A recent Sunday dinner with roast chicken and potatoes gave me the opportunity to compare two totally different white wines. The first was a 100% Chinon Blanc made by Benoît Courault, a young winemaker in Anjou in the Loire Valley. I first wrote about this particular wine and its producer in April 2012.
The 2010 Gilbourg (a name that seems more appropriate for a beer, at least to my ears) was as delicious as I remember two years previously. Its nose takes me back even further to memories of the lemon-drop candy that my uncle Nunzio used to offer his nieces and nephews. Even 40 years later I can remember their lemony-tart smell and taste. This wine’s nose has that same citric intensity. There are also hints of spent kitchen matchsticks and white flowers.
On the palate there is honey, ripe peaches, walnuts and an undercurrent of musky oxidation that is often found in a natural wine. I find this tremendously complex and interesting; if you like your wine sanitized, you might be less pleased. All of this complexity is framed by a griping acidity that balances out the fruit and constantly changing tastes. Beautifully delicate and poised, the wine has an extra-long finish that features good minerality and a slight salinity.
The other white wine, which goes by the name Le Sud, comes from Maury in the Roussillon, a totally different world from the verdant, cool Loire Valley. Hot, windy and sharing the same machismo Catalan language and culture found just across the border in Spain, this wine is from the Mas de Lavail, an 80-ha vineyard operated by cousins Nicolas Batlle and Lionel Lavail. They use grapes from old-vine Grenache Blanc and Grenache Gris to make an equally focused and pure white wine that, despite its latin origins, has many of same characteristics of the Gilbourg white. It, too, is a full-bodied, elegant wine with beautiful balance and tension. Other commonalities include having been aged on fine lees in oak barrels (8 months for Le Sud and 12 months for the Gilbourg) and being priced, in France, under €20 a bottle (€12.50 for Le Sud and €19 for the Gilbourg). The Loire Valley wine is 13.5% alcohol, while the southern Côtes de Catalanes white, not surprisingly, comes with more alcohol–an impressive 14.5%. That extra degree of alcohol provides a little more body to the Le Sud wine, but the wine’s acidity and mineral backbone save it from being “heavy” or unbalanced.
Neither of these wines carry an AOC designation. They’re both listed as Vin de Table, which once again demonstrates that some of France’s best wines are found in IGPs (Indication Géogaphique Protégée). Probably the most important thing shared by these two wines is that both vineyards are on predominantly shale soil, terroir known to produce wines with good acidity and backbone.
The Loire Valley white has a more feminine personality, while the Côtes de Catalanes white, reflecting its origins, is more masculine and brawny. Either way, you would be pleased to have them accompany your Sunday afternoon meal, particularly if there’s poultry on the menu.