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Domaine aux Moines Savennières Roche-aux-Moines Moelleux Cuvée des Nonnes 2002

Domaine aux Moines Savennières Roche-aux-Moines Moelleux Cuvée des Nonnes 2002

Having published the twentieth and final instalment of my guide to the Central Vineyards this week, with an off-piste look at the history, geology, domaines and wines of the IGP Côtes de la Charité (a rare diversion from the region’s better-known appellation d’origine contrôlée wines), it is time to consider which region of the Loire Valley I will be next pick apart. Today’s Weekend Wine surely gives something of a clue. I am going to be getting to grips with Anjou.

As I pick my way through the wines of this extraordinarily diverse region, I will of course come to Savennières. This is an appellation of which I first tried to gain an understanding more than a decade ago; it was a complex task, as it has seemingly innumerable stylistic facets, from old-school traditional to modern and oaky, from reductive and cool to oxidative and alcoholic, and of course – this being Anjou – from sec through to demi-sec and moelleux. At the time it seemed like ‘anything goes’, and on reflection that was probably true. But even if vignerons were free to do just about whatever they wanted, I felt at least I had gained an understanding of who was doing what.

Domaine aux Moines Savennières Roche-aux-Moines Moelleux Cuvée des Nonnes 2002

Since then the situation has become even more complicated, as some growers are forging ahead with another style, one absolutely free of botrytis influence, which is much more difficult to achieve in this region than you might think. The dividing lines between unripe and ripe, and between clean and botrytised fruit, cannot necessarily be drawn in the same place; pick Chenin Blanc at a ripeness appropriate for a dry wine and there is every chance you will already have some botrytis in the mix. While the wine can be fermented dry, the botrytis character will still be there, smudging its definition and precision, and nudging its alcohol level northwards. This is something I spoke about at length with Pierre Ménard (another strong advocate of the zero-botrytis style, but in the Anjou appellation), as described in my recently published profile.

One domaine that has moved very much towards the more precise and minerally style that comes (in part at least) from the meticulous exclusion of botrytised fruit is Domaine aux Moines. This is the new style under Tessa Laroche, her work having catapulted the domaine to the top tier of appellation in my mind. In years gone by, however, the domaine also had a strong reputation for its moelleux Savennières, a style which once dominated in the appellation but which is rarely seen today. This Weekend Wine takes us back to that era, when the domaine was run by Monique Laroche; the house style for the dry wines was rather staid and old-school (I always thought the wines tended to exist rather than evolve in the cellar), and the modern-day dry wines, from Tessa, are immensely superior.

Alongside those rather ungiving dry wines, however, Monique also produced some wonderful sweet wines which seemed to capture all the energy and minerality of the region’s soils, rich as they are in schist, peppered with quartz and phthanite. The 2002 Savennières Cuvée des Nonnes from Domaine aux Moines is an excellent example of the style. A bottle I reported on a few years ago in my 2002 Fifteen Years On tasting was showing some oxidation, but happily this particular bottle possessed much more vigour and freshness. In the glass it displays a shimmering golden hue. Aromatically it is divine, free of any oxidative degradation, being fresh with sweet apricot and freesia notes, with a touch of dried-fruit character, and cut through by bright quartz and mineral elements, exactly what I want to see in the region’s top sweet wines, whether they be from Savennières or Quarts de Chaume. The palate feels polished and plush, yet also pure and tense, energetic and mineral, these latter elements nicely wrapped up in a cushion of gentle residual sugar. It feels appropriately complex, with shimmering apricot skin, tangerine, quartz and citrus zest notes all twisted within a subtle seam of caramel. This is a wine which clearly has potential for further development, but right now I am happy to wallow in its long, tense and minerally finish. 96/100 (29/7/19)

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