Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Goin’ Vertical in Vouvray
Domaine Huet at the Pullman

I asked Monsieur Pinguet (director and chief winemaker at Huet) what was Vouvray? This central Loire appellation, mecca for the Chenin Blanc grape, produces a vast and varied selection of wines which range from banal, over fizzy ‘vin mousseux’ to some of the richest and longest lived white wines in the world. I have always loved Huet, if not for their dedication to both organics and biodynamics well before it could be even construed as a marketing ploy, but even more for the shear purity and elegance of their wines.

Pinguet replied that great Vouvray was all about ‘equilibre’ and ‘verticality.’ I would translate ‘equilibre’ as the tension between acidity and sugar, minerality and fruit, each dancing in perfect harmony with one another, supporting but never overshadowing their partner. The verticality lies in the soil and the sky, from the depths of the roots to the tip of the vines, each working towards building this tension. It’s a man waxing poetic about something that he loves. That’s cool. Again, purity is the word here: no chapitalization, no malo, indigenous yeasts, old wood if wood is used at all, and nominal additions of sulfer. Vinification is the afterthought, it all happens in the vineyard (which seems to run contrary to much of modern winemaking).

Here’s the rundown.

Vouvray Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 2002 ($39...saq)
Bracing acidity that showed itself through a lemon-lime continuum. As it warmed the fruit softened and ripened. Very mineral and extremely fresh. I would put it in a carafe for an hour or so before drinking it with lightly sauced white fish.

Vouvray Demi-Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 2003 ($39...saq)
Softer fruits at the get go with hints of ripe apricot and kafir lime. The touch of residual sugar softened the acidity allowing the richness of the fruit and the ever present minerality to show themselves. Will do wonders with everything from the sea or as a very classy aperitif.

Vouvray Moelleux, Clos de Bourg 2003 ($47...saq)
A bit big and fat, could be the curse of 2003. I found it lacked a certain complexity and the sweet fruitiness brought me back to super lemon jellies that I ate as kid.

Vouvray Moelleux, Le Haut Lieu-1er Trie 2003 ($68....saq)
No botrytis, just wonderfully zesty over-ripe grapes that became mandarine, clementine and apricot. If water could taste of liquid honey then this is it. Fantastic, exceptional.

Vouvray Moelleux, Le Mont-1er Trie 1996 ($72...saq)
For a 1996 still tastes like it was put in the bottle yesterday. As 1996 was an almost perfect year, the first pass (trie) had both over-ripe and Botrytis grapes. The tension is alive and well here, with mineral notes, a fantastic freshness and a wonderful honeyed grapiness.

Vouvray Sec, Le Haut-Lieu 1982
I found it a bit austere which could have been the shock of going back to dry after the moelleux but even the third and fourth sips didn’t offer up much more. It is done.

Vouvray Sec, Le Clos du Bourg 1961
Brilliant deep golden color. While it was getting a bit scotchy, it still had a fantastic amount of acidity for a 44 year old wine. Bring on the sole marinière.

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