24 Dec 2010

Vouvray, its commercial foibles, and how the wine lasts

In the hamlet of Rochecorbon, which is part of the Vouvray vineyard, with the river Loire behind us, one can see the calcareous rock structure of these crumbling cliffs, in which people used to (and sometimes still do) live. Most of the caves are now wine cellars.

Vouvray is the name of a rather sad little town just upstream from Tours, on the river Loire. The vineyards that surround it, and which take on its name, produce only white wines, but a very wide variety of them, albeit from a single grape variety, the chenin blanc. Like most French appellations, this fact (the grape variety) is not even mentioned on the labels of Vouvray, which I suppose is one way of missing out on some potential sales. Not that chenin blanc is as famous as, say, chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, but even so, if someone wants a chenin blanc they should be able to spot it easily. Vouvray apparently thinks it is above such vile commercial considerations.

Nonetheless, Vouvray produces some very decent wines and the occasional great one. Harvest conditions in this northern (for Europe) region can vary quite a lot, especially with the influence of the moisture-bearing Atlantic Ocean which lies about 200 kilometres to the west. Storms around harvest time can make or break quality, at least determining what the dominant type of the wine will be. In terms of harvest dates we start with sparkling wines, moving on to dry white, then semi-sweet and,  if the weather holds, finally lusciously sweet late-harvested types that may or may not have been affected by noble rot.  One of the features of this grape/climate combination is the high levels of acidity that it tends to produce in a wine. It is quite reminiscent of some rieslings, and is also one of the reasons for their considerable longevity, as we will see later.

I recently visited the region briefly, having been given the opportunity to taste wines not only from the last vintage being sold (the excellent 2009), but also a few wines going back to 1919. This was a very interesting experience, and here is a selection of the wines I liked best.

from the 2009 vintage.

Clearly an excellent vintage for all wines in Vouvray, particularly the sweeter ones.

Domaine du Margalleau 2009 Vouvray sec (dry)

Tender and seductive aromas of white fruit. Similar feeling on the palate with more zip from the acidity. Fine and delicate, slightly rounded on the finish by the faintest touch of sweetness. Very pleasant.

Domaine de la Poultière, cuvée Emotion 2009, Vouvray demi-sec (off-dry)
The nose reminded me of exotic fruit. Quite intense and rich on the palate, yet dynamic and still very youthful. Very fine.

Domaine Vincent Carême 2009, Vouvray moelleux (sweet)
A beautiful nose, fine and pure, still a little closed-in. Lovely freshness to the palate, with an almost chalky texture that is given vibrancy by the acidity. Full of fine flavours. Will develop slowly and harmoniously I expect.

Domaine des Lauriers, Privilège 2009, Vouvray moelleux (sweet)
The very rich and complexe nose is the result of a mixture between grapes sun-dried on the vine and others affected by noble rot. Makes this wine very aromatic, something close to lychees. Nice balance between acidity, sweetness and fruit, the latter being full-bodied, concentrated, and almost marmelade-like.

Clos Naudin, Moelleux Réserve 2009, Vouvray moelleux (sweet)
Again a hugely complex nose, even more expressive than the previous wine, including aromas of spices and gingerbread. This wine is illuminated from inside by its splendid acidity. The finish lingers for ages, and the balance shows intesnsity without anything seeming cloying. The most impressive wine of a fine series.

The best of the older vintages: oldies but goldies

Clos Naudin, Moelleux Réserve 1989, Vouvray moelleux (sweet)
The aromas are quite extraordinary, covereing a broad spectrum from mushrooms to spices, all on a fresh sea breeze. On the palate this wine is as fine as it is intense. Great complexity and length. A superb wine !

Domaine Huet, Le Haut Lieu Premier Tri 1959, Vouvray moelleux

The colour has moved to amber with the years, and the nose shows marvellloussly deep notes of slow oxydation. In the glass it evolves slowly, showed layers of preserved fruit and spices. Very suave in its texture, as intense and taught as an old Palo Cortado sherry, since its initial sugar has mostly been absorbed by its acidity. In fact one has the impression of tasting a delisec. Very fine.

Marc Brédif 1929, Vouvray

The nose is beautiful, reminiscent of caramel, soft spices and prunes. It must have been very sweet in its youth as it has retained considerable sweetness, just over-running the acidity. Rather like a taste of toffe with lemon. Delicious and still well alive.

Marc Brédif 1919, Vouvray
Harvest this year must have been carried out mainly by women and old man, as the First World War massacre had decimated the population of younger men. Still has good flavour, but shorter and much less intense than the previous wine. Tasting a wine like this is like travelling back in time. Always a moving experience.

(photographs by David Cobbold and Egmont Labadie)

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