The Saumur Blanc spends four months in 600-liter barrels, locally called “tonnes.” In the glass, the wine has a radiant, green-golden straw color. Toasted hazelnuts, poached pears, almond blossoms, and lemon verbena move in and out of the foreground, sometimes changing places with ginger tea, grilled nectarines, quince, and cooked cream with nutmeg as the nose evolves in the glass.
On the palate, the wine is dry, generous, and multi-layered, with a deep, satisfying core of spicy yellow orchard fruit, ripe pineapple, and crystallized honey that puts on weight over time, and is buttressed by palpable saline minerality and refreshing crisp acidity.
This is another timely reminder that fine Chenin Blanc from the weathered tuffeau of the middle Loire Valley can be a worthy peer of Riesling, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Noir, in the pantheon of the noblest grape varieties of all.
About this wine producer: The Château de Villeneuve was built in 1577, and later became the property a young nobleman who was killed at the Battle of Yorktown during the American Revolutionary War. His younger brother Jean-Marie Berthelot de Villeneuve inherited the estate, and gave it its current name. In 1969, it was purchased by the Chevallier family, and since his return from teaching oenology at the University of Bordeaux in 1984, has been managed by Jean-Pierre Chevallier. Five of the surrounding 25 hectares are planted to Chenin Blanc, the rest to Cabernet Franc. Viticulture is organic, and includes severe winter pruning, bud removal in the spring, green harvests, and thoughtful canopy management, all with the aim of encouraging a deep root structure, low yields and maximum physiological ripeness. Harvests are by hand, with total de-stemming. The wines are fermented using indigenous yeasts, and are matured in a mix of new and neutral barrels. Under the Chevallier family stewardship, both the château and the vineyards have been completely renovated, a new state-of-the-art winery was built over the old cellars, and the estate is widely regarded as one of the few producers in the Loire Valley that excels at both white and red wines.