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Domaine de la Fontainerie Vouvray Brut 2009

Domaine de la Fontainerie Vouvray Brut 2009

No dry January here. No New Year resolution either. The first is just nonsense, although the second perhaps has merit. There isn’t one of us who can claim to be perfect (and keep a straight face while doing it), and drivers for change – even simple ones such as the arrival of a new year, which is after all nothing more than the replacement of one arbitrary number with another, an ‘imagined’ change if you will – can perhaps provide the impetus we need. It might just give us that extra little push to act.

I make resolutions, although not usually prompted by the arrival of January 1st. I make them when realisation that change is needed comes to me. Many years ago I resolved to not only visit and report on the domaines we all know and love, but also to try and visit relatively unsung vignerons to see what they were doing. They might be youngsters just starting out, or maybe they have just been overlooked in favour of more famous names. My new approach was soon rewarded, as this was how I first met Antoine Sanzay, a young vigneron who was at that time unknown outside France. Today he is recognised as one of the most interesting names in Saumur-Champigny, and I was glad to have met him so early in his career.

A few years ago, in Vouvray, I remained true to this resolution when I called in on Catherine Dhoye-Deruet, of Domaine de la Fontainerie. Looking beyond the big names of the appellation (we all know who they are), along with the new wave of young vignerons led by Vincent Carême (such as Tanguy Perrault, who I visited the day after I tasted with Catherine), here was a long-established domaine flying under the radar (or, at least, under my radar). The wines were attractive, and thankfully not in the soft, old-school, dirty-apple-and-wool style (think Poniatowski) that seems to personify many lesser wines from the appellation, but were much more taut and firmly framed. It is a domaine where sec means sec (not sec-tendre, this being a problem at some addresses in the appellation), and where moelleux wines are gentle rather than hedonistic.

One of the wines I was really taken with (and I mean really taken with) was the 2009 Domaine de la Fontainerie Vouvray Brut. Eschewing the trend for the méthode ancestrale within the appellation, Catherine fashions this particular cuvée using the méthode traditionnelle, but she aims for a lower pressure with a less sugar-rich liqueur de tirage (the sugar and yeast mixture added to the wine in bottle to get the second fermentation going). The wine then spends at least two years sur lattes, and the final dosage also reflects her overall winemaking philosophy, with just 7 g/l sugar in this vintage (so drier than many, certainly drier than most everyday non-vintage Champagne). The wine in the glass has a pale-straw hue, with a lovely bead, quite fine and leaning more towards pétillant than mousseux. I have always felt (this is not the first or second bottle on which I have popped the cork, I should point out) that the nose is influenced by the warmth and generosity of the vintage, showing creamed orange, pear and peach fruit, with a lively backdrop of chalk and stone. This creamed-fruit character comes through on the palate, cut with an acidity that feels gentle at first, followed by a firmer, building backbone running through the middle and finish. The fruit remains strong and confident throughout, sweet white peach and orange zest dusted with a broad, effusive and rather saline minerality, the mousse carrying it all along and lifting the flavour and texture. An impressive wine, long, with a tangy, salty finish. Top stuff, and a good reminder why not all resolutions should be scoffed at. 17.5/20 (2/1/17)

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