Organic wine & food matching: Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray and artisanal cheeses
Vouvray is a thinking man and woman’s white wine because it takes brains to see through the flowery, intoxicatingly perfumed qualities of the Chenin Blanc (the required grape of this AOC), and look into the wine’s soul: the effortlessly acidic spine of the fruit grown in the Loire River Valley’s cold yet maritime moderated climate, and the deep, almost poetic substrata of flavor contributed by the soil (layers of flinty stone and clayish limestone over a plateau of solid limestone – the ultimate grape growing medium).
Earlier this month I ran into one California’s more intelligent, and artistically multiplisitc, winemakers named Larry Brooks (a founder of Acacia, former GM of Chalone, and now proprietor of Campion). I hadn’t seen Brooks in about six years, but the first thing he said to me was: “Everytime I see you, I can’t help but think of that incredible wine we shared, what, over fifteen years ago? I’ll never get that wine out of my mind.” Me, too. It was, in fact, a 1989 Vouvray Moelleux Cuvée CC by Champalou – a dessert style Vouvray exploding in a plethora of honey, scintillating acidity and minerality in spades– that will always bewitch both Brooks and me (and undoubtedly, is still doing that to wine drinkers today… I doubt that it would fade sometime soon).
Which brings us to our organic wine match of the day: the 2007 Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec Cuvée Silex (about $21; distributed by Andy Lum’s Unity Selections in Colorado). Sec refers to this Vouvray being “dry,” and Cuvée Silex refers to the flinty stones that make up a large part of the vineyard’s chalky soil, contributing a minerally, almost sea-briny nuance beneath the Vigneau-Cheveau’s honeyed apple aroma, wildflower fragrance, and mildly tart, lush, flowing, refreshingly balanced, medium bodied feel on the palate.
There is, in fact, a strong sense of terroir in the Cuvée Silex because this 69 acre vineyard has been cultivated more than organically, but also biodynamically for most of the past twenty years (receiving ECOCERT’S biodyvin certification in 1999); very much akin to the vivid, penetrating expressions of minerality and grape common to other biodynamic producers in France (some famous examples: Maison Chapoutier in the Rhône Valley, Domaine Ostertag and Marcel Deiss in Alsace, and Domaine Leflaive and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy).
Biodynamic viticulture demands turning vineyards into biodiverse farms, and applications of no less than nine specific herb and compost tea preparations in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth, sun, moon, and seasons, observed as faithfully as the farmers who have followed the Old Farmers’ Almanac for over 200 years. But if there ever was ever any doubt about the efficacy of biodynamic growing, a simple comparison of Vigneau-Chevreau’s Vouvray with any number of other popular Vouvrays would put it to rest.
My culinary mantra has always been to fear no wine and food match: there is a perfect wine for any dish from any part of the world (I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a wine-unfriendly dish – only a lack of imagination and organoleptic openness), just as there is a delicious food match for every wine in the world. But with a wine as pure as Vigneau-Chevreau’s Cuvée Silex, I’d almost want to stick to an equally pristine, terroir expressive food match: like an artisanal, regional cheese. It needn’t be from the Loire Valley, although a Sainte-Maure de Touraine AOC goat milk cheese, coated in a slightly acidic, gunflint-gray ash, offers up an earthy purity of taste and zestiness in perfectly natural balance with this Vouvray’s earthy, crisp edged fruitiness.
Here in Colorado, I’d reach for a raw milk cheese like Windsor Dairy’s Melville; a cow’s milk cheese with a cider washed rind that positively bursts with fat, creamy flavors, with nuances of the native grass and wildflowers consumed by the Brown Swiss cows on this organic farm. Sprinkle a tiny bit of cumin on the Melville, with dabs of honey on the plate, and you’ll have wine and food match that doesn’t come down from heaven, but up from the earth so strongly expressive in both wine and cheese.
Otherwise, fresh, pearly white Chèvres like Colorado’s Haystack Mountain, Tennessee’s Bonnie Blue, Alabama’s Belle Chevre, and Georgia’s Sweetgrass Dairy (I guess you can tell that I’ve spent some time in the South in recent years) will all offer that combination of acidity and earthy, grassy fruitiness to effortlessly match this style of Vouvray. My only caveat: other than ash, steer gently away from logs crusted with pungent herbs or cracked peppercorn. You’ll want an unfettered taste of the terroir in the cheese; and generally, simple accompaniments like figs, champagne grapes, ribbons of dried apricot, or umami rich charcuterie like duck prosciutto and pork rillettes will do just fine.