Château d’Epiré Savennières Le Hu Boyau 2012
Dinner was already gently sizzling in the pan when I got around to pulling the cork on the 2012 Savennières Le Hu Boyau, a single-vineyard cuvée from Château d’Epiré. I have long been fascinated by the wines of Savennières, an appellation which has evolved rapidly over the past few decades. Once renowned for its sweeter wines, just as you would expect in Anjou where botrytis readily drives the fruit on the vine into a state of complex and concentrated sweetness, today’s wines are nevertheless much more likely to be dry. And these are no light and airy libations, but wines of great substance, minerality and depth, wines to challenge the greatest dry whites of the Loire Valley, from Vouvray in particular, but which can also stand up to those from further afield. The Savennières of today is, in short, very different to that which your grandfather drank.
Vinously speaking I was in an experimental, adventurous mood. You might ask, bearing in mind that I have explored, toured and tasted in this appellation more than once or twice, why the sense of adventure? Surely Savennières should by now be comfortably familiar? Not in this case, because within the appellation there are a number of different styles, and in my tastes I tend to lean towards the more modern wines, concentrated, with judicious use of oak, rather than the more old-school style, which is leaner, more austere, with no (or at least very little) role for wood. I have on the whole always thought of Château d’Epiré, one of the appellation’s long-established and noble domaines, as falling into this latter category, although I am aware this is an opinion I need to review. Today there is more wood used here, including a little new oak, malolactic fermentation and bâtonnage too in some wines, including Le Hu Boyau.
So I am flying blind here, unsure of exactly how this wine will taste. Which is fine, because I don’t feel we shouldn’t always aim for the greatest wine-drinking experiences, poring over notes and scores for every bottle we purchase in morbid fear of having a less-than-perfect wine experience. Sometimes the joy of wine comes from being adventurous, drinking outside your comfort zone, pulling the cork without knowing exactly what to expect. The aromas that begin to waft from the first glass poured, as the wine sits calmly shimmering with its polished, lemon-gold hue, soon suggest that this is an adventure which will have very positive results.
I mentioned dinner, which perhaps deserves more than just one or two words. Now, I know that taking a couple of free-range chicken breasts, stuffing with Roquefort and wrapping in jambon de Bayonne won’t win me any points for originality in the kitchen, but in this respect cooking is like wine; you need a sense of adventure, a willingness to try something new, but you also need old friends, dishes (or bottles) you can fall back on and throw together whenever you feel like it, often on autopilot. This dish is one of the latter, and like Savennières it too has evolved over the years since I first started cooking for myself, in my student days. Back then ‘free range’ meant little to me, and I recall it was simple bacon that I used for the wrapping. As for the cheese, my memory fails me; I’m not even sure there was any. Well, we all have to start somewhere.
Back to the wine. What I find most charming about the aromas here is just how dramatically perfumed they are. Turning down the already gentle heat under the pan, I move away to focus on the wine for a few minutes. It is really very expressive indeed, remarkably perfumed, more so than any wine I recall recently. The nose is bursting with the sweet scent of summer, a confidently floral perfume, more reminiscent of the scent of honeysuckle flowers on a warm and sunny evening than anything else. Behind this floral frontage, there are fruit notes too, from the orchard predominantly, all sweet pears and yellow plums. I come back to it again and again, never ceasing to be entranced by this character. And indeed, leaving half of the bottle for the next day, even twenty-four hours later it seems unwavering in its floral confidence.
As for the palate this is delightful, clean and poised, showing moderate substance, its harmony impressive in what was a more challenging vintage. It is convincing and textured, richly vinous and yet entirely dry, complicated by some light and very appealing bitter notes, rather pithy in style, with orange zest and peach, and a twist of bitter almond in the finish. One issue I have with it though is minerality and energy; while I am entranced by this wine’s pretty character, where is the strident minerality we should look for in these wines? This is Savennières after all. This is why being able to place a wine in a context is important; it is not just about knowing what a wine has, it is also knowing what a wine doesn’t have. But let’s not be overly critical. With my chicken this drank very well, but such was its acidity and freshness that it also did very well one day later with a little pan-fried salmon. Is it time, perhaps, for me to more thoroughly reappraise the wines of Château d’Epiré? 16.5/20 (3/8/15)