Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 1998
I made an extensive update to my profile of Nicolas Joly and the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, prompted by my assessment of the 2007 vintage at the Salon earlier this year, but also by an increasing awareness of some controversy about the final product here. There is a huge divergence of opinion, looking at comments on internet chat boards and in the publications - both online and in traditional print - of established authors and critics about these wines; with some they seem to find great favour, and yet they are denigrated by others. The key to understanding why there are such polar opinions on the same wines seems to be a mix of bottle variation and tolerance to oxidation, although I am by no means certain of this. Whatever the reason, I have been itching to open a bottle ever since, and last weekend (the reason for the delay between tasting and reporting will be apparent in a moment) I had the perfect opportunity.
The 1998 vintage was not a hugely successful one in Anjou, the weather being generally cool and there was plenty of rain. Nevertheless as always the quality of great terroirs and the efforts of talented vignerons should be able to shine through, even if it is in a more muted fashion. I have enjoyed drinking Joly's 1998 Becherelle, his straight Savennières cuvée, today named Les Vieux Clos (or Les Clos Sacrés in the USA), before now. And if we look across the Loire to the Layon appellations and Philippe Delesvaux; I have had plenty of pleasure out of his 1998 Clos du Pavillon, and he even managed to bring together enough richly botrytised and clean fruit to make Le 20, a wine to celebrate his 20th vintage. None of these are truly great wines, but they are certainly both well worth drinking, and so it is certainly worth looking at the Coulée de Serrant with the same spirit.
One other element of the wine I was keen to explore was Joly's assertion that they can improve after opening for several days; he goes so far as to suggest the wines should be opened, decanted and then left in a cool place for at least 24 hours before serving. And so after tasting this last weekend I left a good portion in the bottle, refrigerated, returning to it during the course of the week (hence my delay in reporting on this wine). How would it fare during this time?
At the beginning the wine, the 1998 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant, has a rich and golden hue in the glass. The nose is remarkably inexpressive at first, but with time it opens up to reveal baked lemon fruit, baked oats, smoke and a fat minerality. My biggest concern as I have alluded above, based on reports of premature deterioration and bottle variation, was that the characteristic aromas of oxidation would spoil this wine, but there wasn't even the slightest suggestion here. Good! The palate is full, broad, firmly composed, and with a tangibly deep minerality, backed up by a texture so solid it is as if barley has been suspended in the wine. The structure is really quite grippy, with good acidity at its core; this is an impressive wine, albeit a rather youthful one that has years to go before showing its true colours I suspect. And it is miles away from the reports of knackered, oxidised bottles that you see elsewhere (although not necessarily in this vintage). I suspect bottle variation can sometimes work in your favour! On day two, 24 hours after opening the wine, there was a light element of oxidation apparent, fleeting and not really distracting. On day three I was unable to reassess as I was out all evening (and night!) at a Krug tasting, but by day four there had been considerable deterioration, with a honeyed sweetness on the nose, like a wine of the Coteaux du Layon, followed by notes of volatility and subtle rubber. And then in the mouth it shows a bone dry palate, very solid and ponderous, with notes of Sherry-like oxidation. This certainly hasn't improved over the four days and so I am not convinced by Joly's arguments, but credit where credit is due - it is holding up fairly well I think. Nevertheless I think this is a wine which, like many others, probably shows its best within a few hours of opening. I have scored it on my early impressions, which were very good indeed, rather than my later thoughts. 18+/20 (8/6/09)