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Champalou Vouvray Cuvée des Fondraux 2004

I'm fresh from my summer break in the Loire, and having spent the last few hours wrestling with my internet router I'm ready to get going again with Winedoctor updates. Naturally I'm kicking off with a Loire Valley wine, although having tasted (and swallowed!) such a huge range of styles over the last three weeks, from bone dry right through to lusciously sweet, my vinous thoughts have turned to the matter of sugar.

When it comes to the perception of sweetness in wine many palates are - it seems to me - somewhat confused. One man who has written very well on this before now is Terry Theise, a buyer who works under the umbrella of Michael Skurnik Wines, a leading American importer and distributor. His Terry Theise Estate Selections catalogues are eagerly awaited publications, anticipated just as much as any edition of the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator or Decanter. Within his annual catalogue he provides a rich seam of data on the latest German releases (he does the same for Austria and Champagne), a wealth of tasting notes, recommended buys and other topical opinion. It's a catalogue produced with the intent of making a sale, of course, but despite this apparent conflict of interest his words and opinions are taken just as seriously as those of other more stringently independent critics by wise fans of German wine.

A regular feature within his catalogue is his discourse on sweetness in wine, and how he once berated a punter (in perhaps rather too pointed a fashion) at a tasting in Aspen in 2003. Having had his offer of a taste of a sweet wine declined, Theise goes on to establish that the seemingly sugar-phobic visitor to his stand in question enjoys sweet foods, and perhaps also sweet but non-alcoholic drinks, but for some reason eschews sweetness and alcohol combined in liquid form. As he concludes, "good grief, the bullshit some people believe about themselves" (yes, he is pretty forward and forthright with his opinions).

Champalou Vouvray Cuvée des Fondraux 2004

This issue of intra-palatal inconsistency came to mind recently at a picnic lunch, shortly before I departed for the Loire, when someone brought along a bottle of mineral water "with a hint of fruit flavour", as the label put it. As soon as I had it in my mouth I realised there was a lot more here than just water and fruit, the texturally fat mouthfeel betraying the presence of a reasonable dollop of residual sugar. And indeed, as I focused in on what I was tasting, there was discernible sweetness here too. At least demi-sec in terms of concentration, I thought to myself. I witnessed many others merrily knocking back the stuff, with only one weight-conscious attendee noting the presence of sugar, although judging by the exclamation of surprise on spotting this it was not something she suspected from tasting, she was merely looking to count calories. I wondered how many of those present would be wrinkling their noses in disgust at the mere thought of tasting or drinking a similarly sweet wine? The actual concentration in this sweet and fizzy libation, you might ask? A solid 40 g/l, more than your typical demi-sec and in fact heading into moelleux territory.

Although Theise is primarily concerned with German wines, sweetness is an important issue in many regions, not least the Loire, and in Vouvray (which naturally I visited during my Loire visit) as much as any other appellation. I have written quite recently about the inappropriately passed-over demi-sec category, a 'lost tribe' of wines that are summarily disregarded by some as wines with no purpose, whereas my argument is that these wines should be seen as the ultimate personification of Vouvray (or indeed Montlouis). And so I suppose my criticism of drinkers who avoid this category of wines would be without merit if I didn't demonstrate that I do buy and drink these wines myself from time to times. I've just added a host of demi-secs to my cellar (all purchased at the domaine of course!), from Huet, La Taille aux Loups and Chidaine, all from the 2008 vintage, but this week's wine is a slightly older bottle, the 2004 Vouvray Cuvée des Fondraux from Champalou. It has a glorious hue, pale but shimmering, a very gentle colour, like the flesh of a honeydew melon. The nose certainly has complexity, quite subtle at first, then with the richness of honey intertwined with more ethereal elements, liquid stone, flower petals and sweet straw. The palate is simply enticing, showing well defined honey-tinged flavours of apples, pears, white melon and more, all carried along by a gentle residual sugar giving the midpalate a fine, fleshy roundness. Gentle acidity, and a sappy, pithy, but also rather juicy quality to the fruit. Heady, stony and lightly perfumed towards the finish, with elements of lemon zest, chalk, and overall a quite ethereal style. For a wine from what is generally regarded as a lesser vintage this is very fine indeed, with good length at the end. One for drinking now rather than the cellar though, I think. 17/20 (26/7/10)

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