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François Pinon Vouvray Le 2013

Having spent the last three weeks in the Loire Valley, concentrating on Vouvray, I have been getting to grips with recent vintages of this very famous appellation, renowned both for its multitude of styles, from sparkling to liquoreux-level sweet, and for the long-lived nature of the very best examples. I will reflect on these three vintages in some future blog posts, as I feel I have a greater understanding of them (especially the complexities of the 2011 vintage) than I had three weeks ago. That's one of the great benefits of travelling to a wine region and soaking up the local knowledge (as well as soaking up a glass or two of the wine, of course).

In the meantime, though, I need to pick out a wine on which to focus this morning, and although there are a myriad possible choices from these three vintages (and others that I tasted, back to some fabulous 1989s) there is one obvious choice, the lone release from François Pinon last year, named Le 2013. For François Pinon (and for many others, although he was hit harder than anyone else I know in the appellation) the vintage was shaped by one event, a catastrophic hailstorm on June 17th (my initial report made that day, is available here). The storm came up from the south-west, across Rochecorbon, then to the Vallée de Cousse, Chançay and Vaugondy. The vineyards in the path of the storm, which for François included plots in Vau Chevreau, Mortier and Sergé, which all lie on the slopes and plateau to the west of the valley, and Les Derronnière, which lies to the east, were devastated.

François Pinon Vouvray Le 2013

All in all 8 hectares (François has about 14 hectares in total) saw 100% destruction, while another 3-4 hectares saw significant damage, such that the fruit was harvested by pickers walking through the vines carrying baskets, bringing in just handfuls of fruit per row. There was not total destruction, however, and another 2-3 hectares saw a small harvest come in. In total the volume picked in 2013 was 88 hectolitres (the norm is well over 300), and averaged out across the entire domaine François reported a yield of just 6 hl/ha (although for the parcels actually picked, for this wine, the yield was 25 hl/ha). The plots that gave François his 2013 were mainly Le Noyer â l'Ane, near the road heading down to Vernou-sur-Brenne, and also La Bataillerie and Chopet, the latter two yielding little, picked into the aforementioned baskets.

Even with such a small crop the harvest was a staggered affair, running between October 10th and 24th, as François sought optimum ripeness in his fruit. The harvest was manual, the fruit pressed in whole bunches, slowly over four hours, before a settling in order to clarify the juice. The fermentation was in older barrels of varying ages, followed by élevage on the fine lees and a four-week assemblage in stainless steel before bottling on April 24th. Everything of suitable quality went in, and so the cuvée is a blend from clay and flint terroirs, (bucking the recent tendency exhibited by François, since about 2006, to bottle by terroir) and what the vintage gave François was a wine with 11.8% alcohol and 16g/l residual sugar, which nicely balances out the pH of 3.17, and it feels quite sec-tendre in style. Aromatically it is clean, reminiscent of fresh fruit skins, bright and pure, rather expressive with an easy exuberance, but also a little minerally twist. The palate is supple, the clay coming through here as well as the residual sugar, but it is bright. It feels delicate, precise, pretty even, and yet it has the flesh of the sugar to it. It is an impressive wine, good on its own standing, but for the vintage it is a triumph of determination over adversity, and I admire greatly the man who made it. 16/20

These bottles will be in short supply, nevertheless readers in the US will certainly be able to find them as part of a six-pack mixed with older vintages; I think these will be available through Chambers Street Wines. Elsewhere, the hunt will be a hard one, but don't let that put you off looking! (28/7/14)

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