A Visit to Domaine du Clos Naudin, 2019

Philippe Foreau held his glass a little higher, the golden-bronze liquid within glinting under the soft glow of the newly installed low-energy electric lighting. We were deep underground, in the cellars of Domaine du Clos Naudin, its galleries and alcoves hewn by hand from the Turonian limestone of Vouvray’s première côte. Admiring its shimmering hues, and presumably still savouring the flavours as they lingered on his palate, he contemplated aloud his 1990 Vouvray Moelleux Réserve. “The 1990 has always reminded me of the 1921 vintage – at the time it was bottled, it was so intense, you could not even bear to taste it”.

Our assembled group of tasters all glanced at one another, wondering which one of us would voice what we were surely all thinking. Suddenly one brave (or perhaps foolhardy) soul made a move.

“Err….perhaps we could try a bottle to see for ourselves”.

Philippe seemed entirely unfazed by the suggestion. Perhaps the fact that it was his birthday (I had dared not ask, although I later worked out it was his 62nd) had put him in the mood to open something special. He turned to his son, Vincent Foreau, and suggested he go and find a bottle. After what seemed like an impossibly long time to locate what must surely be one of the domaine’s most precious bottles, Vincent returned, a single bottle suspended between the index and middle fingers of his right hand in a frighteningly casual manner. It was fatter and broader than all the other Foreau bottles that stood on the cellar floor in the middle of our group, and it seemed clear it came from another era altogether. Vincent extracted the cork with little ceremony and also considerable ease, it sliding out in one pull, in one piece. And he began to pour.

Philippe Foreau

The liquid glistened around the edges, but was a dark colour that clearly spoke of its age, it showing a greater resemblance to a richly pigmented oloroso sherry than to aged Vouvray. But then, to be fair, it was about seventy years older than most of the ‘old’ Vouvrays I occasionally drink, many of which originate from the 1989 and 1990 vintages. Clutching the stem in the cold of the cellar, I realised I was a little fearful of what I might discover here. Last time I visited this domaine Philippe had graciously pulled the cork on one of his few bottles of the 1989 Vouvray Moelleux 4ème Trie, a cuvée made in tiny volumes (just 400 bottles, representing just one 300-litre barrel) and never released, only for it to be undeniably tinged with cork taint. Finding cork taint in the 1989 vintage, both here and at Domaine Huet, is sadly not an uncommon experience, but this was from a different but extraordinarily aged vintage. More likely, with my pessimist’s hat on, would be some nuance of advanced degradation, volatility, oxidation or just plain old acetic acid.

Well, there was only one way to find out. I gingerly poked my nose into the glass, and inhaled. And there was nothing worrying about the glorious ambrosial aromas that greeted me there. Nobody in the cellar spoke a word for a minute or more, not even Philippe and Vincent, as we all contemplated this magnificent wine, so vigorous and alive after 98 years resting in the Foreau family’s cellar.

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