This inexpensive sparkling wine is not the kind of inexpensive sparkling wine to absentmindedly plug into the typical situations that call for inexpensive sparkling wine (weddings, gallery openings, basketball championships, etc). It’s too distinctive and too good for that. Made in Vouvray, the Loire Valley’s Chenin Blanc epicenter, it’s the kind of wine you pour for your friends and they say “Oooh, what’s this?”
Chenin Blanc’s unique mix of smoky minerality, tangy acidity and deep pear/apple fruit—which often takes on a slightly oxidative, honeyed edge—translates beautifully in sparkling form, as demonstrated by this bright, bold Vouvray Brut from Domaine de Vodanis. As is so often the case in the Loire Valley, there’s a homespun authenticity to this wine; despite its ‘Champagne’ packaging, it would be equally at home on a picnic table or a white tablecloth. At this price (and quality), it’s an absolutely perfect sparkler to start off a big, casual dinner party with friends (friends who care about wine, that is).
If you love sparkling wine and haven’t tried sparkling Vouvray, you’re missing out: the fruit component is deeper and more saturated than in Champagne (owing to Chenin’s more assertive aromatics relative to Chardonnay), but there’s not the slightest hint of sweetness. The acidity and minerality wrap the fruit component in a tight embrace, keeping the wine bone-dry and bristling with energy. It packs the mineral punch of Champagne but doesn’t otherwise really resemble Champagne—it is resolutely its own thing, and the value-for-dollar simply cannot be beat.
Domaine de Vodanis is based in Rochecorbon, the village to the immediate west of Vouvray on the north bank of the Loire. Founded in 2007 by two friends who met at enology school, it takes its name from the Vodanis Vineyard, a 4.5-hectare, old-vine parcel that had previously been leased by the legendary Huet estate. Vodanis provides the fruit for the domaine’s ‘still’ Vouvray, while 10 hectares of slightly younger (about 25 years) vines supply the fruit for their sparkling version. The young partners, Francois Gilet and Nicolas Darracq, practice sustainable farming and incorporate many biodynamic practices along the way, including racking according to the phases of the moon. They avoid using sulfur at any point during the fermentation process and strive to use only trace amounts at bottling.
While the label on this wine says méthode traditionnelle (essentially the equivalent of ‘Champagne method’), we found it to have a more delicate effervescence than a Champagne: its atmospheric pressure was closer to that of a pétillant naturel style (the main different being that a pétillant naturel, or ‘pet-nat’ is an unfinished wine that completes its fermentation in the bottle, leaving CO2 trapped; a Champagne-method wine begins as a ‘finished’ wine to which sugar and yeast are added to incite a secondary fermentation in bottle). Perhaps the best descriptor for this wine is LIVELY: the sparkle, combined with the racy acidity, has a mouthwatering effect on the palate. In the glass it is a rather deep straw-gold, and that depth is reflected in the aromas of yellow apple, Bartlett pear, quince, wildflower honey, chamomile tea, and a little oxidative hint of white button mushroom/hazelnut. It is tingly, lip-smacking, but also pretty profound in its impact—not heavy, or viscous, but boldly flavorful. The finish is long, mineral, floral, and, ultimately, clean. Assuming you can keep from draining the bottle before appetizers even arrive, it is a versatile choice either for hors d’oeuvres or brightly dressed salads. In fact, there’s enough ripe fruit and savory bass notes here to pair it with this Pear, Walnut & Blue Cheese Salad. This isn’t “special occasion” sparkling wine or “gift” sparkling wine—it’s “drink tonight” sparkling wine, and a memorable one at that.
White Wine Stems