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François Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2004

More Sancerre this week, following on from my promise a few weeks ago to taste and drink a little more of this wine this summer, in order principally to further investigate my assertions regarding Sauvignon Blanc and terroir. I'm not so sure on opening this wine that it will really facilitate that, as perhaps its age will distract me too much. The vintage is 2004, the domaine François Cotat; both the year and the producer have appeared here before, last year in fact, when I focused in on one of Cotat's other cuvées, the Culs de Beaujeu.

Francois Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnes 2004Les Monts Damnés (which is literally translated as "damned mountains") is one of three Cotat vineyards, the others being the aforementioned Culs de Beaujeu and also La Grande Côte. These three lieux-dits are exemplary sites, grand cru in all but name (no such system exists in Sancerre), and for one producer to have such a firm foothold in all three is remarkable. The colourful name of the first of this trio of vineyards seems particularly pointed; it reflects the incline of the site, which is so steep it is impossible to work the land without special equipment. Nothing high-tech is required though; traditionally the workers move down the vineyard seated on (strapped to, in fact) a cushion rather than standing.

The predominant terroir in Chavignol is Kimmeridgian limestone, known locally as terres blanches; these soils are the same that can be found underfoot when standing in the best vineyards of Chablis, which is not very far to the east. In all his vineyards François Cotat practises organic viticulture, manual harvesting (the pickers gently shuffling down the slope on their cushions, pushing their buckets before them) usually two weeks or more after his peers have picked, with a gentle pneumatic pressing awaiting the fruit on its arrival at the cellars. The fermentation is en barrique, using old wood rather than new, without chaptalisation, and as the label declares the wines are bottled ni collé, ni filtré, neither fined nor filtered.

What marks the wines out from their peers is not so much the absolute quality (although that is a vital point) but their bucking the widely-touted Sauvignon maxim that you should drink youngest available. These are wines that age well, as this tasting of the François Cotat Sancerre Les Monts Damnés 2004 at six years of age shows. In the glass it has a fresh and pale hue, and a beautiful nose follows on, starting off with exuberantly ripe and tropical fruits, honey-tinged pineapple first and dominant throughout, then notes of mango. Neither would I usually associate with Sauvignon Blanc, the flavour profile being another remarkable feature of the Cotat wines. Later there comes more aromatic elements, particularly furry peach skin, white peach flesh, then pine kernels. In fact at times it does have rather a heady resemblance to Viognier. Great structure and substance, grippy and fine composition on the palate, the tart appley acidity of Sauvignon Blanc only coming through in the finish although when it does appear it is certainly bracing, lifting the length quite nicely as it comes. Overall this is a delicious wine, with piles of substance and character, well poised and delightful to drink. 18+/20 (21/6/10)

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