Arnaud Lambert Saumur Blanc Clos David 2015
To kick off five days of Saumur tastings, reports and profiles my Weekend Wine report this week features a wine from a domaine I haven’t quite got around to profiling on Winedoctor. That is the domaine of Arnaud Lambert, occasionally referred to as Domaine de Saint-Just.
Despite the apparent high quality of its wines this is not a domaine with centuries of history. Indeed, the story of the domaine begins as recently as 1996, when Yves Lambert – at that time aged 47 years – decided to embrace a career change. Leaving behind a lucrative job in the world of finance he left Normandy for Saumur, where he set up a new life as a vigneron. Of course, as you may already know, Yves was not exactly new to the region; this was where he grew up and married, and his father-in-law was none other than Robert Neau, part of the Neau dynasty that still runs Domaine de Nerleux today. Robert was also instrumental in the creation of the Saumur appellation, and together with his brother Marcel he also established the local co-operative. Only a few years ago this co-operative changed its name to Robert et Marcel, in their honour.
So let’s just say Yves Lambert might have had a few good contacts in the region.
Indeed, the truth is Yves Lambert had begun buying vines in the region as early as 1983, as he began preparing for his return to Saumur. Their management was entrusted, of course, to the local co-operative. So when he arrived in 1996 he hit the ground running, with an attractive portfolio of vineyards. Not ten years had passed before he was joined in his endeavours by his son, Arnaud; one key difference between the two men is that Yves relied on experience, his contacts and local savoir-faire, whereas Arnaud arrived with some qualifications in his back pocket, having studied in Bordeaux. From this point on the pace really picked up; together father and son converted the domaine to organic viticulture, starting in 2009, and the same year they also assumed responsibility for the management of several vineyards belonging to nearby Château de Brézé. Brézé is, of course, one of those names that sends shivers down the spine of any fan of Chenin Blanc in Saumur.
Tragically, only a couple of years later cancer took Yves Lambert (1948 – 2011), leaving Arnaud to go it alone. He has not eased up, with a continued expansion of the portfolio, and an eventual embracing of biodynamic methods in 2018.
The wine here hails from Clos David, unless I am mistaken one of several vineyards belonging to Château de Brézé that Arnaud manages. It is a 1.3-hectare parcel situated on the hill of Brézé, almost directly north of the château. This gives it a north and slightly east-facing aspect. It is planted with Chenin Blanc, the vines having gone into the light, silty-sandy soils (over deeper Turonian limestone, of course) in 1965. The fruit is picked by hand, and fermented by indigenous yeasts in a mix of half foudres and half barrels, mostly older but including 15% new oak. After twelve months in wood, and then assemblage in cuve for six months, the wine is bottled. In the glass the 2015 Saumur Blanc Clos David from Arnaud Lambert displays a pale straw coloured hue. Aromatically it is incredibly taut, especially bearing in mind this was a warmer vintage which favoured the reds (2014 was the year when the whites were really popping with acidity). It opens with notes of orange peel, lemon pip, chamomile and sage, tense and saline, with a rather chiselled suggestion to it. The only hint of softness is a touch of blanched almond, and even that is subtle. It feels very Sauvignon-like in style, which calls to mid the never-to-be-forgotten words of Nady Foucault – “great Chenin tastes like Sauvignon Blanc” – and that seems to be what we have here. The palate does not let up, presenting all the tension suggested on the nose, with saline minerality, orange peel and crushed chalk, and an intense limestone bite to the structure at the end. The acidity is challenging (especially for a 2015!) and I suspect it will be too much for some drinkers, but I enjoy its saline, slightly sour and taut structure, and the mouth-watering finish. I think this would be best committed to the cellar for five or more years yet; it is surely evolving slowly and has great potential. The declared alcohol is 13%. 93/100 (28/3/22)
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