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Checking in on. . . . Les Girardieres 2008

Time to check in on another older wine now, at this time I’m taking a look at the 2008 Vouvray Les Girardières, from Domaine des Aubuisières.

Now I can hear snorts of derision at the bank. Yes, I know the 2008 vintage isn’t an ancient one. And we all know Vouvray can evolve in a positive fashion over many decades, indeed a lifetime. But there is a purpose here, based on my knowledge of this wine, which is the only wine in my cellar with a synthetic closure. It was a complete surprise when I ripped the capsule from my first bottle – I generally avoid synthetic closures like the plague.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008

I promised myself I would check in regularly to see how the wine evolved, as synthetic closures aren’t renowned for maintaining a good seal over many years. But, of course, this thought soon slipped my mind, and I was only reminded of the bottles when I visited Bernard Fouquet a few weeks ago. I resolved to pull and pop another.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2008: The colour in the glass is reassuring at least, the wine showing a bright, straw-gold hue. And, happily, the nose is fabulous, revealing layers of golden pear and white peach, with a mineral strength behind, and a delicate touch of thyme too. It feels pure and clean, demi-sec as always, with some honeyed nuances poured over the fresh orchard fruit. There follows a beautiful texture on entry, the middle fleshy but with an enticing liquid-stone character, pithy fruit, yellow plum-skin especially, a great density and substance, a beautiful demi-sec sweetness and a lifted balance. Overall, a superb wine, not a hint of premature oxidation despite the synthetic closure, and I hope this will also be the case with future bottles. 18/20 (August 2014)

Ploughing by Horse at Le Clos de la Meslerie

During a recent trip to Vouvray I learnt that a number of domaines in the appellation, plus one or two in Montlouis, have joined forces to begin working with horses on at least a section of their vineyard. A key figure in the project is Vincent Carême, and joining him are a number of his peers. The list of names and domaines kept changing slightly depending on who I asked, but it seems to include Domaine Huet, Peter Hahn of Le Clos de la Meslerie, a young grower named Tanguy Perrault of Domaine Perrault-Jadaud, Domaine Vigneau-Chevreau, Michel Autran, another young grower named Julien Vedel (all in Vouvray) and Damien Delecheneau of Domaine La Grange Tiphaine (in Montlouis). I apologise if I missed anybody out.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Rather than buy their own animals, the group have engaged the services of Philippe Chigard, who specialises in working with horses. If contracted he will turn up with his horses, and plough your vineyard as required. Pictured above is one of Philippe’s horses in the east parcel of Le Clos de la Meslerie, with the valley of the Brenne beyond.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

This is Junior, a Percheron draught horse, a breed that originated in the former province of Perche, which once lay between Maine and Normandy, but which was divided up after the Revolution. This is a popular breed for this kind of work; I have seen Percherons in other vineyards.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above Philippe Chigard (bending over) and a colleague change ploughs. Philippe is ‘hands on’ in the vineyard, but he also teaches students on the use of horses in the vineyard at the local viticultural school. Other notable domaines outside Montlouis and Vouvray, such as Domaine de Bellivière, also use his services.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

Above, Philippe and his colleague work in parallel rows. If I understood correctly, one is simply scarifying the soil, removing vegetation, while the other is turning the soil.

Ploughing at Le Clos de la Meslerie

And above they are returning up the next row. Junior’s friend is named Mascotte, and is a Comtois, a breed that originated in the Jura. This is another popular breed for this kind of work.

In all cases the participants are ploughing only a section of their vineyard; for Peter Hahn it is his east parcel, while Vincent Carême is now working a section of Le Clos (on the première côte) with horses, and has even gone so far as to remove all the posts and wires to facilitate this work.

I believe other domaines will join the group in the future; I hear others have expressed an interest, but times have been tough in Vouvray and for some in Montlouis in recent years, and I expect they will want to reassess their finances before they take on this new expense. I have no idea whether or not the work makes any difference to the wine, but the horses certainly have a lesser impact on the soil compared to a tractor, are potentially more environmentally friendly (although the horses do have to be transported from one vineyard to the next) and they are certainly a beautiful sight among the vines.

Exploring Sherry #3: Lustau Puerto Fino

Time to check out another Sherry now, and after the wonderful Leonor Palo Cortado from Gonzalez Byass it is time for a shift in style, back to Fino. I think I prefer the haunting complexity of a palo cortado or amontillado to the fresh and tangy bite of a fino, but it’s not really exploring if you stick to what you know and like, is it?

Lustau Puerto Fino

This particular fino, from Lustau, is aged in a solera system in the town of El Puerto de Sainta Maria (on the coast near Jerez, south of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), hence Puerto Fino. The wine, 100% Palomino (nothing unusual there, I just thought I would mention the Sherry grape at least once), is aged in a solera for at least five years before release. It is classically fino in style, having spent its life protected from oxidation by the flor. The cooler coastal climate is said to engender a thicker layer of the yeast than is found elsewhere, and thus a more delicate wine.

This particular half-bottle of the Lustau Puerto Fino is labelled as Lot 3275. In keeping with the fino style it has a pale, fresh, clean hue. There follows an interesting nose, showing first some forward notes of toasted almond, and then there is some good flor character coming in behind. The palate is full, fresh, with a nutty edge, and it shows a very dry character despite the twist of texture it possesses. The spicy citrus nuance running underneath it all, sliding into a peppery finish and a little length, is not without some appeal. A good wine, with a little persistence in the finish. 15/20 (August 2014)

New in. . . .the Loire

One of the joys of focusing on one region is getting to know the stars and keeping tabs on how their domaines develop, and of course returning year after year to taste and report on the latest vintages. It will probably come as no surprise to many that I enjoy getting back to the Loire to taste with Pierre Luneau-Papin, Claude Papin, Philippe Foreau, Jean-Marie Bourgeois and their peers. These guys have been making wine for years and achieve not only great quality but also great consistency. It is rare that a bottle will let you down (not impossible of course, but rare).

Of course, making a new discovery is also a joy; the problem is, it’s not as easy as revisiting the standard-bearers, as it often relies on a degree of serendipity. Nevertheless I have always relished writing about a domaine that is new to me, where I have tasted for the first time. I recall, about five years ago, feeling at a loose end; I noted a slightly bored-looking vigneron sitting at an empty stand in the Saumur-Champigny corner of the Salon des Vins de Loire, and so I wandered up to see what he had on offer. I had just met Antoine Sanzay for the first time, now undoubtedly one of the top names in that appellation. It was a real pleasure to visit him at his domaine a few weeks ago, to see how things have come on (are still coming on) five years later.

New in. . . .the Loire

Nevertheless, I have noticed in the past year of so a new wave of young winemakers in the Loire Valley. There seems to be a new generation taking hold, both at favoured, long-established domaines such as Domaine de la Bergerie and Domaine Ogereau, and also at new start-ups, names completely new to me. So, over the next couple of months I will be casting the Winedoctor spotlight in their direction. It will be difficult squeezing this in among my Sancerre profile overhauls, all my new reports from my recent trip to Vouvray, as well as my forthcoming Bordeaux reports on some recent vintages, but I have earmarked my Friday updates for the foreseeable future to be part of a new “New in the Loire….” series. I’ve started today, with Thibaud Boudignon (pictured above), a new name in Savennières to watch out for.

I will be profiling alongside Thibaud a couple of other domaines new in Anjou, these being Clos de l’Elu where Thomas Carsin is turning out some really interesting wines, and also Nicolas Reau. New in and around Saumur are Mai & Kenji Hodgson, perhaps familiar names to those interested in the ‘natural’ wine scene, but I met them for the first time earlier this year and for this reason they are included. I also met Xavier Caillard, who makes remarkable long-barrel-aged wines under the label Les Jardin Esméraldins. New in Chinon is Jérôme Billard, not exactly on his first vintage but it’s not that long since Jérôme took on the family vineyards of Domaine de la Noblaie and I am sure the name will be unfamiliar to many (but not for long I expect), hence he is included too. Two great new discoveries in Vouvray are Domaine Perrault-Jadaud (home to Tanguy Perrault and Anne-Cécile Jadaud) and Florent Cosme (younger brother of Mathieu Cosme) who are worth knowing about, and I will be profiling both. Up in the Vendômois is retired punk-rocker Brendan Tracy, whose wines will probably also soon be regular features on the ‘natural’ wine scene, while down in the Viticole Sologne I will be profiling Etienne Courtois, who works with father Claude Courtois (so not a new domaine, but a new generation) and the delightful Laura Semeria, who makes some of the best Cheverny I have tasted this year under the Château de Montcy label.

That should be enough to keep me going – there are a couple of domaines I would have liked to add to the list but which I haven’t yet managed to visit, so if I get back to the Loire before the end of the year (which is likely) I will try to rectify this, and I may then slip them in at the end.

One Last Look: Vouvray 2011

Having looked at 2013 Vouvray, and 2012 Vouvray, I want to finish off with a quick round-up of 2011 Vouvray. It is, of the three vintages, perhaps the most complex and the most difficult to understand. In order to explain why, I want first to look back to the vintage in general, followed by my initial tastings in February 2012, before then fast-forwarding to my recent trip to Vouvray.

I am always surprised when I review weather data for 2011, because this was the warmest year ever recorded in France. Yes, even warmer than 2003. The difference in 2011 was that there was no summer heatwave, instead temperatures were way above average in spring and autumn, and actually summer was really cool and damp. Nevertheless the spring and autumn temperatures were enough to push it into the number 1 spot. The warm weather during harvest, especially with warm nocturnal temperatures, brought a risk of rot (and not necessarily the good type). My first encounter with the vintage was with Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet – it often was – and this tasting would always be a significant one in beginning to understand the vintage. I remember my meeting with Noël in February 2012 with great clarity; he told me that the vintage had been difficult, with only a token amount of demi-sec and moelleux wine, all from Le Mont, less than 1000 bottles of both combined.

So regardless of the details of the growing season, in 2012 I began to form an opinion that 2011 was really a vintage for sec only in Vouvray. And so I was surprised when, during a recent visit to Vouvray, many vignerons spoke quite highly of the vintage. Some reminded me of how warm it had been, and is if to prove the point a number of them they pulled out bottles of 2011 moelleux, showing in fact that there had been success in this regard. And then, suddenly, I would encounter wines – especially drier wines – that felt green and under-ripe. It took a long time for me to figure out why this seeming paradox existed, helped by the ever-charming Vincent Carême with some information about harvest-time decisions, what was going on.

Vouvray 2011

I believe the reason for some dry wines seem to be a bit green and under-ripe, and yet some sweet wines have wonderful ripeness and sweetness, is as follows. As harvest approached, after a cool and damp summer the weather began to improve. In fact there was a long period of warm weather, and under these conditions the sugar levels really began to climb. And yet, perhaps reflecting the cool summer, the phenolic ripeness of the berries, including the skins and pips, lagged behind somewhat. This made picking decisions difficult, but the only way to make dry wines is to pick when the sugar concentration is manageable, and so fruit for these wines were duly picked at this moment; my belief is that some of the more raw, greener phenolic compnents have come through into the wine, influencing the flavour profiles. Those that wanted to make a sweet wine, however, left the fruit to continue developing on the vines, allowing not only for the sugars to rise as required, but also for the grape structures (and the stems) to ripen. This meant that when this fruit was picked, the sweetness was there, but the other flavour components had reached a point where they were much more appealing.

Two vignerons who surprised me by producing a very good sweet wine from 2011, prompting me to reappraise the vintage, included François Pinon, who made a very appealing 2011 Moelleux which, although not as exciting as the rather electric 2008 Moelleux, still held a lot of appeal for me, and Florent Cosme, a young vigneron based out in Noizay, who made a rather delightful 2011 Moelleux Audace in his very first vintage. There are good dry wines to be had in the vintage as well though, including 2011 Le Clos from Vincent Carême, and the 2011 Cuvée C from Domaine de la Fontainerie. By far the best dry cuvée in 2011 though comes from Peter Hahn, of Clos de la Meslerie; his 2011 has all the depth found in his 2010 or 2009, both years where the wine is firmly demi-sec, yet it remains dry and full of clean complexity. This is definitely one to look out for in the 2011 vintage.

That is it for my look back at Vouvray in the 2013, 2012 and 2011 vintages. I will leave you with my picture of the setting sun over the vineyards (above), looking up to the Vallée de la Cousse, where François Pinon resides.

Checking in on . . . . Clos du Papillon 2002

The 2002 vintage was a very interesting one in the Loire Valley, especially for white wines made from Chenin Blanc, both in Anjou and Vouvray. The wines continue to do very well; so much so that even in the past couple of weeks I have added more 2002s to my cellar, including wines from Domaine de Bellivière, Domaine des Aubuisières and Jo Pithon (in his first incarnation, before he set up Pithon-Paillé with step-son Jo Paillé).

I thought it might be useful to look back at one or two of these wines to see how they are doing, especially so if I have more than a few bottles. The 2002 Clos du Papillon from Domaine des Baumard is a case in point; I bought a case many years ago now, and this is (I think) bottle number three. One of the first few bottles were troublesome though; off the top of my head I seem to recall one had a very curious and not entirely pleasant ash-like quality to it.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002

Happily, on this recent assessment, things seem very different.

Domaine des Baumard Savennières Clos du Papillon 2002: A pale golden hue in the glass, certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a Savennières of this age. A great nose, fresh, expressive and clean; I recall a few years ago this had a curious ash-like note on the nose, but there is certainly nothing like that now. In truth, the nose is really delightful, bright, minerally although soft and charming – surprisingly so – rather than firm. There follows a supple palate, broad, quite polished and harmonious, with some great grip and fresh acidity. Very lovely, balanced and correct with lively substance rather than huge tension, but so much appeal here, all gathering together towards the finish in a long, tingling, confident and savoury grip. Very impressive. 18/20 (August 2014)

On a personal level, I’m happy to see that strange ashy note gone. Was it a phase the wine went through, or was there just something wrong with a previous bottle? On a broader level, it’s good to see this wine singing; I have heard some claims of ‘prem-ox’ in Baumard wines (this bottle comes from before his whole-scale switch to screw-cap, by the way, a shift he made in 2006 with the release of wines from the 2003 and 2004 vintages). I certainly don’t see any oxidation here. On the basis of this tasting I don’t feel there is any rush with the rest of the case.

Getting Back to Vouvray: The 2012 Vintage

After my look at 2013 Vouvray, written on the basis of some 2013s I have tasted, I want to also look back at 2012, and then 2011. I will start with the more recent of these two vintages here, again looking at it in the context of recently tasted wines, during my recent trip to Vouvray.

The 2013 vintage conjures up immediate thoughts of hail, right? So what image springs to mind when presented by a bottle of 2012 Vouvray? Probably none, but like 2013 this was also a vintage hit by one of the adverse weather events that can dog vineyards planted in cooler, northern climes. On April 17th 2012 a frost damaged a significant percentage of the vines in Vouvray (and Chinon too, as it happens). This frost didn’t bring the near-total devastation that some saw with the hail the following year, and there was plenty of time for the vines to recover, so perhaps this event hasn’t lodged in our minds (or my mind, anyway) as firmly as the hail of 2013. Regardless, 2012 got off to a difficult start.

Cool and damp weather in May, June and July didn’t help, retarding the development of the vines, impaired flowering; in conjunction with the frost, this meant 2012 would be a vintage of low yields. The damp weather also encouraged mildew, so the vignerons really had a battle on this year. Happily, warmer and drier weather in August and September helped, but then things turned wet again in October, and there were warm nights, encouraging rot (rather as in 2013). Some of the vineyards saw dramatic downpours – up to 110mm was recorded in one weekend as harvest approached – further holding back potential quality. Organic and biodynamic growers in particular saw miniscule yields, although nobody had it easy.

I first tasted some 2012s from Vouvray during the subsequent Salon des Vins de Loire in February 2013, and it was apparent early on that many had struggled with the conditions during 2012. Those who look to make demi-sec or moelleux wines found it was impossible, there just wasn’t the ripeness in the fruit (there are exceptions to this rule though – see below). Even when it came to the sec wines, they didn’t show the usual texture or level of quality, many wines felt a bit thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread, as Tolkein might say. Some, however, are surprisingly attractive.


It is difficult to know where to go first, so I will just run through the wines more or less in the order I made my recent visits. I kicked off with Bernard Fouquet, who did not pour the 2012 Cuvée de Silex, but did show his 2012 Le Marigny, which was very dry in keeping with the nature of the vintage, but with some appealing notes to the flavour profile. The Champalou family have done well, in fact their 2012 Sec was one of my favourite dry wines from this vintage, but the 2012 Les Fondraux was even better, and it carries a remarkable 22 g/l of residual sugar (surely a record for the vintage?). François Pinon poured a fresh, acid-bound 2012 Sec, and summed up the year in frank and pithy form – “it was an average summer, September wasn’t so hot, and it rained. There was a lot of bad rot in 2012 (I think François was talking generally of Vouvray, not just his own domaine) and sec was as ripe as you could get. I will make almost all sparkling in 2012″. Is there a stronger indicator of the vintage than one of the region’s leading vignerons, who I admire greatly, committing almost his entire harvest to sparkling? I don’t think so.

As for Philippe Foreau, his 2012 Sec was saline and lemony, lean and very dry, and was fairly typical of the vintage in this respect. He has it pegged as “a wine for seafood” which says something about its firm acidity and texture I think. I tasted with a number of growers new to me including Florent Cosme and Tanguy Perrault and the 2012s here tended towards the same style as Philippe’s, lean and defined by their acidity. I tasted Peter Hahn’s single cuvée from the 2012 vintage and it also showed the leaner, acid-defined character that typifies the vintage; he has yet to decide but he may not release the wine under the Clos de la Meslerie label as a consequence, an admirable commitment to quality if that is the route he decides to take. And, like the words of François Pinon, another strong indicator of the trials experienced in Vouvray in 2012.

Moving on, like François Pinon Vincent Carême also decided to channel a greater proportion of the harvest into sparkling wine as a response to the character of the vintage, even though yields were down from 40 to 25 hl/ha. I prefer the Brut to the Ancestrale, usually it is the other way round; perhaps the Brut’s liqueur de dégorgement helped, even though it is only 4 g/l as a result. Vincent has made smaller quantities of Le Clos and Le Peu Morier, both sec, and both are good within the leaner style of the vintage, sufficiently so for me to buy some of each to see how they develop with a little bottle age. Finally there is Domaine Huet; I was unable to retaste their 2012s having been barred from the domaine following my previous criticisms of these wines. Since my previously published report on the 2012 Huets in January 2014 I have revisited two of the sec cuvées, bought by a friend and tasted in April 2014 (notes not yet published – I will probably tag them onto my forthcoming tasting notes on the 2013s). My opinion on these wines remains unchanged.

Next time, 2011 Vouvray; no hail or frost, and yet a more complex story to the vintage.