Frantz Saumon Montlouis-sur-Loire Minéral+ 2011
One of the principal joys of wine is its diversity, its nuanced multifariousness. It was once described as “sunlight held together by water” by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), words perhaps penned at the end of a particularly long day of squinting through the business end of a telescope and being persecuted as a heretic, when a glass of the good stuff (from the slopes of Montepulciano, perhaps) would have been most welcome. Key to its ability to entrance is that this ‘captured sunlight’ comes from many different corners of the globe, and it is translated by many different grape varieties and expresses many different soils. It is the only agricultural product that achieves this. Potatoes, to me, taste just like potatoes, even if during a lengthy discussion on the philosophy of taste this summer, François Mitjavile of Tertre-Roteboeuf in St Emilion did try to persuade me otherwise. But wine does so much more than this, bringing to your lips a taste never to be repeated in history, the end result of a unique combination of vigneron, soil and that year’s climate into one package which we can decipher, understand and – most importantly – enjoy.
But then I remind myself what Winedoctor is all about; it is not merely an aimless blog describing a happy sequence of random bottles. There is meant to be a theme here, and that theme is (these days) half Loire, half Bordeaux, hopefully bringing some structure to the site, enhancing its usefulness as a resource. Having recognised many years ago that Winedoctor readers knew as much as (and frequently more) than I did on the varying merits of the Californian AVA system, Australia’s emerging terroirs, the wines of Brazil, Uruguay and so on, I realised that the most useful tack I could take was to specialise, and the Loire and Bordeaux were the obvious choices. These regions were my ‘training ground’ for wine, and I have never really shaken off my obsession with them. Looking back at my most recent weekly wine choices, however, I see a selection a little more representative of wine’s manifold variety; seemingly immortal Riesling from Rolly Gassmann, Burgundy from grand cru Echézeaux (now there’s a region I would dearly love to cover in more detail, had I the time and money), from François Lamarche, and fino from Gonzalez Byass, in the shape of Tio Pepe, big brand for sure, and yet striking quality. There was a 2001 Sauternes from Sigalas-Rabaud in there as well, giving Bordeaux a look in, but nothing from the Loire you note. Well, it’s time to put an end to that, with this week’s wine, from Frantz Saumon.
As fans of the Loire will know, Frantz Saumon spent many years working as a forester in Quebec before returning to his native France in the 1990s; having grown tired of waiting decades for his ‘crop’ of trees to mature, he turned instead to viticulture. With an annual harvest, the results of any changes made in the vineyard apparent each year, life as a vigneron must have seemed positively fast-paced to Frantz. Nevertheless he has clearly taken to it, and was surely one of the founder members of the Montlouis-sur-Loire brat pack, a gang subsequently joined by Bertrand Jousset, Xavier Weisskopf and others. His initial 3 hectares acquired in 2001 have been augmented with more recent purchases, and the domaine now stands at about 6 hectares, 5.5 hectares of white varieties (mainly Chenin Blanc) and 0.5 hectares of red. This rather bijou character, the domaine equal to approximately 1.3 Lafleurs (see the François Lamarche 2003 Echézeaux article for a fuller explanation of this new unit of measurement) reflects Frantz’s ‘hands on’ philosophy; he likes to work in the vineyards himself, and so maintaining a self-imposed limit on the area committed to the vine makes the amount of work manageable.
Having met Frantz several times in the Loire and in London, I find his most memorable wine is usually Minéral+ (or Minérale+ in older vintages – I’m not sure when the terminal ‘e’ was dropped – possibly 2010 or this vintage). This is a sec-tendre cuvée, one that straddles the hinterland between sec and demi-sec, bringing a very deft touch of sweetness to it, at the sort of level that – once the wine hits your palate – has you asking yourself whether it isn’t really a sec. Sugar at these levels of concentration tends to engender richness and flesh, rather than overt sweetness I find. Indeed; the residual sugar is usually at a level – the 2009 had just 8 g/l, for example – that many in Vouvray or Montlouis-sur-Loire would simply refer to as sec, although purists might argue that this term should really be restricted to lower levels, perhaps less than 5 g/l. Nevertheless, contrast this fairly low concentration of sugar against the sometimes intense minerality of the wine and you have something that barely reveals its sweeter side at all.
It is a striking wine, perhaps all the more remarkable for the blend of terroirs it represents, some of which are something less than prestigious. There is clay and limestone here, and flint too, but also more sandy soils. It sees a brief élevage, and is bottled without fuss, usually during the spring after the vintage. And so here I am in November 2012, drinking the 2011 vintage. The 2011 Montlouis-sur-Loire Minéral+ from Frantz Saumon has a fine depth of colour in the glass, bright and lightly golden, not so deep as to suggest overt sweetness or a problem with oxidation, but certainly showing some pigment. The aromatics on the nose are almost haunting, a mixture of citrus and orchard fruit, but there is also a stony, pebbly sense to it which gives it a wonderful, savoury, mouth-watering (and I haven’t even tasted it yet) edge. It is perfumed and floral too, confident with clean lines. The palate follows on much in the same vein, the character upright and bright, lightly polished, but with all the punch and verve of the vibrant citrus character suggested by the nose, much more so it fact. The palate veers into an appealing bitterness towards the finish which provides an intriguing contrast when set against the very light flesh of the wine. This is long, sappy-savoury, lightly juicy, and yet nicely framed, defined and cerebral. It is the sort of wine Galileo might have enjoyed I think. I can certainly sense the sunlight in it. 18/20 (6/11/12)
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