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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.

Champalou

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.

One Response to “Getting Back to Vouvray: The 2012 Vintage”

  1. A fine report Chris and it puts your previous experiences with the vintage into a much broader context. I would rather have an honest description of the state of play (and it seems you have some fairly honest words coming from the winemakers) and a detailed assessment like this rather than someone who just writes only about the good times and the good wines.

    Judging by the two reports so far it seems to me the wines of 2013 are a better prospect than 2012 so I will buy the later vintage when it hits my shores. Thanks for the info.