Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec 2002
Fans of the wines of the Loire, and of Vouvray in particular, will already be aware of the early and unanticipated retirement of NoŽl Pinguet from Domaine Huet. I reported on this development in Noel Pinguet departs Domaine Huet in an Acrimonious Split last February, and expanded on it alongside my notes from a tasting of the 2011s from Domaine Huet with NoŽl, published the following week, in NoŽl Pinguet's Final Vintage. Those updates tell you all you need to know, but to save you clicking through - and cutting a long story short - NoŽl decided to leave three years before his planned retirement in 2015 due to irreconcilable differences with the Hwangs, majority shareholders (and therefore majority string-pullers) in the domaine. The disagreements centred around the production of sweet wines over dry (NoŽl favouring the former as permitted by the vintage, the Hwangs the latter) and also the distribution of the wine (NoŽl preferring a complex distribution network, the Hwangs looking for one or two big deals to sell all the stock). That's something of an over-simplification, but you get the idea. For more detail, click the links above.
The past week has seen the passing of another chapter in this story, one that concerns the sale of old stock. When Anthony Hwang first invested in Domaine Huet in 2003 his money bought him an 80% stake in the company. What it did not buy him, however, was the contents of the Huet family's wine cellar. As you might imagine this was a cellar to bedazzle any fan of this domaine, with vintages dating back to the 1920s, the Huet family having purchased the vines and house at Le Haut Lieu, the nidus that grew into the modern-day Domaine Huet, in1928. From then on Victor Huet, followed by his son Gaston, and then his son-in-law NoŽl Pinguet (NoŽl married Marie-FranÁoise Huet in 1968) turned out vintage after vintage of exemplary wines, all of which - up until now - have rested in the domaine's cellars. But with both Victor and Gaston having passed away many years ago NoŽl and Marie-FranÁoise now have sole possession of this personal stock. And with them now packing their bags, these many thousands of bottles couldn't go with them. They would have to sell.
What surprises me a little - although perhaps there is a simple explanation - is that Anthony Hwang, a wealthy Filipino-American financier, didn't buy up all the stock. Perhaps, with his preference for the easier-selling drier wines, Anthony did not want all these older vintages, many of which will be demi-sec and moelleux. Perhaps he simply wasn't given the opportunity, but that is mere speculation on my part. Whatever the reason, most of the wines have been bought up by London merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd. This is a tragedy for the domaine, which as the wines are sold off loses at the very least a valuable library of old vintages, although - being more emotive for a moment - it is probably fair to describe this vast collection as the heart of the domaine, if not its memory, perhaps even its soul. The Hwangs may not realise it right now, but they have lost something very precious here. They managed to acquire some recent vintages, from the 1970s onwards, but on the whole they have really lost out.
My own cellar isn't exactly brimming with pre-war Huet (although I suppose that depends on the war in question!), nevertheless I have more than a few bottles, particularly when it comes to the 2002 vintage. Although perhaps not quite at the level of the 1989 vintage, it comes very close, and as such counts as one of the great vintages of recent times. happily I had the good sense to buy some. With NoŽl in mind I opened this week's wine, the Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-Sec from the 2002 vintage. This wine has a moderately rich golden hue in the glass, and this is followed by a lovely sense of pith and fruit-peely intensity to the aromatics, but there are also brighter and more feminine elements, floral notes and minerals too. The palate has a gentle sweetness and a savoury sense of balance on entry, the midpalate showing a more gently polished and elegant character, the finish long and lightly grippy. The fruit has a lovely confidence to it, behind which there is great grip, but this is well hidden by the residual sugar within the wine. The texture is full, but that savoury tone and grip brings a seductive character that doesn't seem to relate to the sugar. Overall, a delicious wine, perhaps not the most amazing demi-sec from Huet I have tasted, but very fine nevertheless. 17/20 (24/9/12)