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Getting to Grips with Vouvray 2013

How long is “long enough” in Vouvray? Three weeks certainly wasn’t long enough for me, and as ever I left feeling I had only really scratched the surface of this very famous appellation, despite visiting many of the top domaines. Over the course of several days I called upon and tasted with Philippe Foreau, François Pinon, Bernard Fouquet, the Champalou family (Catherine, Didier and Céline), Vincent Carême and Peter Hahn (pictured below) of Le Clos de la Meslerie (who was essentially my neighbour for the three weeks, so I certainly visited his vineyards more than once), and I also ensured I visited some new names in the appellation, tasting for the first time with Florent Cosme (the younger brother of Mathieu Cosme), Catherine Dhoye-Deruet of Domaine de la Fontainerie and Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, and each one was a worthwhile visit. Of course I was unable to taste at Domaine Huet, having been banned from the estate for criticising the 2012s, but I did pick up some bottles of the 2013 vintage to taste at a future date.

Rather than write tasting reports on all these visits I will use them to update all my Vouvray profiles, many of which feel a little dated to me, and obviously there will be new profiles for those vignerons I visited for the first time. For the moment though, I thought I would sum up my feelings on the three vintages that I tasted most when in Vouvray, 2013, 2012 and 2011, starting with the most recent here. I will look at 2012 and 2011 on another day.

The first words on anyone’s lips when it comes to the 2013 vintage in Vouvray is bound to be “hail”. Certainly, as I wrote in my report on Le 2013 from François Pinon only yesterday, the hail that hit the appellation on June 17th shaped the vintage for many. It was a massive blow, and to be honest I do not think I can find the words to truly express how those worst-hit must have felt when seeing their vineyards completely defoliated by icy napalm. Now is the time, however, to look at the wines, and to remind ourselves that although hail is an economic disaster for some, writing off quantity, it does not necessarily write off quality. Some vineyards escaped the hail entirely. Some saw less damage than others. Careful and dedicated vignerons picked what they could from these partially-hit vineyards, bringing in mere handfuls of grapes in some cases. The quality of this fruit depends on factors other than hail, in particular how the weather held through the summer, and into September and October.

Peter Hahn, May 2012

Nice weather during July and August helped the vines to recover, and the dry conditions helped the injured vines to heal without succumbing to infection. There was even a little heat stress in August (this was at the same time the Bordelais enjoyed a warm and sunny spell, which is why 2013 Bordeaux, while very lean, is not a vintage marked by greenness). Unfortunately September saw a little more rain, nothing disastrous, but not very beneficial either, while conditions deteriorated in October, with cool days bringing little additional ripeness, while warm nights and wet weather brought the risk of rot. The pickers were sent out and everyone crossed their fingers.

Having now tasted a range of 2013s from across the domaines cited above I have to say I find more joy in this vintage than I do on the whole in 2012. I have twice tasted the wines of Bernard Fouquet already this year, in January and February, and thought them very good, and having retasted them with him at the domaine a couple of weeks ago I am glad I gave such handsome scores to the wines, because they continue to show very nicely from bottle. The Champalou wines are also attractive, slightly leaner and more minerally than Bernard’s, but very good. Philippe Foreau’s Sec 2013, bottled in April, showed a little more accessibility than his very saline 2012, although Philippe says the acidity reminded him very much of the 1983 vintage. A barrel tasting of the 2013 vintage with Vincent Carême revealed plenty of good material to work with, some barrels showing appealing fruit and others more minerality, while a similar barrel tasting with Peter Hahn was also very reassuring as well as being informative, the quality very good through the first and second tries, the third tri less appealing and so Peter intends to exclude this from the grand vin and make, for the first time, a sparkling wine (it tastes like perfect material for this, and after tasting it Philippe Foreau said the same thing). Peter’s grand vin will undoubtedly be dry in 2013. François Pinon’s wine is also good, as already written up. Perhaps the best wine, however, comes from the relatively-unknown Michel Autran; although not included in my list of visits above, I tasted with Michel in Philippe Foreau’s cellars, and as a result was able to taste his 2013 Les Enfers which he brought along. This was remarkably good, and could easily be the wine of the vintage. Of course, I have yet to see what Vincent’s and Peter’s wines taste like once assembled, and I have not yet tasted the wines I bought at Domaine Huet.

All in all, good news in 2013 despite the hail, with attractive sec, sec-tendre and occasionally demi-sec (and some fizz to come in future years too, evidently) in this vintage. They are not wines to blow your socks off, there is no denying it was not a perfect vintage, but there plenty of good dry and tender wines to buy and drink with pleasure.

As a last comment, on the 2014 vintage really, I’m happy to report that despite the hail damage the vines have all recovered beautifully, the flowering and fruit set was good, and the volumes in 2014 are destined to be good, including chez Pinon. Fingers crossed for all.

Next time, my renewed thoughts on Vouvray 2012.

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