Château d’Epiré Savennières Moelleux 2009
The Loire Valley is full of obscure and fascinating appellations, and this diversity is, to my mind, one of the region’s great joys. I am sure Cour-Cheverny (for example) is well off the radar of most drinkers, but that doesn’t make the wine any less distinctive or indeed less delicious when I pull the cork on a Cuvée Renaissance from François Cazin, or a Plénitude from Laura Semeria. This is a wine region that rewards exploration; I know, I have been exploring it long enough.
At one time – perhaps a few decades ago – I think we could probably have also included Savennières in our list of Ligérian obscurities. Today I doubt this is true; I suspect anyone sufficiently interested in wine to pick up a copy of Decanter or Wine Spectator will have at least heard of this appellation, and they will probably be able to take a stab at the grape variety involved (hint: it isn’t Sauvignon Blanc).
That the profile of Savennières has been lifted to this level is largely down to an influx of young and enthusiastic winemakers, as well as a few old hands, from outside the appellation. Names like Damien Laureau, Eric Morgat and Claude Papin, to name just three (there are others doing equally good work) have impressed with wines that are taut. precise, textured and broad. This style of wine could perhaps now be considered the benchmark for the appellation.
It wasn’t always so though. Not only were the dry styles once less precise and minerally than they are now, the appellation also had something of a reputation for sweet wines as well as dry. Looking back to Les Vins de Loire (Parisienne d’Editions Techniques et Commerciales,1956), published sixty years ago, Pierre Bréjoux, a senior figure within the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, wrote of Savennières thus:
“These are wines generally strong in alcohol, nervous, full-bodied and also very fruity and very fine. Sometimes demi-sec, they are more often sec; then they become, along with the top wines of Pouilly-sur-Loire, Sancerre and sometimes Saumur, the greatest dry wines of the entire Loire Valley”
Pierre clearly indicated that the sweeter demi-sec wines played second fiddle to the dry wines, but at least he acknowledged their existence. These days the wines have all but disappeared, most producers content to ride along on the dry wine renaissance this appellation has enjoyed. This is a great shame, because some of the sweeter examples of Savennières I have tasted have been stunning; the memory of the moelleux (18 to 45 g/l residual sugar) Cuvées des Nonnes and doux (more than 45 g/l residual sugar) Cuvée de L’Abbesse from Domaine aux Moines, tasted with Tessa Laroche and her mother a few years ago, will linger on until I am lying on my death bed. These wines combine acidity and sweetness with a fabulously quartzy minerality I would more usually associate with Quarts de Chaume.
This weekend’s wine is one further example, and perhaps unsurprisingly it comes from one of the grande dame domaines of the appellation, Château d’Epiré. Here Luc Bizard has for many years ploughed his own furrow, making wines in a slightly austere, traditional style. In recent years, however, the style has migrated towards one more modern and accessible, helped by oak and a little malolactic fermentation. I was impressed by the 2012 Le Hu Boyau I wrote up a year or two ago. And this wine, the 2009 Savennières Moelleux from Château d’Epiré, hints that, being moelleux, Luc Bizard hasn’t thrown away all sense of tradition in the adoption of more modernista methods. A moderately pale golden hue for a moelleux cuvée, and a nose of dried fruits, dried apricot especially, and at first not much sense of the minerality that I feel defines the appellation. The palate on the first day of tasting was cool, textural, with dried apricot and also some chalky lemon-balm fruit. It was quite succulent in style, showing what felt like only a gentle residual (I suspect closer to 30 g/l than 40 g/l) but it has a confident substance, a little pithy bitterness, and gentle acids. The balance was attractive, and the finish long and quite savoury. To be honest it did feel a little muted, but the next day this really came to life, showing more smoke, a sherbetty vivacity and a really strong sense of a mineral backbone. It felt tense, acid-framed, with a thin blanket of caramelised apple on top. It has appeal, although it is not the greatest wine from Château d’Epiré I have tasted, nor is it a prime example of why the vignerons of Savennières should not forego these more traditional styles. 16/20 (21/11/16)