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François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux 2009

François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux 2009

Montlouis-sur-Loire, as an appellation, was born in the 1930s, a time of furious decree-signing when so many of the French wine names we know today were made real in French legislation. It was first officially recognised by a decree passed on December 6th, 1938, and since that time it has known an ignominy experienced by few other appellations. I am not sure when the decline began, but certainly by the time I was exploring the Loire for myself, in the very early 1990s, all the guidance I had read on the wines of this great river seemed to advise bypassing Montlouis-sur-Loire in favour of other regions. The one or two wines I tasted at that time seemed to support this rather cruel conclusion, and it was many years before I undertook to explore Montlouis-sur-Loire for myself, and see whether an entire appellation really deserved to be ignored.

Of course the answer was no, it didn’t; but in part at least that is because over the last fifteen-or-so years this appellation has been reinvigorated, and the first individuals we should point out as responsible are be Jacky Blot, of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, and François Chidaine. Following them came a wave of new faces, attracted by affordable vineyard land; this new blood included Frantz Saumon, Lise and Bertrand Jousset, Xavier Weisskopf, Damien Delecheneau and others. Montlouis-sur-Loire was reborn, was exciting again, was suddenly once more credible. Soon, everybody was getting into Montlouis-sur-Loire, and Loire-fans could look their wine-drinking buddies in the eye and tell them what they had been drinking that weekend, and no longer would they face sneers of derision as a result. Montlouis-sur-Loire was, and is, the Kylie Minogue of Loire Valley wine.

François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux 2009

Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that only a couple of years ago during a tasting dinner in London with Jacky Blot he was reported to have accused Vouvray of being “asleep”. After all, he had a point; for too long Vouvray had been about just four names, these being Domaine Huet and Domaine du Clos Naudin, two stalwarts of the appellation of course, followed by the more recently arrived Bernard Fouquet at Domaine des Aubuisières and Catherine and Didier Champalou. And although I have since realised there are other names, such as François Pinon, who are equally deserving of our attention, the point was well made. Whereas Montlouis-sur-Loire has sprung back into life, Vouvray was doing pretty much the same thing as it had been doing for the past two decades. In the case of the domaines just mentioned, that’s not a problem, but they account for only a tiny percentage of the vineyard area. What about all the other growers? They were, as Jacky intimated, resting on their laurels, or on their label at least.

These days, as might be evinced by some of my recently published profiles of new names in Vouvray such as Vincent Carême, Tanguy Perrault, Michel Autran, Florent Cosme and Sébastien Brunet, I’m not so sure Jacky’s accusation holds true. Maybe next Monday I will take a look at a wine from one of these names in belated response to his accusation. In the meantime, the wine that sparked this missive was the François Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux 2009, just one of many dazzling wines to have come out of the Chidaine chai in recent years. Les Tuffeaux is a blend from across the Montlouis vineyard, usually sec-tendre or demi-sec in style. In the glass this has a very clear, pale, yellow-gold hue. Despite this rather understated appearance the nose has incredible depth and conviction, all yellow plum and grape skin, with a delightfully gravelly, stony, minerally suggestion behind. It feels perfectly poised on the palate, with a youthful presence, broad, with a great core of pithy fruit substance around which sits a demi-sec sweetness and fine purity, narrowing down in the finish to a tight concentration, helped along by an appealing bitter fruit-skin streak. There is great phenolic character here, mouth-watering acidity, and a finely focused finish. An excellent wine, with brilliant potential. Montlouis has ceased being, many years ago if truth be told, an appellation that anyone can ignore. 17.5/20 (15/9/14)

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