Château de l’Aulée Crémant de Loire Brut NV
I’m always a little reluctant to thrust non-vintage wines into the spotlight here, for one simple reason; it is never easy to be sure that, should you happen to also have a bottle to hand, that we are talking about the same wine. You see this when Champagne geeks discuss their favourite non-vintage cuvée from Bollinger or the like; to differentiate one wine from the next they try to nail down the base vintage, that year which contributed most to the wine in question. The truly time-worn geeks will of course search for the numbers stamped on the foil which, with their insider’s knowledge, they quickly decode. This can lead them, in Dan Brown mode, to uncover not only the month and year of disgorgement but also the exact day, as well as perhaps the star sign of the winemaker and if they get the right bottle maybe even the location of the holy grail.
For those of us working without the gift of numerology, or indeed when the foil reveals no secret code, all sorts of detective work is required. Does your bottle have the same foil colour as mine? Does it have the old red or the new gold label? Which style of bottle, the old one that was functional and would stack perfectly well, or the new one which weighs more, doesn’t stack, and won’t fit into any of the spaces in your wine rack? All these data points can be used by the Champagne sleuth eager to understand exactly what he or she is drinking.
Sadly none of this is going to be possible with this wine from Château d’Aulée, a non-vintage Brut Crémant de Loire. I happen to know it is based on the 2008 vintage, and after 30 months sur lattes it was released onto the UK market in 2012. This means it has had three years in my cellar before drinking, time which has done it wonders; while it provided some lovely drinking on release, it is even better now. The wines currently on the market are more likely to be based on 2010 or 2011, but I honestly don’t know that I would spend too much time fretting over this. This château, run by Marielle Henrion, has an enviable track record of consistency from one release to the next.
For those not familiar with the wines of Marielle Henrion, of Château de l’Aulée, rather than express pity for you I shall tell you a little bit about her. Marielle, a charming and elegant lady, trained at Bollinger and Pommery, which I suspect goes a long way to explaining the very exacting and yet delicious exuberance of her wines. She and her husband Arnaud purchased Château de l’Aulée in 2004; the previous owner Jean-Pierre Crispin had only held tenure here for two years but it seems he was failing in a quite dramatic style, so the property was ripe for rescue. Prior to Crispin, however, the estate had enjoyed a long association with other some famous names, having been in the possession of Madame Lallier-Deutz of Champagne and before her the Cordier family of Bordeaux. The estate is next-door to Azay-le-Rideau, on the edge of the Forêt de Villandry, and it is planted mostly to Chenin Blanc, with a soupçon of Chardonnay, and Marielle also owns several plots of Cabernet Franc down in Chinon which come in handy when making rosé.
Although there are a few still wines made here, Marielle’s strength is in Crémant de Loire, of which she turns out several goodly examples, but the Brut NV is as good a place to start as any other. This is made using the méthode traditionnelle, from 100% Chenin Blanc, with the first fermentation in steel and the second in bottle, with at least 24 months sur lattes, sometimes longer (as noted above, I think it was 30 months in this case, but it can vary as wines can be disgorged as required). At disgorgement the dosage gives approximately 8 g/l sugar in the finished wine. After three years in the cellar this wine has a rich golden hue and although the cork was shrunken and firm, having lost its elasticity, the wine itself was still bright and effervescent with an energetic mousse, and the nose was clean as a whistle, with scents of dried orchard fruits cut with a citrus vigour, and some little notes of blanched almond. The palate is just as lively as the wine looked, the texture rich but not overdone, the acidity vigorous but balanced with the rest of the wine. It has a reasonably short finish, but that can’t distract from the intensity and confidence of this full, fruit-rich, vivacious wine. This is delicious stuff, and looking back at the asking price remarkable value too. 17/20
As a final aside, I know some wine professionals have strong opinions about the glass used with sparkling wines (to flute or not to flute, that is the question), and so I thought some comment on this was worthwhile. After trying a number of different vessels I concluded that this wine tasted best from a small wooden cup, dating to the 1st century AD, that was given to me as a gift by an aged member of the Knights Templar I met many years ago when on a day trip to Petra. (8/6/15)