Damien Laureau Savennières L’Alliance 2019
In a sea of 2018 Bordeaux tasting notes (this week it’s the turn of Pomerol and Pessac-Léognan), and with a wave of Bordeaux 2020 samples on the horizon, I am obviously looking to slot some Loire tasting reports into my schedule. The first of those will be a report on the 2020 vintage in the Loire Valley, coming just as soon as I finish tasting all the relevant wines (thanks go to those vignerons, from Muscadet right up to the Côte Roannaise, who have sent samples). Afterwards, at some poorly determined time point, I will also publish the much delayed Loire 2017 report, now so overdue I feel obliged to confirm that the notes will be presented online, in the usual format, and not in Latin on velum, as some rumours have suggested.
In anticipation of these forthcoming reports I naturally found myself reaching for a bottle from the Loire Valley, preferably something easy and approachable, a contrast to the texturally broad and tannin-rich wines of 2018 Bordeaux. In such circumstances I would not usually reach for a wine from Savennières, at least not from my own cellar, where I tend to hoard the most minerally, ageworthy and occasionally austere examples for my own consumption. This week’s Weekend Wine is not, however, in that style. This is a wine cut from the same cloth, but clearly using a different pattern, one that combines characteristics of the appellation with an approachable structure, and it seems to me it is a wine worth knowing about. It is the 2019 L’Alliance, from Damien Laureau.
A quick reminder of Damien Laureau’s position within the appellation; in short, pretty much at the top. He is one of a group of vignerons who are, gradually, redefining what it is for a wine to be Savennières. While some famous names soldier on producing wines too rich in alcohol, botrytis, malolactic notes or even oxidation, wines which divide opinion and which frankly leave me scratching my head, this new wave of names are focused on high-quality dry wines of great focus and mineral intensity. Others in this group, by the way, include Eric Morgat, Thibaud Boudignon and Tessa Laroche. These are the names to follow in the Savennières and Savennières Roche-aux-Moines appellations.
Unlike his peers, rather than produce strict single-site cuvées Damien Laureau has tended to blend across sites according to terroir, producing Les Genets (from vines on sandy and silty soils) and Le Bel Ouvrage (from schist). There have long been two exceptions to the rule though. The first, obviously, is the Roche-aux-Moines cuvée, the crowning glory in his portfolio of wines. The second is La Petite Roche, sourced from vines low down the appellation, literally a few steps from the waters of the Loire (although to walk it would involve crossing the Paris-Nantes railway line, perhaps somewhat inadvisable). Damien first planted here in 2010, and a small inaugural crop came in 2013 (although some vines on one stony parcel did not bear fruit until 2020). Eight years on these vines are still young, and with new plantings established elsewhere in the appellation he has decided to combine the fruit from La Petite Roche with that from young vines at Le Pitrouillet (up near his cellars) plus a little press wine from other cuvées to create this new entry-level wine.
In the glass the 2019 Savennières L’Alliance from Damien Laureau has a rich colour, with the faintest tinge of onion skin to the shimmering straw-coloured hue, suggesting some concentration. It takes half an hour or so to open up and get going, but when it does it has obvious appeal, more so than I was expecting bearing in mind the mixed origins of the fruit and the young age of the vines. The nose unfurls to release notes of honeysuckle, lightly baked apple, vanilla flower and orange zest. And the palate is not shaped in the big, bold and burly image of Savennières, instead it is wonderfully approachable; it has the grip and substance of Savennières, which feels appropriate, setting it apart from Anjou, yet it also feels light-footed, with a gently polished texture, releasing delicate floral fragrances as it glides across the palate. With some grip and a little warmth to the length this is a lovely wine of charm and approachability, and seems to me to be exactly how Savennières should be at this level. 92/100 (29/3/21)