Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec 2009
I'm currently working on a new guide to the wines of Tuscany, a somewhat more detailed look at the region than I achieved within the confines of my ancient guide to the wines of Italy, which was always a very simple and superficial (although well researched, it has to be said!) run-down of this most complex and multi-faceted nation in a single online page. My most recent instalment concerned my adventures on a day out in Chianti Country, when I explored potential wine experiences for Tuscany's tourists with, unfortunately, only mixed results, and I hope to have part four - concerning Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - online later this week.
I recognise, however, that once this mini-guide to Tuscany is behind me I really do need to overhaul some of my Loire wine guides. I've already started with Muscadet, which is now a two-part review that hopefully includes everything you could want to know about the region and the wines, not just its history and appellations but up to date opinion on the troisième niveau cuvées and the crus communaux. Nevertheless, beyond Muscadet, not only are my Loire guide pages looking a little dated, but they are also starting to feel overly brief; after all, if Loire-related information is a reason visitors might come to Winedoctor, it stands to reason that my Loire wine guide should be more detailed than that which concerns Tuscany! With that in mind I've been updating my knowledge of the Loire's vineyards upstream of Muscadet; I've done a lot of work on Savennières this year, gaining a lot more tasting experience and updating profiles, but the same is also true of Vouvray and Montlouis. These are appellations where I have made some exciting discoveries in recent years, not just Vincent Carême but also the recently profiled Lise et Bertrand Jousset, and Xavier Weisskopf of Le Rocher des Violettes as well.
Today's focus is Vouvray though, in the shape of this wine from Vincent and Tania Carême. Their domaine is located on the edge of Vernou-sur-Brenne which is three or four miles upstream from Vouvray; that some of the leading domaines of the appellation are some distance from the town of Vouvray itself mirrors my comments when discussing last week's wine, the 1997 Verset Cornas. Their domaine sits on periphery of the plateau that lies behind Vouvray and Vernou; towards the river the land is composed of very alluvial soils, some ancient and some more recently laid down, but either way much more suitable for arable farming or pasture than for viticulture. Many of the vines, both here at Vernou and downstream at Vouvray, are located on the première côte, the very first slope that runs up and away from the two towns, to the north. The Route de Vernou (otherwise known as the D46), the road that runs between these two Touraine towns, runs parallel with the edge of the plateau, and although not directly adjacent it is a good enough marker for it on a map.
Although there are variations and breaks in the slope and its vineyards, the archetypal ascent from valley floor to the plateau above runs through a standard set of different terroirs. From the alluvial soils at the foot of the slope first come the deeper rocks, the tuffeau, a chalk-like limestone, and then above that come clays and flints. Both strata were laid down during the Cretaceous period, more than 67 million years ago. The clay and flint layer originates in the Turonian epoch, and indeed this is referenced by at least one domaine, Château Gaudrelle, where Alexandre Monmousseau has named one cuvée after this geological era. These soil types are undoubtedly the best for Chenin Blanc, and as such the vineyards closest to the foot of the première côte - think Huet's Clos du Bourg and Le Mont - have the most highly regarded reputations. Move up the slope and the limestone, clay and flint give way to more superficial layers, sand and gravel laid down during the Miocene epoch in the Tertiary period, and then richer, more loamy top soils, and although there are vines planted here they generally do not yield the same quality of fruit as those down on the first parts of the slope.
There are complexities too though, and domaines situated on the plateau, such as François Pinon at La Vallée de Cousse, a few miles north of Vouvray and Vernou, should not be overlooked. Valleys and other variations in the topography provide patches of clay and flint here and there, and favourable slopes, which are well suited to Chenin Blanc. But continue on and before long, perhaps just a mile or so after our ascent began, the land is flattening out as we move out onto the plateau itself, and the vineyards begin to peter out. Vines are soon replaced by arable crops, or more often than not huge swathes of sunflowers, as well as other less eye-catching features, industrial complexes and similar.
With a firm-ish grasp of the local geology we can now returning to this week's wine, the 2009 Vincent Carême Vouvray, a wine which when I first tasted it at the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers and then at the domaine last summer seemed to me rather bright and fresh, a wine more reminiscent of the bright scents of spring than the sometimes more golden, autumnal, apple and pear nuances offered up by many examples of Vouvray. More recently though it has shown a somewhat deeper, more structured nuance, and I think it is a wine with more to offer than I first thought. This most recent tasting seemed to confirm this. It has a rather pale hue in the glass, and aromatically it still seems precise and restrained, with lightly lemony fruit, perhaps softly floral and minerally on the nose, but above all else full of citrus tones. Nevertheless, there is a really full substance in the mouth, much more than I recall, giving the wine a firm, grippy and substantial feel although this is nicely offset by the wealth of fresh, pithy fruit that sits alongside. It has a very confident energy underneath the softer fruit layers, and as the nose suggested is quite minerally, with lots of lovely grip in the end. This cuvée has a dry and pithy character and clearly has a lot more to offer yet. I suspect with time that underlying energy will come to dominate, taking control from the softness and flesh that currently hides the substantial grip here. This is long and fine; I'm looking forward to my next bottle already. 17/20 (3/10/11)