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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.

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.

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.

Summer Break

This is just a quick post to point out that now summer has arrived (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) I will be taking my break from Winedoctor updates. I’m off to Vouvray (where, so I’m told, they make wine) for a few weeks. I have a couple of visits lined up, and of course I will be making a few more appointments once I set my feet on the ground.

Although I won’t be making any formal Winedoctor updates over the next three weeks, I may make a blog post or two (maybe), or perhaps a few Twitter posts (more likely), but on the whole I will be focusing on visiting, tasting (reports on my return), imbibing and relaxing. With the latter in mind, I might take a boat down the Cher one day; here’s hoping for a sunset like the one below, taken one evening last October.

The Cher, at sunset, October 2013

When I come back it will be full steam ahead with my reports – there is plenty more to come on Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (new profiles on Château de Tracy, de Ladoucette, Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet and more), and a huge number of updates and new profiles in Nantais, Anjou and Saumur (Jérémie Mourat, Fosse Seche & Nicolas Reau, to name just three of many). And obviously, I might have a few new words on Vouvray to publish. As for Bordeaux, to follow my recent Bordeaux 2004 report I have new mini-reports on 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 coming up, as well as some château and visit reports to publish.

Thereafter, it won’t be long before I get on to the autumn Bordeaux tastings, on the 2010 and 2012 vintages. Of course I will visit Bordeaux to taste the 2010s in bottle, but I will also be there to lead an open trip to Yquem, Haut-Brion, Pichon-Baron, Troplong-Mondot and the like. There are just a couple of places left now, so if you’re interested in coming along, check out this blog post.

Happy drinking to all, thanks for reading, and huge thanks to all my subscribers – Chris.

Restaurants: Vinous Misdemeanours

I’ve just returned from a four-day dining trip in London; I had great fun, drinking and eating my way round this capital city, not least because thanks to the intelligence of some of London’s sommeliers I was able to almost exclusively drink from the Loire. I did go slightly off-piste with a glass of Champagne here and there, and seriously off-piste with a Hungarian Kekfrankos (what was I thinking?!) but otherwise it was Saumur, Sancerre, Montlouis, Pét Nat and more, all the way.

Although it was fun I also met some old bêtes noires, and I encountered some new ones too. I will be writing about each restaurant individually over the next few weeks, but I can’t help put a few words down about the vinous misdemeanours I witnessed. Think of it as my therapy.

Wrong Vintages
I know, this is an old one, but it still happens. The list says 2011, but when the bottle comes it’s a 2010. In this case it didn’t really matter, the only issue being I was drinking from a domaine I am keen to get to know better, and whereas I had tasted the 2010 before I was really interested in tasting the 2011. Both vintages were fine for the region in question though, so I just accepted the wine with a nod, and it was just as delicious second time around. But I woudn’t have been so keen if it were a 2013 Bordeaux instead of a 2012 (very different levels of quality) or a 2011 Muscadet instead of a 2012 (the latter vintage was magnificent, the former stuffed with grey rot). If you really can’t manage the vintages, which are important, perhaps you should cut back your 120-page list a little?

The Heavy Pour
This is another old one, but I encountered it in two different forms. The premise is simple; the more your glass is topped up, the more likely you are to get onto a profit-inducing second bottle. The problem is it brings me out in hives. On the first occasion, one restaurant I dined at saw my table visited more than twenty times during dinner (bringing a new meaning to overbearing service) in most cases to keep dribbling the wine into my glass. On one occasion a waiter would walk away having topped up my glass only for another to appear moments later to do the same, without me even taking a sip between visits.

The second heavy pourer was working with a bottle of mineral water, rather than wine, at a two-star establishment. Having filled my glass at the start of the meal, I was only at the stage of nibbling the hors d’oeuvres (before even the amuse bouche proper arrived) when the second heavy pour almost drained the bottle, leaving less than a half inch of water at the bottom. The waitress clearly considered this close enough to be empty, and was quick to suggest she should bring another bottle. I declined, at which point my nearly-finished bottle was whisked away. It was the start of a very strange evening, and on reflection this moment was perhaps not that unusual when considered in context!

Nicolas Joly

Big Name Wine Lists
If you have a sommelier, they should (I would have thought) be expected to put together a wine list with interesting names and choices, some familiar, some less so. Unsung regions should get a look in, including lesser regions of Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and so on. And the Loire of course. This is usually the case (and is exactly why I managed to drink my way up and down the Loire at every dinner) but at one restuarant I was surprised to see the Loire section consist of almost nothing but Didier Dagueneau (good, but expensive of course, especially with restaurant mark-up), Domaine des Baumard and Nicolas Joly (pictured above). None of which (for reasons of price, or otherwise) interested me. But honestly, anybody who reads the Wine Spectator could have put together that list, comprised purely of ‘break-through’ domaines who have made it into the mainstream wine consciousness. Really, a sommelier put that together?! It’s a bit like a Bordeaux list of only Latour, Le Pin and Cheval Blanc. Very pricy, and more than a bit obvious. Thank heavens for four lonesome and more interesting bottles (on a list that went over more than 80 pages) tagged on at the end, which was where I found something more to my taste.

The Thieving Sommelier
The last misdemeanour I witnessed was very questionable. Sitting in a London wine bar I had the perfect position to watch the sommelier at work, opening and decanting some nice-looking bottles for the bar’s clientele, including (during my short stop there) a seven-year old Cornas, and a ten-year old Nuits-St-Georges. For each bottle, the sommelier would take a tiny pour to sniff and taste, to check the wine. Fair enough – that’s her job. Then she would take a much more handsome pour – a small glassful, perhaps 100-125 ml – and put that to one side, before decanting the rest of the wine which she or one of her colleagues would pour at table. Remarkably, the glass put aside then went to a nearby table of her friends/colleagues, who she presided over; I guessed they were trainee sommeliers, from the way she stood over them as they blind-tasted the wine. What’s really important though, is not exactly why they were taking the wine, but the fact that both wines (and, I suspect, others later in the day) were paid for by an unknowing third party. When you consider that the combined price of the two bottles I saw was just shy of £140, and that this probably continued on after I left the restaurant, that’s certainly very dodgy practice.

Checking in on a maturing Vouvray

We all know Vouvray is immortal. Well, at least I hope we do. I was certainly reminded of this indisputable fact when checking in on the 1996 Cuvée Moelleuse from Domaine Champalou recently. This has always been a very elegant style of moelleux Vouvray, pure and floral, very much in the Champalou style. I recall about a decade ago opening a bottle with a sweet-salty stilton from the Cropwell Bishop creamery; it was one of the most heavenly food and wine matches I have ever encountered. It wasn’t long before the cheese wrapper was empty and the bottle was dry. More than ten years on, I can recall the sensation of the combination with absolute clarity, it was so striking.

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée Moelleuse 1996

Right now the Domaine Champalou Cuvée Moelleuse 1996 shows a polished straw-gold hue in the glass, quite a rich colour for this cuvée, which tends to have a somewhat paler hue than other sweet Vouvrays, which to my mind reflects the more delicate, floral nature of the wine (and the Champalou style). The nose here, however, is not floral but is rich in honeyed quince, sweet yellow plum too, but this is presented in a taut rather than fat or exuberant fashion, and it is nicely balanced by contrasting notes of smoke and mineral on one side, but hints of even richer praline on the other. The palate is beautifully defined, cool and bright, taut and with plenty of crisp, lively fruit behind the grip, acid freshness and richer nuances. There is perhaps a touch of sorbet-like purity and intensity here which really appeals, especially when mixed with the more smoky nuances. It is fabulously long, and yet always taut and precise. Divine to drink now (with or without stilton) but this has decades ahead of it. 18.5/20

Underground at Champany Inn

Last week I took a trip up to Champany Inn, near Linlithgow, a restaurant renowned for its steak above all else. It’s quite a few years since I last visited; in fact, looking back I see it was in 2006, a far-too-long eight years. Well I’m glad I put that right.

The reason for my visit was to attend a dinner showcasing the wines of Henri Bourgeois, the leading Loire Valley domaine and négociant based in Chavignol, not far from Sancerre (although I would imagine the locals would probably rather say “Sancerre, not far from Chavignol”). This was an interesting dinner as, although the numbers of wines poured was not huge, it was (if I recall correctly) the first time I have tasted the Henri Bourgeois wines next to the Clos Henri wines, which originate from the Bourgeois vineyards in New Zealand.

Champany Inn

Before the dinner I was treated to a quick tour of all things Champany. Since my last visit a very impressive shop has sprung up (a lot can happen in eight years!), selling wines off the list, strong on South Africa (as is the wine list) but featuring many other regions too. I even spotted a bottle of Louis Métaireau Muscadet. I made a mental note to return when I have more time, for a longer and more leisurely nose around.

It was the cellars that impressed most though. As cellars go this one (a little of which is pictured above) is deceptive. It goes on for much longer than you think (what I thought was a mirror in the distance was only a glass panel, and there were more bins beyond), and the total capacity is an impressive 36,000 bottles. Just inside the door some recent arrivals were ready to be stacked away; Mike, the sommelier, has very wisely been stocking up with 2004 Bordeaux, a vintage which offers good value, as well as a little from the 2000 vintage, provided the price was right, of course.

Champany Inn

There were plenty of interesting bottles to see. Old Italians, South Africans, plenty of Burgundy and more than a bottle or two from Bordeaux, unsurprisingly. The 1998 Yquem, above, is just one of many such bottles, and hints at the quality of the wines on the Champany Inn list.

I will write up the dinner and wines in the next few weeks, after I have overhauled my Henri Bourgeois profile after my visit there late least year.

Disclosure: I joined the Henri Bourgeois dinner, and stayed overnight in one of their rooms, as a guest of Champany Inn.

One for the Luneau-Papin fans

During the Salon des Vins de Loire I stopped off at the Luneau-Papin stand. Well, you have to, don’t you? The Luneau-Papins are gracious, welcoming people, Pierre is always smiling, Pierre-Marie always laughing. They always seem so happy and relaxed in what they do, and yet they are clearly dedicated and precise individuals who don’t pull any punches when it comes to viticulture and fruit selection; it is no accident that these are some of the best examples of Muscadet in existence.

I stopped off to taste, and was taken aback by what came out onto the tasting counter. It was the famed Cuvée L d’Or, but not as you or I know it. It has undergone a makeover; gone is the traditional somewhat angular Muscadet bottle, and the old fashioned label. In its place is what the Luneau-Papin’s refer to as a ‘sommelier‘ bottle, and a more minimalist label, which also highlights the terroir of origin, the granite of Vallet, a commune just to the south of Le Landreau where the Luneau-Papins are based.

Luneau-Papin - the new L d'Or label

The new label states that the wine is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (and not sur lie) which initially raised my suspicions that it was not just the label that had changed, but the wine too. Are the Luneau-papin’s moving L d’Or to a long lees-aged style, I wondered, akin to the crus communaux wines? I probably shouldn’t have worried, as the wine is already in bottle, and of course cru communal wines usually see 24 months sur lie. But I checked all the same, and it was confirmed that this is just a label change, the wine itself – the vineyard of origin, the fermentation, bottling and so on – are all exactly as they once were.

And as for the taste – it’s superb, as you might expect from the 2012 vintage. Definitely one for the Luneau-Papin fans, and indeed anybody who loves vibrant, fresh and minerally wine. Now, where can I get some?

To Sancerre! And Other Places!

Last year I paid Saumur and Saumur-Champigny a little more attention than usual, as I wanted to update my knowledge of the region and its wines. I wrote about why I felt I needed to reacquaint myself with this particular part of the Loire in my blog post that introduced my series of updates, tasting reports and new profiles, entitled Saumur-Time, and the living….. I guess I should apologise now for the cheesy title, which of course references the Gershwin song, of which Ella Fitzgerald’s is the version I am most familiar with. I’m sorry; I will try and refrain in future.

I had no real intention to revisit Saumur-Champigny this year, and indeed because I missed the third day of the Salon des Vins de Loire due to illness, I missed out on tasting with favourites that I regularly check up on, such as Thierry Germain, Jean-Pierre Chevalier, Philippe Vatan and Antoine Sanzay. I will have to try and rectify this later in the year. Because I spent longer at the Renaissance tasting this year, though, there will be some updates on Saumur, in particular featuring the very appealing wines of Clos Mélaric, made by Aymeric Hilaire. This is a new domaine to me, and one where I was impressed by the wines. Watch out for them (and for my profile).

Les Monts Damnés, Chavignol, October 2013

Anyway, I digress. This year I have decided to pay more attention to upgrading and expanding my coverage of the Central Vineyards, a part of the Loire Valley I have neglected for too long. I thought I might name the series of articles Yours Sancerrely….. no, sorry, I did promise. This wouldn’t cover it anyway, as I will look beyond Sancerre to Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon and other neighbouring appellations. Many of the updates and profiles will be combinations of tastings at the Salon des Vins de Loire or elsewhere, together with tastings, information and photographs from visits to the region last October, when I took in Reuilly, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre (including stops in Sancerre itself, Bué and Chavignol) and Pouilly-Fumé. Pictured above is Les Monts Damnés, which rises above the village of Chavignol.

Briefly, expect new tasting reports and new or overhauled profiles for Domaine Vacheron, Alphonse Mellot, Vincent Grall, Vincent Pinard, Sébastien Riffault, Gérard Boulay, Henri Bourgeois, François Crochet, Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy, Pierre Martin (all Sancerre), Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet, Didier Daguneau, Thierry Redde, Alexandre Bain, Château de Tracy (all Pouilly-Fumé), Philippe Gilbert, Henry Pellé, La Tour Saint-Martin (all Menetou-Salon), Denis Jamain and Claude Lafond (both in Reuilly, and I’ve actually kicked off this week already, with the latter of these two). As I currently have about 30 tastings still scribbled in my notebook, and not yet typed up, there may be others I have overlooked, but I think this is all. And it’s probably enough to be getting on with.

Banned from Tasting 2013 Domaine Huet

One of the highlights of the Salon des Vins de Loire is getting to grips with the latest releases from Domaine Huet. Long regarded as the appellation leader, alongside Philippe Foreau (Domaine du Clos Naudin), the wines made here ever since Victor Huet acquired the estate in 1928 have defined what it is for a wine to be Vouvray. They are benchmarks for the appellation, prize examples of what can be achieved with a biodynamically-managed vineyard (this has been the case since the late-1980s) even in a cool climate, and quite rightly the domaine has risen to the top in the region on the back of these successes. On turning up at the Domaine Huet stand at the 2014 Salon des Vins de Loire, however, I was told that I was not permitted to taste the 2013 vintage.

Before I explain how this came about, and why I won’t be making my usual post-Salon report on the Huet tasting (it is usually one of the first reports I write), a little background information. I first visited the Loire Valley in 1993, and even on that first visit my main focus was the wine. Even on some of my earliest visits I called in on Domaine Huet, and I still have some wines in the cellar, from the 1989 and 1993 vintages, acquired during those visits. With time the visits to the Loire and to Vouvray in particular became more regular, and as my obsession with wine evolved and I began writing about it online, eventually I became what can only be described as a wine critic. In doing so I tasted more and more wines from Domaine Huet, not only on visits to the domaine but also at the Salon des Vins de Loire (with Noël Pinguet at first, more recently after Noël’s departure with Benjamin Joliveau), as well as a notable tasting of demi-sec wines in London with Noël a few years ago. My profile of Domaine Huet is the largest of all my Loire profiles (first published eleven years ago, now expanded to eight pages) with nine separately published ‘tasting updates’ added to Winedoctor over the years, and over two hundred tasting notes all told, from 2012 back to the 1949 vintage. A look through any of these articles would make clear how highly I have rated the wines over the years. Unsurprisingly, during this time the number of Huet wines in my cellar grew, not only with the addition of recent vintages, but back-filling older ones too, as I was keen to enhance my understanding of the domaine. The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1946 Huet.

In all cases these reports were dispassionate judgements on the wines; they were not praised out of loyalty, or love of the Loire, or of Vouvray, or the domaine, but because the wines deserved it. To write usefully about wine – or indeed any aspect of modern culture that attracts the ‘critic’ – I am certain that you have to, above all else, be true to yourself. You have to say what you really feel about the wine in question, and that is exactly what I was doing, giving praise where praise was due. With the 2012 vintage I saw something different in the wines though; they lacked the usual Huet grace and substance, reflecting what had been a difficult vintage for the region. Against the backdrop of all my previous reports on the wines of Domaine Huet, and in the context of an extensive four-page report which also focused on the sec and pétillant wines of the 2002 vintage (where some in the USA have reported premature oxidation, although I found no systematic problem), sec cuvées from other recent vintages (2010 back to 1995, featuring some excellent wines) and recent pétillant releases (2007 back to 2001, again, lovely wines) I stated that I did not like the two wines tasted from the 2012 vintage, that it had indeed been a tough year for the team at Huet, and my tasting notes made clear why. My comments were direct, not mealy-mouthed, but were carefully considered. Nobody would mistake my words for the work of Ambrose Bierce or AA Gill, that’s for sure. I concluded with an open question on the 2013 vintage, and looked forward to tasting it at the Salon.

Turning up at the Salon des Vins de Loire hoping to do just that, I was taken inside the Domaine Huet stand (a fairly grand affair) by Sarah Hwang, current president of Domaine Huet. Expecting to hear some information on the 2013 vintage, I opened my laptop, but I was asked to close it as Sarah informed me that we should talk now, and I could type later. It was made clear that my opinions on the 2012 vintage weren’t welcome, as I was asked “just where do you think you’re coming from with what you write about Domaine Huet” and accused of not engaging with “the spirit” of the domaine or appellation. In a series of quick-fire questions I was quizzed on who I knew at the domaine (my tastings have always been with Noël Pinguet or Benjamin Joliveau, as described above, but it seems I am supposed to know the whole team to be able to comment on the wines) and whether or not I even knew who the winemaker was. When I asked who, if not Benjamin Joliveau, the winemaker was (Benjamin has told me, during previous tastings, that he was now winemaker after Noël’s departure), instead of a simple answer (apparently Jean-Bernard Berthomé, the hugely experienced cellar-master, now has this title) I received more questions fired back at me. I was even quizzed on whether or not I had taken photographs of Huet vineyards, as if that was somehow inappropriate. In the culmination of what felt like a long conversation, but which probably lasted mere minutes, I was accused (after stating that I will always write for my subscribers first and foremost) of “using” Domaine Huet merely to build Winedoctor subscriber numbers.

Oscar Wilde once said “the critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic” and I think he had that right; I’m always willing to be educated, which is why I try to meet as many growers as possible, to hear about their vineyards and their philosophies, and to taste their wines. But this was not an educational meeting, as it much more resembled a dressing-down. When it seemed as though we had reached a stalemate I asked whether I could taste the 2013 vintage. The answer was no. And at that point I left.

As a consequence, I am currently unable to report on the 2013 vintage at Domaine Huet, and will crack on with my proposed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (and Menetou-Salon and Reuilly) updates and reports instead. I will continue to provide tasting reports on the many older wines from my cellar, and in order to keep up to date with recent releases I will look for other tasting opportunities, which may well involve buying newly released bottles on the open market. I am not sure if the ban is a permanent one, but I certainly don’t feel that I would be welcome at Domaine Huet at the moment. I sincerely wish all the Huet team, including Jean-Bernard Berthomé, Benjamin Joliveau and Sarah Hwang all the best for great success in future vintages. Their wines have given me (and so many thousands of others) so much joy over the years and I am sure with continued good efforts from the team, and with more favourable vintages in the future (I am told by a reliable palate that the 2013s are pretty good, by the way), there is no reason to see why that success will not continue into the future.