chidaine, has now assumed a key role in the cellar. Before returning to Montlouis, Alice apprenticed with Clos Rougeard and Dagueneau in the Loire Valley and worked vintage with Chris Alheit in Swartland. So, a first-class education. Alice’s younger brother Pierre is also making a mark on the viticulture side. Both grow and make their own wine in the portfolio; Alice with Les Grillonnières and Pierre with the domaine’s newest single site cuvée, Les Epinays. These wines are offered below. If we were François, we might be looking over our shoulder; the kids are doing a marvellous job! Then, the family continues investing in the super-hip Wineglobes: François appreciates the drawn-out fermentations and precision these glass vessels afford.

 

A quick postscript or two before we go. The domaine’s great value, Le Chenin d’Ici is back and 2022 is a knockout. Finally, you can taste a range of Chidaine’s current releases today (from midday) in Melbourne and on Wednesday in Sydney. Come on down to taste some of the best damn Chenin Blanc on the planet.

The Wines

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2020

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2020

Chidaine’s cracking Montlouis Brut Nature is made from old-vine, biodynamically farmed, hand-harvested fruit cropped at a very low 35 hectolitres per hectare (a figure almost unheard of in Champagne). To be specific, this zero-dosage Montlouis is 100% Chenin Blanc from the flinty (perruches) sites of Le Volagray and Les Landes, as well as the clay- and limestone-dominant (aubuis) sites of Clos Renard and Les Epinais. Chidaine picks his grapes for sparkling wine at around 11.5 to 12.5 degrees of potential alcohol (i.e. flavour-ripe) as he wants his terroir to shine through. The base wine ferments spontaneously in old 620-litre barrels.As always, the palate is engagingly vinous, with a creamy texture shot through with saline energy and spicy complexity. The finish tapers to a long, grippy, mineral-infused close—something seldom encountered in Chenin-based sparkling wines. There’s so much to love and such value for a world-class sparkling wine!

“The 2020 Brut Nature is a traditional method sparkling Chenin. It's a carefully made, cleansing aperitif style. Grown biodynamically, it is then naturally fermented in demi-muids before undergoing its second fermentation in bottle and resting on its lees for 18 months. The result is a bone-dry bottling, taut and lively with an assertive fizz. Rich apple fruit flavors are joined by lightly savory notes and subtle pastry characters derived from time on lees.”
90 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2020
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2008

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2008

Chidaine is widely acknowledged in France as one of the Loire Valley’s great sparkling-wine craftsmen, not least by Benjamin Dagueneau (who enlisted Chidaine’s help when trialling his own sparkling). This wine goes some way to explaining the accolade. It’s a pure, complex and elegant release that expresses the chalky terroir of its origin through an abundance of salty, marine and truffle aromas and flavours. The palate is still firmly structured, with great purity and persistent minerality. It was disgorged in April 2021 following 12 years on lees. Pure class as always.

Chidaine is widely acknowledged in France as one of the Loire Valley’s great sparkling wine craftsmen, not least by Benjamin Dagueneau (who enlisted Chidaine’s help when trialling his own sparkling), and this wine goes some way to explain the accolade. It’s a pure, very complex and elegant release that expresses the chalky terroir of its origin through an abundance of salty, marine and truffle aromas and flavours. The palate is still firmly structured, with a great purity and persistent minerality. Revelations II. Grab some while it lasts!

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Brut Nature 2008
Domaine François Chidaine Le Chenin d’Ici 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Le Chenin d’Ici 2022

So good to see this great value wine become a regular starter in the Chidaine portfolio. This label was first created in 2021, when, having lost 60% of his yields, François reached out to his contacts to secure small parcels of Chenin Blanc from across Touraine. In the end ‘The Chenin from here’ is roughly a 50/50 blend of estate and purchased fruit and includes grapes from many of the domaine’s exceptional parcels spread across Vouvray and Montlouis. Made in the same way as his estate cuvées, the resulting wine is popping with Chidaine magic. In short, it’s a deliciously fleshy, salty, mineral-soaked wine with a silky core oozing texture and long, stone-fruited length. It closes with citrusy salinity and a grippy grapefruit twist. It’s bloody terrific. 

Domaine François Chidaine Le Chenin d’Ici 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2021

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2021

Readers will already know that although this wine is grown in Vouvray, it is not permitted to bear that name because it ferments and matures across the river in Montlouis. It is, therefore, labelled Vin de France, a change in circumstance that has not bothered Chidaine’s clients one jot. .

This magnificent bottling is drawn from a series of clay-rich (argiles) Vouvray sites that surround the Clos Baudoin. These include L’Espagnole, La Chatterie, L’Homme, Les Reugnières and Le Haut Lieu (of Huet fame). Set away from the river, these sites are mostly populated with 40-year-old bush vines, which grow on deep, chalky clay over limestone subsoil. With this cuvée, the Chidaine family harness the best of both worlds: the density and fruity, sensual generosity from the clays and the vertical and spicy energy from the limestone. Another outstanding release, the 2021 spoils the drinker with layers of supple texture and mouthcoating flavour—apples, chalk, honey and apple blossom—draped over a rocky spine. Fans of this wine can jump in feet first. This is flat-out gorgeous Vouvray.

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2021
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2022

Chidaine’s Clos du Breuil is a Montlouis treasure: a single, three-hectare site, sloping towards the Loire River. This parcel is home to some of Chidaine’s oldest vines, up to 90 years old; the average age is 50 years old. A flint stone’s throw from Clos Habert, Clos du Breuil rests on one of the highest points in the appellation. The soil is clay and coarse flint over a subsoil of limestone – the type known to the locals as les Perruches. Chidaine’s vines are spread across several plots: the fruit is hand harvested with several ‘tris’ or passes through the vineyard.  It ferments naturally in 620-litre demi-muids over a period of up to 11 months. It's a powerful Clos du Breuil but still tightly wound with buoyant, pillow-soft texture and succulent quince-tinged fruits interwoven with a salty minerality that lingers on the finish. So pure, filigreed and focused.

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Choisilles 2021

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Choisilles 2021

Les Choisilles is named after the type of black flint abundant in the parcels that gift this wine. The main vineyards involved are Les Epinais, La Taille aux Loups and Clos Renard. The bedrock across these sites is tuffeau (limestone), and the vines range in age from 30 to 90 years. From 2021, Pierre Chidaine has used the oldest vines in Les Epinais (now over 60 years old) to make a single lieu-dit wine. In style Les Choisilles is a concentrated, focused dry wine that often needs several years to develop. 

There is a touch more extract than in the Clos du Breuil. As the wine saturates your palate you notice the tighter acidity of 2021 and more of the struck-flint smokiness so typical of the Choisilles rocks. It's another alluring, pure-fruited Chenin, full of chew and bite, with waves of creamy stone fruit and mandarin shouldered by energetic acidity and pungent mineral freshness. Smokin’.

"The 2021 Les Choisilles is dry and fragrant, offering tropical fruit flavors from mandarin to passionfruit. While aromatically exotic, it is structured, firm and precise, leaving you with a clear understanding that this is a wine that knows where it is going and has no time for lounging around despite its aromatic exuberance."
90 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous.com
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Choisilles 2021
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais 2022

Settled on a limestone plateau above the Loire, the chalky soils of Les Bournais would not be out of place on Vouvray’s Première Côte (home to Clos du Bourg and Le Mont). Unlike most of Montlouis—which is on clay and flint—this four-hectare vineyard is on a pocket of clay and Bournais limestone, from which it takes its name. Planted in 1998, the vines gently follow the contours of the land, right to the edge of a chalky precipice. The roots have just 35 centimetres of clay soils to burrow through before hitting the limestone bedrock, perhaps one reason we always see a distinctive smokiness in the aromas of these wines.

When tasted alongside the Clos du Breuil and Les Choisilles cuvées, this is clearly an altogether more ‘Vouvrillon’ expression of Montlouis, with a powdery, chalky structure that reflects its soils and location. Chidaine now raises this wine in a single 1,000-litre untoasted oval made specifically for this wine. It’s hard to say what effect this will have on its evolution, but one thing is for sure: the new vintage is a belter. Like a proud parent, François Chidaine always has a smile in his face when he pours this wine!

It’s an ultra-intense dry Chenin; very complex with all kinds of tangy fruit and nuances of white peach, juicy pineapple, citrus peel, blossom, ginger and vibrant mineral earthiness (a signature of all Chidaine wines) lurking underneath all the puppy fat. The balance is impeccable, as is the lip-smacking chalky finish. 

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Tuffeaux 2020

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Tuffeaux 2020

This much-loved 100% Chenin Blanc is drawn from the second, later picks across a range of Chidaine’s old Chenin plots (including the Clos du Volagray, Saint-Martin and Les Grillonnières) that have stony soils which are heavy in yellow limestone. These vines range in age from 30 to 90 years and are always cropped at tiny yields. The wine was vinified in the most natural way possible: using native yeasts, then aged in 600-litre demi-muids for 10 months and bottle unfiltered.

François Chidaine does not produce this cuvée every year, and when he does it should be a case of run, don’t walk. Always one of our favourite Chidaine wines, the new release is a ravishing, tangy example layered with Seville marmalade, lemon curd and fresh ginger notes. Finishing with 14.8 g/L residual, its so spicy and generous but finishes dry and powdery with a savoury lick on the finish. It’s seriously impossible to stop drinking. It sings on its own, or with some charcuterie, but will take you to another realm when paired with Southeast Asian flavours.   

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Tuffeaux 2020
Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Baudoin 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Baudoin 2022

Chidaine purchased Clos Baudoin, one of the greatest and most storied Vouvray vineyards, in 2001 and immediately began converting it to biodynamics. You only need to stand in the vineyard to know you are in a great site. Sitting on the crest of a hill and elevated over the surrounding countryside, it is a strangely still, peaceful place. It's 2.7 hectares in size with an average vine age of over 70 years. The soils here are clay and chalk, with a deep tuffeau (local limestone) subsoil. 

Compared to the relative approachability of Les Argiles, this wine is a deep,, tightly coiled, densely compact and stony Vouvray. Exuding intensity and power, you immediately realise you’re tasting a wine from a profound terroir. It's so floral and aromatic and the palate is luscious, honeyed and straight as an arrow. The finish lingers with salty, rocky, beeswax and earthy notes. This wine could lay claim to being Vouvray's answer to Agrapart's Venus; it’s a masterclass in limestone minerality. 

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Baudoin 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais Franc de Pied 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais Franc de Pied 2022

Very Limited. Chidaine’s Franc de Pied derives from a tiny parcel (0.2- hectares close to the cliff’s edge) of ungrafted vines in Les Bournais, planted at the same time as the vines that make up the ‘standard’ cuvée. This wine is fascinating to taste alongside its sister wine from grafted vines. It typically offers more depth, more finesse and length. It is also more tightly wound, more mineral and ethereal.

Chidaine often also finds an alluring bitters-like character in the wine, not apparent in the regular cuvée, Les Bournais.  Unlike the classic bottling, the Franc de Pied is raised in a second fill 1200-litre Taransaud foudre. We haven’t tasted the new vintage as we have so few bottles. Form suggests a reminder of what phylloxera took away from France’s wine culture; a ‘grand cru’ Loire Chenin of exceptional intensity and length of flavour, humming with energy and chalky, limestone cut.

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais Franc de Pied 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Grillonieres 2022 by Alice Chidaine

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Grillonieres 2022 by Alice Chidaine

Les Grillonnières is a tiny parcel of 120-year-old vines farmed and bottled by François and Manuéla Chidaine’s eldest child, Alice Chidaine. Following her studies, Alice knocked up some work experience with Dagueneau and Clos Rougeard as well as old-vine Chenin specialist Chris Alheit (in South Africa) before returning home in time for the 2016 vintage. Since 2015, Alice has been cutting her teeth on the classic flint-clay soils of this old-vine Montlouis parcel.

The south-facing Les Grillonnières is a warmer site than Alice’s brothers’ Epinays parcel (see below) resulting in a wonderfully refined and textural mouthfeel loaded with juicy lemon, fleshy pear and fragrant herbs underpinned by phenolic grip, tangy acidity and a tapering close flecked with iodine. Respect. The winemaking barely differs from her father and the label bears both Alice’s and her father’s name.

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Grillonieres 2022 by Alice Chidaine
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Epinays 2021 by Pierre Chidaine (1500ml)

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Epinays 2021 by Pierre Chidaine (1500ml)

Only bottled in magnum. Pierre Chidaine, the son of Montlouis star François Chidaine, makes this scintillating Chenin Blanc. This small plot of old Chenin vines is in the lieu-dit of Les Epinays, near the hamlet of Husseau. The 60-year-old vines are rooted in the local aubuis clay soils littered with large flint on the surface and the roots penetrate the cool and humid depths of the tuffeau subsoils. The southern exposure of the plot helps to give this wine its natural richness and beautiful aromatic concentration—even in a rather cool and late vintage like 2021.

Pierre raises this cuvée in a combination of glass Wineglobe and old oak barrels. It is a refined, crystalline and invigorating wine that combines orange blossom, pollen and anise with livewire tension and vibrating, mouthcoating texture. The tapering finish offers tremendous detail and mouthwatering energy before a closing lick of rocky minerality, saltiness and spice (and all things nice). Pure, long and focused. Wow. It seems like Pierre is chip off the old rock. 

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Epinays 2021 by Pierre Chidaine (1500ml)
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2020

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2020

This domaine has several cuvées that often fall into what would traditionally be called demi-sec territory. However, Chidaine prefers to call these wines tendre, or ‘gently dry’. This is because the level of sweetness can fluctuate widely depending on the vintage. Like the greats of the Mosel, these are wines where the sugar/acid balance is more important than residual sugar levels. They are powered by ripeness rather than sweetness, and always finish tangy and fresh. 

The three-hectare Clos Habert sits just above the Clos du Breuil, on a plateau where the silex (flint) gives way to broken chalk and clay. It’s home to 60-year-old guyot and bush-trained vines with very low yields (circa 30 hl/ha) that are harvested by hand in passes. The 2020 was raised in large format barrel.

It’s another powerful release for this great wine. Finishing with roughly 13 g/L residual, it's a more citrusy wine than the Tuffeaux bottling and just as gorgeous. Just off-dry in feel, it’s an elegant riot of crystalline quince, Poire William and orange peel cut with a lovely balancing seam of ripe acidity before the long, snaking finish. Relish this with sweet-and-sour dishes or bring out the best Comté you can get your hands on.

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert 2020

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