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Domaine de Bablut Coteaux de l’Aubance Vin Noble 1989

Domaine de Bablut Coteaux de l’Aubance Vin Noble 1989

While the Coteaux du Layon appellation is undoubtedly better known and more subject to study – there are entire books dedicated to its intriguing history, and its slopes, soils and wines – I have a personal hankering and not-so-secret admiration for the wines of the Coteaux de l’Aubance appellation. Ever since my first fabulous encounter with it, which despite the domaine up for discussion here came (if memory serves me correctly; usual disclaimers apply) courtesy of Domaine des Rochelles, I have long tried to recapture the experience. The wine showed what I now think of as the tetrad of perfection, four features which define the perfect Loire Valley (and specifically Anjou) moelleux style. These are gentle (not overpowering) sweetness and botrytis concentration (so moelleux rather than liquoreux, please), a crystalline schistose minerality, the bitterness of Chenin Blanc and a precise acidity.

Despite their obvious quality the wines of the Coteaux de l’Aubance continue to linger in the shadow of those from the Coteaux du Layon, for several reasons. First, while it is a long-established wine region, the production of moelleux styles only really took off here during the early 20th century, following an influx of vignerons from the Layon who were on the hunt for fresh land to plant, their own vineyards having been laid to waste by phylloxera. Secondly, it is also a much smaller appellation; while the eligible area is quite broad, there are only about 160 hectares dedicated to it. Thirdly, I suspect many wine drinkers (and maybe a few writers and critics, too) are seduced by the richness and concentration found in the Coteaux du Layon, and thus reject the wines of the Coteaux de l’Aubance. But to do so is to forget the significance of the tetrad of perfection; sometimes nuance and balance is more important than sheer power.

Domaine de Bablut Coteaux de l'Aubance Vin Noble 1989

Having finished this eulogy to the wines of the Coteaux de l’Aubance and their nuanced style, however, it is only natural that dedicated vignerons should seek to find more concentration and character when the right vintage comes along. The Loire Valley has seen quite a few ‘right vintages’ in recent years (albeit complicated by frost and hail, the new scourges of the Ligérian vigneron), nevertheless I continue to look back to the 1989 and 1990 vintages as exemplars. This week’s Weekend Wine is from the first of these two vintages, and is from one of the region’s leading names, the Daviau family of Domaine de Bablut. Today Christophe Daviau is at the helm, but as he only returned home from a period working in Australia in 1990, this cuvée was presumably the work of his father, Jean-Pierre Daviau.

While some in the region prefer to produce single-vineyard bottlings, others divide up their harvest according to the degree of concentration, either through botrytis or passerillage, found in the fruit. The Daviau family, however, do a little bit of both. I explore the range of cuvées produced in my profile, but the rarest and grandest among them is the Vin Noble cuvée. As the name indicates this is produced purely from botrytised fruit, the berries picked at an advanced rôti stage. The fruit is picked in several tries, pressed, fermented slow and aged for 18 months in barrel before bottling.

Once the rather spongy cork had been successfully extracted the 1989 Coteaux de l’Aubance Vin Noble from Domaine de Bablut displays a quite amazing colour for the vintage, its burnished orange gold reflecting the botrytis concentration here (looking very different to the 1989s from Vouvray, where passerillage was more important) and it comes with a delicate green tone to the rim. The nose is simply beautiful, evolved and complex, with sweetly dried orchard fruits, apricot especially, with nuances of white pepper, coconut, black tea leaves and black truffle, hinting at the high level of botrytis here, along with a touch of praline and baked orange. Highly polished on the palate, this initially presents an old-school marrowy sweetness set to lull you into a false sense of security, but this yields to a midpalate rich with charged minerality, wonderfully grained and dense, along with a saline acid drive which only adds to the wine’s electric sense of excitement. Of course, it has great length too. This is a wine in pristine condition, with plenty of 1989 typicity, mellow and marrowy, bitter and bright, and while the joy comes from its evolved botrytis complexity it ticks every box in my tetrad. Indeed, this is an incredible glass of wine, one of true beauty, and the taste of it will linger long in my memory. The alcohol, by the way, is 14%, not something that shows on the palate at all. 97/100 (6/6/22)

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