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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 Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2021

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, less than 10km from Montlouis. The viticulture here is strictly organic and biodynamic and the fruit was naturally fermented with a high degree of solids before maturation on lees until bottling. As always with Chidaine, you get terroir first and varietal second. It’s a pure, delicious, layered and pulpy Sauvignon, bringing stone fruits and gentle spice rather than any of the stereotypical characters we often associate with the variety. The depth of flavour is impressive, as is the bright, driven finish. A bargain.

As always with Chidaine, you get terroir first and varietal second. It’s a pure, delicious, layered and pulpy Sauvignon, bringing stone fruits and gentle spice rather than any of the stereotypical characters we often associate with the variety. The depth of flavour is impressive, as is the bright, driven finish. A bargain.

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2021
Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2020

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2020

Most 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.As always, 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 a limestone subsoil. All these vineyards are managed biodynamically and with regenerative agriculture. Les Argiles is hand-harvested with multiple passes through the vineyards. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts and the wine ages on lees in 620-litre demi-muids for about 11 months.

The combination of a warm and dry vintage with Chidaine’s precise, old-school winemaking has conveyed a predictably top-flight Chenin Blanc. One of the more intense releases of this cuvée, it opens with a powerful surge of mint, white honey and orange citrus before a deeply floral palate loaded with flavour. It’s ripe and succulent with mouth-filling texture underpinned by its chalky frame, sappy acidity and a thunderclap of phenolic energy. This is flat-out gorgeous.

"The 2020 Les Argiles is a dry Chenin Blanc grown in Vouvray, but because the wine is made in Montlouis, it's not entitled to the appellation hence its vin de France status. From deep clay soils, there's a richness on the mid-palate and rounded edges that are further shaped and curved by fermentation and maturation in demi-muids. . It's a mid-weight style that offers plentiful concentration, remarkable freshness and mouthcoating grip. The finish is gourmand and textural with subtle apple pie notes lingering."
91 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous.com
Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Les Argiles 2020
Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022

Organic. A fragrant, full-flavoured and textured dry rosé made predominantly from Grolleau (70%), with the remainder Pinot Noir and Gamay. The vines are rooted in the flint, clay and limestone of the Cher Valley between Tours and Orléans. The fruit was fermented wild and raised in steel tank. This fleshy and refreshing rosé has waves of grenadine and red berry fruit, shot through with sappy, mouth-watering freshness. Another bargain from one of France’s most revered winegrowers.

Domaine François Chidaine Touraine Rosé 2022
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Rive Gauche 2020

Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Rive Gauche 2020

Chidaine's rare vins liquoreux are made exclusively from botrytised fruit, making them the richest and sweetest wines in the portfolio. Unlike in Vouvray, the conditions required to grow this rare style of Montlouis come around once in a blue moon. The last time we shipped this cuvée was from 2009, when it was called Les Lys. It is a multi-site blend from three vineyards that are picked over successive passes. It fermented with native yeasts and matured in demi-muid. The 2020 stopped fermenting with just over 100 g/L residual sugar, yet it remains a vibrant and wonderfully balanced wine. When called on, Chidaine is a master of this style; in short, it is a remarkably delicious, layered and complex wine, as the review below makes clear.

“The 2020 Rive Gauche is a seductive and attractive sweet wine. It is produced from fully botrytised fruit, hailing from three different parcels in Montlouis, and remains remarkably light on its feet despite its richness. While it is far too young, it has delightful componentry that will keep this evolving gracefully for at least two decades - and the rest.”
95 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Domaine François Chidaine Montlouis Rive Gauche 2020
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 Vin de France (Vouvray) Rive Droite 2009

Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Rive Droite 2009

If the Domaine’s Montlouis vin liquoreux is a rare bird, its counterpart from Vouvray is rarer still. As fans of Domaine Huet will attest, 2009 was a sensational year in the Loire for our growers’ sweet styles, and the apple has not fallen far from the tree here. Crafted from hand-selected botrytised grapes from L’Espagnole and L’Homme, this incredible and complex wine fermented at snail's pace for well over a year (I can’t remember exactly) until it finished with 130 g/L of residual sugar.Finally released after 13 years in Chidaine’s cellar, it’s oozing brightness and energy. A kaleidoscope of flavours and textures unfolds in the glass with roasted peach drizzled with honey, candied apricot and a procession of invigorating citrus and spice, all underscored by botrytis grip and herbal freshness. Tinged with truffle and saffron complexity, the finish is endless. 

“From grapes grown on deep clay and chalky soils, this wine is cellar-aged in large demi-muid casks. It has notes of honey, quince and apricot, with a touch of saffron. The palate has a precise, fine-grained texture and a minty freshness. An elegant wine.”
96 points, Yohan Castaing, Decanter
Domaine François Chidaine Vin de France (Vouvray) Rive Droite 2009
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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

People

Winemakers: François & Alice Chidaine

Availability

National

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