Loire Tasting At Giaconda: Domaine des Baumard vs. Domaine du Closel (Sep. 24, 2008)

An interesting tasting at Giaconda - one of the best I've attended this year - featuring two exemplary Chenin Blanc producers from the Loire, of a marked contrast in styles, traversing one dry appellation and two sweet ones. The order of the wines was cleverly designed and once again the finger foods that accompanied the wines were a delight.

I have to say I found out I do not really care for the Domaine du Closel style. It is too over the top for me and despite Anat Sela and Rafaella Ronen's earnest promises that I'll have to retract my objections once these wines have matured, I have to say I can only go by my own personal experience and observations. Closel makes Chenins rich in alcohol, and their present stage of development, the alcohol overwhelms the fruit. Will the wines find their balance as the fruit emerges? Maybe, but it seems to me the amount of fruit required to pull that off will still make the wines too big for my tastes. Remember, however, that I'm just one voice there and certainly Closel gets good reviews elsewhere although I understand they're viewed as tough wines to approach in their youth (cf. David Schildknecht: "they have never been easy wines to approach – much less cuddle up to – in their youth.")

Domaine des Baumard is a different story: New Love Time. Their wines are smaller scaled with more homely charms and fit in more with my attraction towards wines I can live with as opposed to wines to put on parade. Full of nuanced minerals and smoke, they are the kind of wines that have a fatal Pavolovian effect on me. I would recommend just about all the Baumard wines in the Giaconda catalog.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, La Jalousie, 2006

At 14% alcohol, this wine comes across as an agressive lout trying to prove to his girlfriend's mom that he's a nice fellow. Slow to open, the nose shows peaches and honey with only hints of minerals at first. Then it goes athrough a phase where the minerals take over the fruit and then the two find an equilibrium at which point the minerals come into focus as flint. The palate is also very tight, the acidity checks in but the fruit is somewhat comatose, the overall effect underlining the impression of the alcohol, especially on the finish. I did like it better at home, when it had aired over the course of the evening.

117 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, 2005

Same vineyard, another world. A very complex nose, showing honey, beeswax, apples and minerals. Did I say minerals? This wine is a mineral tour-de-force, packing a geology class on both nose and palate, mostly flint by the time I was done with my glass. It's amazing how such a flavor packed wine can be so elegant, even austere, but there is an interesting struggle going on between structure and flavors. Despite all that, it is a friendly wine, certainly friendlier than any of the Closels (the relatively low 13% alcohol helps, you know). The best dry wine of the evening for my money and I would wait with it 2-3 more years.

171 NIS. Good value.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, 2005

Back to Closel's bodybuilders. The nose is so liquory, it almost smells like a red wine, with quasi-medicinal overtones. The overall effect is very agressive and it's certainly less attractive right now than the Baumard, even less than the cheaper La Jalousie.

207 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Clos Saint Yves, 1999

The nose is reminiscent of a dessert wine, somewhat cocktaily, with mineral overtones, albeit less so than the Clos du Papillon 2005. Very crisp on the palate (those minerals again!) though less flavorsome and less intense in comparison to the Clos du Papillon, whether due to vintage or vineyard differences. A long finish with a lingering, soothing aftertaste. 13% alcohol.

Not for sale.

Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, Trie Speciale, 2003

Another charming nose. Ripe fruits with a fascinating, smoky seasoning that is hard to label. At this point, that specific mixture of smoke, spices and minerals is starting to register to me as a Baumard trademark, at least with the Savannieres. Very crisp and minerally on the palate. The higher residual sugar in comparison to the previous Savannieres (Anat Sela was diligent in giving us the numbers and while I think it is very important to take note of the RS as it impacts the style and is thus an important tidbit for the conscientious consumer, I just didn't keep track) lends the wine a certain roundness rather than sweetness.

189 NIS. Personally, I prefer the Clos du Papillon 2005 but at this price point, and taking into account the uniqueness of the grape and what it has to offer compared to similarly priced Chardonnays, I think I will re-visit this wine.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Les Caillardieres, 2003

Another Closel wine that seems to have eluded and confounded me. This has charm but, despite the two extra years post-vintage, it just seems like a less attractive and lesser endowed wine that Closel's Clos du Papillon 2005. Another alcoholic wine weighing in at around 14%.

NIS 157.

Domaine du Closel, Savennieres, Clos du Papillon, Cuvee Speciale, 2003

The nose is somewhat funky and smoky, with notes of mildew. The first Closel wine of the evening I enjoyed sniffing. The greater RS combined with the lower alcohol (13.5%) makes for a friendlier wine, a more balanced wine on my palate, with the spicy flavors at last standing up to the alcohol. If the other Closel wines show a similar balance once they're past puberty, I will have to reconsider my initial impression. But for now, this is the best Closel wine of the evening. Decent price, too, at 135 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, Clos de Ste Catherine, 2006

Finally, a chance to close our schoolbooks and just sit back and enjoy. This wine is just plain delicious. The botrytis is obvious on the nose but there are also cooler notes of white chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Despite the hedonistic first impression, it has an aromatic complexity that is intellectually appealing. And again, those smoky mineral notes. An excellent package weighing in at 12.5%.

220 NIS for a regular bottle, which is the same price, more or less, as a half bottle of Sauterne. However, a half-bottle format might have been more useful.

Domaine des Baumard, Coteaux du Layon, Carte d'Or, 2005

Obviously a lesser wine than the Ste Catherine but very attractive nonetheless. A ripe nose, more straightforward than the Ste Catherine but also showing the botrytis seasoning. There was some controversy, as I recall, about the fruit profile on the palate. What I got were tropical fruits, predominately pineapple, with an oily texture and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Good value at 135 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume, 2006

Back to Elegantsville. The same botrytis funk, same smoky spices. I can't really place this and the Ste Catherine too far apart quality-wise, although the Quarts de Chaume is more reticient on the nose. Palate-wise, this is is deep and complex, with a finely wrought structure.

337 NIS.

Domaine des Baumard, Quarts de Chaume, 2003

Some vintage variation! This is an oxidized style that is marked contrast with the 2006 version and which overshadows the botrytis on the nose. The oxidation effect is in full force on the nose while the palate is surprisingly fresh. An interesting wine, though I usually don't go for the style outside of Jerez (a superficial reference point but it's the closest I can find).

Not for sale.

Domaine des Baumard, Vin de Pays, Le Vert De l'Or, 2002

A "bonus" wine after I'd mentally closed my notebook, thus a short note. Stylistically closer to the 2003 Quarts de Chaume than to any of the other dessert wines, with slight oxidation and nuttiness on the nose and fresh acidity on the palate.

Not for sale.