Patrick Baudouin Coteaux du Layon Grains Nobles 1999
There's a subtle theme running between this week's choice of wine, and last week's, the 1998 from Château Climens. The 1998 vintage was not one that favoured the development of botrytis in the Sauternes vineyards, and as such I don't regard it as a particularly fine vintage for the appellation; the 1998 Climens has only ever served to illustrate that belief (and thus by opening further bottles I continue to reinforce my prejudice, I suppose!). With this wine we move on one vintage, and head north a little, to the vineyards of the Coteaux du Layon. A new harvest, and a new appellation, but one similarity; another difficult vintage.
The 1999 vintage was looking very promising mid-summer, but this is nothing new in the Loire, where it is the Autumn weather - particularly the absence or presence of September and October rains - that can make or break the vintage. But in July, the vines were laden with fruit and the sun was shining overhead. The best growers of course moderated their potential harvest, cutting off green fruit to bring the number of bunches down to a sensible yield. This served them in good stead when the September rains came, whereas those owning vineyards that still groaned under the weight of unripe fruit could do little else but sit back and watch the fruit swell and rot on the vine. Those that kept their vineyards in good order, however, could wait as their healthy fruit continued to ripen after the rains had passed, and they could pick as and when required. For many this was under a more favourable October sky, during a brief warm and dry period. But those looking for botrytis to dry and concentrate their fruit on the vine were required to wait, and many sweeter cuvées - such as those from Patrick Baudouin and other leading vignerons of the Coteaux du Layon - were not picked until November.
So it was with Patrick Baudouin's Coteaux du Layon Sélection de Grains Nobles (abbreviated to Grains Nobles on the label), a wine picked in several tries, with exclusive use of botrytised fruit. Although now twelve years old, the 1999 featured here is one of the youngest vintages available, the most recent being the 2001, although there are subsequent vintages of Patrick's super-cuvée Maria Juby available, specifically 2003, 2004 and 2005.
With 140 g/l of residual sugar and 100% botrytised fruit this is no light-hearted or lightweight cuvée; the first inkling of the power and substance within comes from the inspection of the wine when in the glass, where it shows a very deeply coloured hue, a burnished orange-gold so deep it takes on an amber, more caramel-tinged tone, and around the rather wide rim it even has a tinge of green. Aromatically the wine's impact is in keeping with this appearance, with a rich, sweet, caramel and Demerara sugar aroma, with dried Mediterranean fruits, figs, dates and a hint of toffee-raisin, and yet also a very welcome suggestion of freshness alongside, with scents reminiscent of bitter Seville orange and touches of lime zest which do a good job of lifting the overall impression. It is surprisingly enticing for such a sweet, caramel-coated wine. Texturally it is polished, bold, caramelly, very much a liquoreux cuvée, and in terms of flavours these naturally mirror the nose, with waves of candied orange and Demerara sugar, but there is also a profound acidity, adding a freshening lift. Despite this exuberant, evocative style there is a sense of balance here, the texture never cloying thanks to that acid backbone. It is showing well and unsurprisingly it has a really long, gritty, substantial finish. No shrinking violet, and perhaps a little extreme for me in terms of style, as although this is without doubt an impressive, imposing tour de force I cannot help but note that I do prefer the somewhat fresher, purer, more quartzy-crystalline styles of Coteaux du Layon. Nevertheless, a very good show in a less-than-straightforward vintage. Alcohol 11%. 16.5/20 (19/9/11)