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Philippe Foreau Vouvray Brut NV

The sweet wines of Vouvray draw so much attention - especially the most exalted cuvées, such as Domaine Huet's première trie wines and Philippe Foreau's réserve cuvée - that it is easy to forget about the sparkling wines. And I suspect that even those of us who drink them forget from time to time just how significant the sparkling wines are for this appellation. The mousseux and pétillant styles account for approximately 70% of the wines produced here, many of which sell for just a few Euros per bottle from the shelves of local supermarkets. The vast majority of this production can be traced back to the Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray, an impressive co-operative facility located in La Vallée Coquette, just a kilometre or two downstream of the town of Vouvray itself. So the lexicon of sec, demi-sec and even those much-lauded moelleux cuvées made by the handful of small, quality-minded estates, could quite easily be considered minority interests within the appellation.

Of course it is always the case that the highest quality within any given appellation will be found at a small number of standard-bearing domaines, whether we are discussing Chinon or Champagne, Vosne-Romanée or Vouvray. What makes this latter appellation a little unusual is that the quality is largely focused on a range of wine styles quite distinct from the sparkling wines that otherwise dominate. That is not to say all the sparkling wines are cheap-and-not-so-cheerful, however, and a number of top domaines do also turn out some top examples of the type, and today's wine is just such an example.

Philippe Foreau Vouvray Brut NV

Although we could debate the relative merits of these standard-bearers, and where they might sit within a quality hierarchy, most would place Domaine Huet and Philippe Foreau at the top. Although I must stress not all would do so; in a recent conversation with Richard Leroy, the man behind some of the best dry white wines (if not the best) in Anjou, he placed recently-profiled Vincent Carême at the head of the Vouvray league table). Huet and Foreau sit not-quite-opposite one another on the rue de la Croix Buisée at the eastern edge of Vouvray. Indeed, the two are more than simple neighbours; it is a little-appreciated fact that Gaston Huet, the man responsible for building the Huet domaine into what it is today (adding the Clos du Bourg and Le Mont vineyards to Le Haut Lieu, which he inherited from his parents Victor and Anna-Constance), married a young woman from just down the road, Germaine Foreau - none other than André Foreau's sister. Thus André (Philippe Foreau's father) was Gaston's brother-in-law, and indeed the Huet cellars only came to Gaston through this marriage. Prior to the union between the two, the wines had been made at Le Haut Lieu, a short distance further up the road.

Indeed there are many other similarities between the two domaines; one notable point is that although they are justly famous for their still wines, both do contribute to the huge volume of sparkling wines produced, and as might be expected the offerings are - unlike the bulk of the appellation - of the highest quality. At Huet it is the pétillant wines that are the real gems, but as a point of contrast at Foreau there is no such cuvée; Philippe restricts himself to a traditional brut mousseux, made using secondary fermentation in bottle. This can be found in both standard non-vintage and reserve vintage forms, and having recently spotted that neither had ever appeared as my weekly selection (and also having found a fairly-priced source of such bottles in the UK) I thought it was about time one did. The non-vintage Vouvray Brut from Philippe Foreau is the wine in question; remarkably it was a real struggle getting the cork out, not usually a problem with any sparkling wine raising fears of a flat wine beneath, but as it turned out here was no underlying problem, the closure eventually yielding, revealing a good pressure behind it. In the glass the wine has a straw-gold hue, with a light bead. The nose has a wealth of stone and citrus fruits, with great minerality, giving an imposing, very characterful style. The palate is just lovely, showing a foamy mousse at first, although this soon settles down, the wine developing a honed, well-framed, vinous sensation as it does so. There is fine, stony-bright fruit, a lovely full texture, with a little touch of cream to the weight. This sensation comes through in the flavour too, which is reminiscent of apples swirled with cream. Overall, a wine with great presence, very fine, culminating in a sappy, acid-rich finish. So good, in fact, that I proceeded a few days later to open another, which was just as good as the first. The rest I will try to cellar for a few years at least, as I suspect they will only get better. 17.5+/20 (9/8/10)

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