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Château Tour Grise Saumur Brut Rosé 1999

The sparkling wines of the Loire Valley do make occasional appearances as my Weekend Wine, although I have to admit that beyond the wines of Vouvray and Montlouis, from the likes of Domaine Huet, Philippe Foreau, Vincent Carême and Jacky Blot, the other sparkling wine appellations don't get much of a look in. And yet anyone brand new to the Loire who was asked to find the main sparkling wine appellation would surely settle on Saumur. With its long history of sparkling wine production, the undeniable concentration of sparkling wine houses in St-Hilaire-St-Florent just downstream of Saumur, and other notable adverts for the sparkling wine trade - such as the striking art deco Gratien & Meyer buildings, which sit in an imposing position up on the slopes looking down onto the flow of the Loire below, Saumur would seem a natural choice.

Chateau Tour Grise Saumur Rosé Brut 1999

Indeed, some of these houses - such as Bouvet-Ladubay and Langlois-Chateau - have been featured on these pages before now. They make some good wines and they are thus worth knowing. But they are obviously very different businesses to the Vouvray and Montlouis producers listed above; these are big sparkling wine houses, turning out millions of bottles every year. These houses are why Saumur is the world's second largest sparkling wine appellation; there's no need for me to explain which is the largest of course. In Champagne, there are many similar houses, well known names such as Roederer, Bollinger (owners of Langlois-Chateau of course), Taittinger and so on, the grandes marques as they are sometimes known. And yet it seems that today some of Champagne's most exciting wines are not coming from these big names, but from smaller producers, often referred to as 'growers', individuals working smaller identifiable plots of land, often with a more artisanal bent to their winemaking methods. With this in mind, my thoughts turn back to Saumur; where are the corresponding estates in Saumur? Are there any small-scale producers of interesting - artisanal, if I can use that word again - sparkling wines in the Loire's most famous sparkling appellation?

Of course there are, and one that has come to my attention recently is Philippe Gourdon, of Château Tour Grise in the recently defined Saumur Le Puy-Notre-Dame appellation. Gourdon, together with his colleague Bruno Albert of Domaine du Vieux Pressoir, played a pivotal role in the creation of this new appellation, and he also has a long track record of biodynamics, having converted his domaine to this method of viticulture in 1998. Gourdon, it seems, is to Saumur as Marc Angeli and Nicolas Joly are to the Anjou and Savennières appellations, something of a biodynamic father-figure, although Joly does also have a national and indeed international reputation as a biodynamic figurehead. Today Gourdon has 20 hectares of vines, three-quarters Cabernet Franc and the rest Chenin Blanc. This week's wine comes from the early years of his biodynamic practice, a  Saumur Rosé from the 1999 vintage.

Chateau Tour Grise Saumur Rosé Brut 1999

In the glass this mature wine - this is certainly the most aged example of sparkling Saumur that I have ever tasted, with more than eleven years age on it at the time of opening including six years spent sur lattes prior to disgorgement - has quite an impressive hue in the glass, richly coloured, dark but with an elegant maturity, roast salmon-pink with a bronzed, onion skin tinge. The nose shows an appealing if rather straightforward character, most reminiscent of sparkly cinder toffee, with a little trace of crème caramel and a creamed, perfumed fruit element. Broad, attractive, richly composed in the mouth, with a fine and fresh acidity which underpins the maturing, well composed, rather characterful palate which shows the same maturing elements as the nose. Plenty of exuberant mousse here too, focusing down into a tingling finish, where a fine but strong seam of smoky minerality shows through as well. There is a little suggestion of an oxidative character lying behind it all, subtle and adding a new note of complexity. This is long and firm, and overall a real pleasure. 17/20 (28/2/11)

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