Sep 01, 2020Chris LaBranche

Les Hauts Baigneux Touraine Azay-le-Rideau Blanc 'Les Chênes' 2019, $24.99

When it comes to doing natural wine and doing it well, few regions have it down like the Loire. Perhaps it’s because the region’s wines have always been great but never really fully appreciated–in France or abroad–that winemakers felt the freedom to experiment with their farming and winemaking. After all, the wines were and still are reasonably priced, so why not carve your niche with organic farming and natural winemaking. As such, there still is a wealth of great wine to discover in today’s Loire. One treasure is Domaine des Hauts Baigneux, our newest producer from Azay-le-Rideau. Their wines are spot-on classic expressions of Loire varieties, made naturally and honestly–for an ever-reasonable price, especially when you consider that we’re currently paying 25% tariffs on nearly all French wine. It is, therefore, a breath of fresh air to taste two sub $25 wines this delicious.

When it comes to Loire Valley wine, Chenin Blanc is surely the sexiest incarnation. With arguably more class and complexity than our beloved Chardonnay when made right, great Chenin can be dumbfoundingly fantastic. Other than perhaps Riesling, there is a wide variety not only of terroir expression for Chenin, but also of style. You can find bone dry, mineral-driven examples in Savennières, but also ripe, sweet, and luscious expressions in Vouvray. You can even find lightly oxidative examples in certain natural corners. Les Hauts Baigneux produces a lovely cuvée called ‘Les Chênes’ (or, the oak trees) that is surely dry, but also quite ripe, fresh, and gently oxidative.

HOW TO: Les Hauts Baigneux is a recent domaine, formed only in 2013 by Nicolas Grosbois and Philippe Mesnier. Old friends who wanted to make great wines in Azay-le-Rideau, they narrowed in on a lieu-dit parcel called ‘Les Hauts Baigneux’, and named the domaine accordingly. Farming is organic, fermentation is indigenous, and neither filtration nor fining are used. ‘Les Chênes’ is sourced from a parcel of 25 year-old vines planted within the Haut Baigneux lieu-dit, where the dominant soil type is clay based with limestone bedrock. ‘Les Chênes’ is aged in a combination of steel tank and old barrel, allowing much needed micro-oxygenation for the often austere Chenin. The result is a classic, if ripe and nutty, Chenin Blanc with loads of character.

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