25 January 2012

Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc

I bought a new tripod a couple of weeks ago. The old one had broken. In fact, I bought two new tripods within the space of a couple of weeks. The first new one was too hard to use and not tall enough, so I bought a second new one.

Ever since, I've been experimenting with it to see how stable and adaptable the little tripod is. It's a table-top model, not a floor-standing model. I use it exclusively in the kitchen to take pictures like the ones in this post.

A typical Loire Valley wine bottle

My test subjects yesterday were a couple of wine bottles and their labels. Yes, I actually bought some wine in bottles. Usually, we buy wine in bulk, having our little 10-liter jugs refilled at the winery the way you would pump gasoline into a jerrycan for use in your lawnmower. Or we buy wine in what they call a BIB (pronounced [beeb]), which means "bag in box." In more proper French, a BIB is called a fontaine à vin.

Anyway, I bought some actual bottles of wine because we were having friends over and that provided me with a good reason to try some different vintages. I bought, for example, a bottle of Chardonnay from the Loire Valley, and a bottle of Chenin Blanc from the Saumur appellation, which is also in the Loire Valley. Both these wines come from the area to the west and downriver of Tours.

Bottles of Chardonnay and a Chenin Blanc wine

Chardonnay is not a grape variety that is usually associated with Loire Valley wines, but it's grown all up and down the river valley. The wine produced from Chardonnay here doesn't carry the AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) label, but is sold as a vin de pays. While in the Loire it isn't an AOC varietal, Chardonnay is the white varietal grown in Burgundy, including at Chablis and Mâcon, where it produces AOC wines.

A closer view of the labels

The vin de pays ("wine of a specified region") denomination was created in 1968 to recognize local wines not covered by the AOC system. They are a step up in quality — at least theoretically — from wines that are made with a blend of juices from grapes grown in different, unspecified regions. In 2009 the name vin de pays was offically changed to IGP — meaning indication géographique protégée. The AOC label is more prestigious.

Chardonnay gives vin de pays in the Loire Valley.

You'll notice that the Chardonnay I bought came in a bottle with a screw-off cap — no need for a cork screw to open it. That surprised me. The bottle had a little round label affixed to announce that the wine had won a bronze medal at some regional competition last year.

The Chenin Blanc grape, on the other hand, is a quintessentially Loire varietal and the wines carry the AOC designation. It's the grape grown in Vouvray and Montlouis, east of Tours, and in Chinon and Saumur to the west. Chenin Blanc, also known as Pineau de la Loire, can produce dry, medium-dry, or even sweet ("mellow" or moelleux) wines, and also sparkling wines.

The Saumur wine won a gold medal — a Liger d'Or — last year.
Liger is the Latin root of the name of the Loire River.

This Saumur appellation wine was labeled with a round sticker saying it had won a gold medal at the Concours des Vins du Val de Loire in 2011. I bought it at the supermarket for about four euros, which gives you an idea how inexpensive wine is here in the Loire Valley. The Chardonnay, also from the supermarket, cost me something like 2.25 €. Both were good but the Chenin Blanc was drier and more subtly flavored.


  1. Wow! even for here that's cheap for good wine in the supermarket! And very many thanks for explaining Liger. I have never understood why the Office de Tourisme in Tours used to be ligeris.com.

  2. Oh, I like knowing about liger, too!

    I really enjoy these closeup wine label shots :))


  3. Hi Ken!

    A Saumur chenin blanc that comes in a bottle exactly like that one but a different label is my "house" wine here in Sacramento. It's very good and only $8.95 before the 10% case discount, so really not much more than you paid. I'm lucky to have a local market, Corti Brothers, with a great wine selection.

  4. Hey, Ken.
    What a lovely blog. I am a wine buyer for a living...I love wines from the Loire Valley.

    Terrific photos!

  5. Hi Susan, and Judy, the adjective, a little formal or savant, is ligérien/ligérienne.

    Chris, I like Chenin Blanc wines better than Sauvignon Blanc. Glad you can get the Saumur there in Sacramento.

    Thanks, Stephen. I wonder if you travel to the Loire region to look for good wines.

  6. I just wondered if you drunk a bottle and a half of wine to get a better effect, or that like me once a bottle is open you cant resist the contents.
    keep snapping.


  7. I try not to talk about how much wine gets drunk, or how many people! Really, the Saumur was served during the football evening, and the Chardonnay was one I opened 24 hours later just to taste it.


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