Last week, I celebrated a wonderful birthday dinner in Las Vegas at Bouchon restaurant in The Venetian. Any good fortune that’s come to me in my life can be chalked up to dumb luck, and this was no exception. While waiting at the bar for our table, we ordered a bottle of wine. When Bouchon’s sommelier brought our bottle of Sauvignon Blanc over, I was struck dumb. It was none other than Paul Peterson'formerly co-owner (with Encina Arias) of CafÃ© Madrid a few years ago. I had no idea that Peterson and Arias had relocated to Vegas, she to work at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Peterson at Bouchon. What a nice surprise.
Discovering that it was my birthday and insisting I celebrate properly, Peterson wrestled the Sauvignon Blanc from my paws in favor of a bottle of Laurent Perrier Champagne. See what I mean? Dumb luck.
As the evening proceeded, Peterson put his sommelier hat on and took our table on a wonderful journey through France, matching each phenomenal dish with another great (not always expensive) wine from Champagne, the Rhone Valley, the Loire, Languedoc-Roussillon, Burgundy and so on. I’d always known Peterson as a Spanish wine expert, but he can find his way around France as well. In the process, I found myself rediscovering and falling in love all over again with the wonders of Chenin Blanc, and especially Vouvray.
Vouvray'which comes from France’s wine appellation of Touraine'must by law be produced from 100 percent Chenin Blanc grapes. But don’t even begin to think that one bottle of Vouvray is just like another. Vouvray wines range from desert dry wine called sec-sec (less than 0.5 percent sugar) to doux Vouvray (around 5 percent sugar) with many variations in between. I’ve read in wine books that Vouvray is a “safe bet” in restaurants'which is true if you know what you’re doing. If not, you might just wind up with a syrupy sweet liquoreux Vouvray alongside your steamed artichoke.
So pay attention to the label. Vouvray is divided into four categories, from driest to sweetest: sec, demi-sec, moelleux, and doux. To throw in another curve ball, there’s also a sparkling version of Vouvray, although it’s not widely found. I don’t believe any sparkling Vouvray is sold in Utah.
I’ve often heard Vouvray described as gossamer, and that seems about right. At its best, it’s a lovely white wine with loads of honey, peach and floral flavors, and a white wine with astonishing staying power. A well-made, age-worthy luxury-class Vouvray can be cellared for half a century. Of course, most of the Vouvray we’ll encounter was made to be drunk young. And that’s just fine too. I recently picked up a bottle of Barton & Guesteir Vouvray 2004 on sale for a mere $6.95. It wasn’t a wine I’d put away for 50 years'or even five'but this medium-dry, tart, fruity wine is well balanced and a little sweet, a nice choice while nibbling on cheese out on the deck.
For a few more bucks ($10.95), you can move into a slightly more memorable Vouvray from either Domaine Pichot 2004 or Montfort 2004. Either would pair well with veal, chicken, light pasta and rice dishes, and they are good wines for picnics. But for a real treat, pick up a bottle of Domaine Pichot Vouvray Moelleux from 1995. It’s available here for $24.95 and is showing little sign of age at present. Pretty pear and apricots tickle the nose, and this wine’s good acidity makes me think that it may be worth keeping around for another decade or more. Or just drink it now when you want a reasonably-priced, luscious dessert-style wine.