A Visit to Domaine Didier Dagueneau, 2017

I held out my glass for the umpteenth time, eager for it to be filled for the umpteenth time. It was Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau who was doing the pouring, each refill coming with a less-than-gentle clink of glass on glass. We had started off deep in the cellars, with a selection of wines from the 2016 vintage, drawn from barrel. Louis-Benjamin had proved himself by scrambling athletically over the stacks of barrels to draw the requisite samples using his ever-present pipette. Then we had moved out into the cuverie, at the front of the cellars, where thankfully no such gymnastic skill was required. Here we tasted the 2015 vintage, the samples drawn from the stainless steel tanks where the wines waited, post-filtration, to be bottled. And then it was on to the older vintages, de rigueur chez Dagueneau, all poured from bottle of course. Together we checked out wines from 2008, 2004, 2002 and 1996.

It wasn’t exactly the hardest day of my life, for sure.

I had thought with the 1996 vintage we were finished, but then came that umpteenth wine, Louis-Benjamin filling my glass once more, the pale liquid frothing and foaming up in the glass, generating a rich head of ivory-white bubbles. Hang on a minute. Frothing? Foaming? Bubbles!? This wasn’t exactly the style of wine I had expected to find in this tasting of top-class Pouilly-Fumé.

Sparkling Dagueneau

Didier Dagueneau was never afraid of experimentation and innovation; these were philosophies that wound their way through him and his wines. His work with ultra-high density planting in Pouilly-Fumé, with different shapes and sizes of barrels, or his expansion into Sancerre and indeed Jurançon are all testament to this aspect of his character. This trait has surely been passed from father to son, because Louis-Benjamin’s newest project is a sparkling wine, made using Petit Meslier.

Domaine Didier Dagueneau

Petit Meslier is not to be confused with the Loire Valley’s ‘other’ Meslier, Meslier-Saint-François, parcels of which are so carefully tended by Lionel Gosseaume, although to be fair historically both varieties have been referred to simply as ‘Meslier’. Nevertheless the two are certainly distinct, Petit Meslier the result of a natural cross between Gouais Blanc and Savagnin, whereas Meslier-Saint-François comes from a cross between Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc. It is a rare variety, with less than 5 hectares planted in all of France, mostly restricted to the Champagne region, but Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau does have a small parcel which he is using as the basis for these sparkling wine experiments. It is a variety known for its floral characteristics and its ability to retain acidity in warm vintages, but it can be quite difficult to work with; the timing of the harvest is vital, and the naturally high acidity can impede vinification.

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