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Domaine François Chidaine

Electric Dreams: Sublime Quality from The Mount Olympus of Chenin Blanc

Let’s cut to the chase. This is Chenin Blanc at its zenith, tasting nothing like the stereotype of the grape variety, but rather acting as a conduit through which the vineyards can express themselves. These are wines brimming with energy, texture and great intensity of flavour; the kind of wines that unequivocally transport you to the patch of dirt from where they were grown. As a collective, the wines from Chidaine offer a remarkably pure and vivid expression of their respective terroirs.

When it comes from the best terroirs and the finest growers, Chenin Blanc sits comfortably alongside the very finest German Rieslings and white Burgundies. Each year, François Chidaine reminds us of this reality: his wines are a damn near perfect marriage of vintage and vineyard.

François Chidaine is one of France’s most revered white wine makers. It’s not hype—the wines are terrific, and the winemaking approach is impeccable. Great vineyards managed biodynamically, ultra-low yields and hands-off élevage are the order of the day here. Chidaine has achieved with Chenin what Didier Dagueneau achieved with Sauvignon: wines of staggering texture and complexity. It might provide an idea of Chidaine’s standing in the Loire, that when Benjamin Dagueneau wanted to gain experience as a younger man, he went to work with Chidaine.

Montlouis is Vouvray’s little brother, sitting directly across the Loire River in France’s north. The analogy of siblings is a good one as the rivalry between these two regions is intense. However, as Montlouis is much smaller in size (400 hectares as opposed to 1800 for Vouvray) and considering most of the wine is consumed in France, Montlouis is less well-known. François Chidaine is quickly changing this. He has driven a renaissance in Montlouis, produced Vouvray to challenge that region’s very best, and has also resuscitated one of the latter region’s most hallowed vineyards, the Clos Baudoin, which is now a Chidaine monopole. One of the remarkable aspects of Chidaine is that, despite his success, his prices remain remarkably fair. These are some of the finest value, not to mention authentic, wines of terroir on the market.

In the cellar, in simple terms, the practices include whole-bunch pressing, slow, natural fermentation and 12 months aging on lees in neutral 600-litre casks. This informs the style but ultimately, it’s the sites themselves and the exceptional, biodynamic vineyard management that drive the quality.

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Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022

Chidaine’s juicy, full-flavoured dry rosé is predominantly Grolleau (70%), with the remainder Pinot Noir and Gamay. As with the Sauvignon above, the vines are rooted in the flint, clay and limestone soils of the Cher Valley between Tours and Orléans. Chidaine has little interest in copying the pale (or pallid?) Côtes de Provence model, so here the grapes are picked ripe and undergo a fair measure of skin contact before pressing and aging on lees in stainless steel. It’s a fleshy and refreshing rosé with waves of herb-infused red berries underpinned by some earthy-mineral notes from the Grolleau and the subtle textural grip that makes this such a great, food-orientated rose. Another bargain from one of France’s most revered winegrowers.

“Chidaine’s 2022 Rosé is a blend of Grolleau, Pinot Noir and Gamay. Bright and effusive, with tons of aromatic presence, the Rosé is immediately alluring. The interplay of aromatics, bright minerals and layered fruit makes for a delicious and beguiling Rosé that is absolutely delicious.”
90 points, Antonio Galloni, Vinous
Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2022

François Chidaine is revered for his pristine Chenin Blancs from Montlouis and Vouvray. For a fraction of the price of those wines, here is a touch of Chidaine magic in the form of a Sauvignon cropped from vines in Chissay-en-Touraine and Saint-Julien-de-Chédon. These vineyards lie in the heart of the Touraine appellation, less than 10km upstream from Montlouis, and the viticulture is strictly organic and biodynamic. Alongside his own vineyards, Chidaine now also sources fruit from his grower son-in-law, Jean-Baptiste Bonnigal, in Limeray. Fermented with a high degree of solids before maturation on lees—a little barrel-aged fruit adds complexity—you'll find engaging zesty citrus character here, along with a delicious touch of white flower and peach skin. As always with Chidaine, you get terroir first and varietal second. The palate is ripe and fleshy, crammed with stone fruits and chalky drive rather than the stereotypical characters we often associate with the variety. One of the keys to the Loire Valley’s outstanding 2022 vintage is the marriage between fleshy fruit texture and mouthwatering freshness. You’ll find all that here, alongside a snaking finish kissed by tangy, salty lemons. We can’t remember a more exciting release under this label.

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 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 Les Bournais 2021

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais 2021

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 de 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 de Breuil and Les Choisilles cuvées, this is clearly an altogether more ‘Vouvray’ 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 hair-raiser. François Chidaine seldom comments on his wines during a tasting, but here he broke with tradition: “I like it a lot”. Translation: Buy what you can. This is a sensational Loire Chenin of exceptional intensity and length of flavour, humming with energy and chalky, limestone cut.

When tasted alongside the Clos de Breuil and Les Choisilles cuvées, this is clearly an altogether more ‘Vouvray’ expression of Montlouis, with a powdery, chalky structure that clearly reflects its soils and location. This is not necessarily a question of it being a better wine (although Chidaine does price it that way), simply different. We’ve been lucky enough to taste this wine on several occasions, and it just gets better and better. Despite the travails of the vintage, the 2021 Bournais is a knockout. 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 hair-raiser. François Chidaine seldom comments on his wines during a tasting, but here he broke with tradition: “I like it a lot”. Translation: buy what you can. It’s an imperial Loire Chenin of exceptional intensity, limpidity and length of flavour. Grand Cru Montlouis.

“The 2021 Les Bournais is unsurprisingly tighter than in previous vintages due to the cooler season compared with 2018, 2019 and 2020. It remains fragrant, exuding ripe peach, mango, and mandarin segments. What's most evident about this wine is its huge linearity: there's a tight corset around this wine, ensuring it pierces your palate like a well-made paper airplane. A delightful chalky texture backs it up, leaving you licking your lips on the scented finish.”
93 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Les Bournais 2021
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 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
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“The Pope of Montlouis and Vouvray—just a sublimely great producer. He knows his vineyards better than anyone and he styles his cuvées according to the contours of each vineyard. The wines are pure and clean, yet profoundly expressive. And they are still phenomenal value.” Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste

“François Chidaine is one of my favorite winemakers in the world. There are times when I can imagine drinking only his wines for the rest of my life.” Peter Liem, peterliem.com

“You have to look to the historical collections of regional leaders Foreau and Huet to find comparable consistently high quality, making it clear that Chidaine is one of the world's finest craftsmen in the medium of white wine, not to mention a continuing source of amazing value.” David Schildknecht, The Wine Advocate

Country

France

Primary Region

Touraine, Loire Valley

People

Winemakers: François & Alice Chidaine

Availability

National

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