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Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang 1997

Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang 1997

Only a few months ago Gérard Boulay admitted to me, over the confessional altar which doubles as a tasting bar in his cellar, that in some vintages he finds it very difficult to distinguish between the wines of Chavignol and Chablis. This is despite the former being Sauvignon Blanc, and the latter Chardonnay of course, two varieties which you might think any kindergarten wine drinker would be able to spot. He mentioned Vincent Dauvissat’s wines as ones which had on occasion masqueraded as Sancerre, and the 1997 vintage as being one in which some local wines seemed to believe they had been born on the slopes above Chablis.

Being a firm believer in the influence of soil and rock as much as variety on any decent wine, I wasn’t really surprised that wines from these two great Kimmeridgian terroirs should share some features, and that even experienced palates should sometimes confuse one with the other. I was taken aback by the mention of Vincent Dauvissat though; only the previous evening I had dined with a group of sommeliers one of whom had poured a wine blind, which I (and just about everybody else) had called as Sancerre. Of course, it had turned out to be Vincent Dauvissat’s Le Forest, mirroring exactly Gérard’s experiences. The coincidence seemed a little too remarkable, as if I had walked into an episode of the Truman Show. I checked out the tasting room for hidden television cameras, but my search drew a blank.

Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang 1997

Many wines have the potential to confound, perhaps some more than others. Sauvignon Blanc has long been written off as a wine for drinking young, not cellaring, but my experiences have taught me different, confounding my original beliefs. In fact it ages very well, and while wines from the great Kimmeridgian terroirs around Chavignol and other corners of the Sancerre appellation are perhaps the safest bets, as much depends on the determination of the vigneron, and the vinification itself. After my visit to see Gérard Boulay I called in on numerous other domaines, tasting wines young and old, with some of the most convincing examples poured into my glass by Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau over in Pouilly-Fumé. Some of the wines I tasted there, going back as far as the 1996 vintage, would convert even the most committed critic of all things Sauvignon.

Thinking back to that tasting reminded my that I really should get around to opening my last bottle of the 1997 Pouilly-Fumé Pur Sang, which I have been hoarding for more than a few years. Didier Dagueneau’s 1996 Pur Sang was one of the first of his wines I ever encountered (and I found it fairly mind-blowing), and although this is not the same vintage I confess I have been hoarding this bottle in the hope of recapturing some of that magic. Now that it has reached twenty years of age, it seems a good time to pull the cork. In the glass the wine displays a rich golden hue, just what you would expect for aged Sauvignon Blanc, but it is always a bit of a surprise probably because, even with my belief that Sauvignon can age, most bottles I drink are still fifteen years younger than this. The nose is all honeyed macaroons, whitecurrant and white pepper, seeming immediately sweet (which it isn’t), lifted by little notes of pea plant. This is matched by a fresh and textured start to the palate, which is reassuring and confident. It feels broad, energetic, visceral, very complete and vinous, rich yet sinewy and bright. In the finish it remains cool, weighty and fresh, quite brilliant and bright despite a superficially creamy weight. And it is incredibly long. Overall this is a stunning wine; having tasted a few younger vintages of Pur Sang, this certainly feels better with age than they did in youth. I shall endeavour to keep my hands off what few other bottles from Didier, and from Louis-Benjamin, I have tucked away. 18/20 • 96/100

Having started the week with the 1997 Pur Sang, there is something of a 1997 theme to the next few days. Tomorrow I will publish a tasting report on a slew of other Loire Valley wines from the same vintage, now all celebrating their twentieth birthday. It will perhaps come as no surprise that this report will focus on sweet wines, including Coteaux de l’Aubance, Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume, Bonnezeaux, Vouvray and Montlouis. And I will finish up on Wednesday with the ‘left overs’, a small selection of wines from other regions and countries, also from the 1997 vintage. (9/10/17)

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