As mentioned prior, the green grape Chenin Blanc reigns supreme in Vouvray. Crafty Dutch merchants launched it here four centuries ago. It fits decently in this cold, marginal climate because it ripens earlier than red grapes. Although other whites would work better, the obstinate French stick to tradition.
But how do they manage it? Mid cruise, we notice that vines grow up the North bank. They all face South, with loads of leaves, like solar panels, sucking up as much sun as possible. The near river also provides a heat sink and light bounce, which stretches the season just enough. Even midway into October, many grapes still await one of many picking passes. So Chenin just manages to ripen.
But then we stumble on something surprising:
Yes, even red grapes struggle in Vouvray. We never find this red wine, but it probably ends up under the larger Touraine district appellation.
Huffing upriver, cream-colored tuffeau cliffs soon loom over us:
This soft rock provided easy cutting for cellars. With only barely ripe Chenin to work with, the French turned to cellaring and converting it into bubbly. Like Champagne, good sparkling wine benefits from high acids and long storage. Vouvray’s popular fizz still feeds the posh bistros of Paris, London, and Rotterdam.
Enough learning. Time to drink in a château:
We pump our peddles uphill to Château Moncontour‘s tasting room. We excite over it like Balzac, who once stalked its women, wine, and memorialized it as “one of those small Touraine châteaux, white, joyfull, with sculpted towers threaded like teeth… one of those sweet, smart châteaux which reflect in the river water with their mulberry bushes, their vines… ” We pass a massive, archaic grape press, he may have once saw:
But much has changed.
We skip their museum. Instead, we hover our way into the tasting barn. Bottles and cases fill the space. Soon a youth appears, torn from their lunch.
Hungry and overwhelmed by over twenty wines, we start local and fizzy since we missed bubbles at Brédif’s:
Chateau Moncontour, Fête de Cuvée, Methode Traditionelle, Vouvray, France 2009
Rapid bubbles race through a pallid lemon color. Clean, sharp, youthful aromas of smoke and salt curve into soft pear and green apple. High acidity cuts through whatever sugar is here, rendering the body light. Flavors of green apple, honey, and smoke present themselves but disappear nearly as quickly.
At 6 Euros 70 a bottle this is decently good fizz (3 of 5) for any hour.
We try their other crémant:
Chateau Moncontour, Les Chapelles, Vouvray Sec, France 2009
For an extra euro, you get a bit more in terms of florals, vanilla, nut, body, complexity, and length. Acid verve shines again against even less sugar. This is good (3 of 5) Vouvray but it still seems a bit simple to be very good, probably due to its youth.
Then other brands appear:
What we didn’t realize last year is that Moncontour gets around. Vignobles Feray owns them and other Loire heavyweights: Vaugondy, Montfort, Petit Coteau, and Coudray Montpensier. They have wide distribution. We didn’t even notice we had bought their Fête de Cuvée in Paris just a week prior. We liked it, but nor more than today.
Uniqueness or intensity are not the goals. Instead Moncontour aims at consistent, reliable, cleanly made Chenin Blanc perfect for light café or bistro fare. Easily under $20 stateside, the price is a perfect entry into what Vouvray’s southern slopes and cool caves can do.
- Velo Vouvray: Cycling the Loire Valley to Marc Bredif Winery (waywardwine.com)
- Marc Brédif Vouvray (alohavino.com)
- Visiting the Vines in Vouvray (daysontheclaise.blogspot.com)