Bouvet-Ladubay Saumur Brut Ogmius 2007
The sparkling wine houses of Saumur are too easily overlooked, and I confess I am as guilty of this sin as anyone. In looking for a sparkling wine to fill my empty glass I turn first to Vouvray. The shelves of dodgy French mini-marts groan under the weight of bottles from this most famous of Ligérian appellations, their garish green-and-gold labels the perfect metaphor for the equally subfuscous and sulphurous green-gold liquid within. Often made from grapes which are barely ripe or of otherwise questionable quality, sulphured and sweetened by dosage to hide the greenness of the fruit, these are a decidedly dyspeptic introduction to the sparkling wines of this appellation. Look beyond them, however, to the wines of Philippe Foreau, François Pinon and Vincent Carême, and you have in the same appellation what are surely the very best sparkling wines in the entire valley.
Next in my sparkling drinking repertoire is perhaps Crémant de Loire. The wines are sourced from a broad region over Anjou and Saumur, and appropriately rigorous regulations (well, more rigorous than other Loire appellations) stipulate hand-picking into small baskets and allow for larger percentages of Chardonnay, which can be just as delicious as a component of sparkling wine in the Loire Valley as it can in that other up-and-coming sparkling wine region, Champagne. The wines Jo Pithon made at Pithon-Paillé, before he sold the domaine in 2018, were always worthwhile, and last year I discovered the Extra Brut which Philippe Porché makes at Domaine de Rocheville, immediately a firm favourite.
In third place, despite it staking a claim as France’s second most extensive sparkling wine region, is Saumur. The focus is usually on Chenin Blanc here, although almost anything goes, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines tend to be firm and I like them when they do not hide their origins, their cool and (usually) limestone-influenced (undoubtedly some fruit also comes from schist and slate) origins coming through as restrained fruit, laced with a minerally thread and cut with a charged acidity. Having said that, recently I have found myself warming to more polished styles. The Ogmius cuvée, of which a limited number of magnums were produced, is one such example. It is made by what is arguably the region’s leading house, Bouvet-Ladubay.
Ogmius is a one-off one-vintage cuvée, produced only in 2007, and it was created to mark the passing of Etienne Bouvet, the house’s founder, nearly one hundred years earlier, on April 25th 1908. I seem to recall that Ogmius was his infrequently-reported middle name, although I stand ready to be corrected on that. The wine is made from a blend of Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, aged in oak barrels prior to going into bottle for the second fermentation. Just 3852 magnums were produced (as declared on the label, although it’s not obvious), and this is magnum number 2761. The wine spent a couple of years sur lattes before the disgorgement in 2010. With such a limited number of magnums produced I feel fairly privileged to have got my hands on one, and I don’t mind admitting that expectations here were high. Ogmius shows a polished golden hue in the glass, with an energetic bead at first, settling down with time, but remaining fine and plentiful. The nose is a delight, perhaps less typical of Saumur than many cuvées, showing a highly polished yet intriguing panache, with scents of cashew nuts and a bright citrus freshness, which combine to give it something of an Epernay vibe. The palate is delicious, bringing these attractive elements from the nose, here intertwined with an effusive limestone minerality which seems to effervesce in the mouth alongside the very fine mousse. It feels very pure, grey and smoky, reductive in style, with a fabulously precise acidity running into a long and taut finish. This is a super effort, and even with those richer lemony-cashew notes adding polish, this still remains true to its Ligérian origins, showing an appropriate tension, acidity and limestone bite. All in all, an excellent wine of which Etienne Bouvet himself would surely have been proud. 94/100 (7/2/19)