François Pinon Vouvray Brut Non-Dosé 7 Ans Sur Lattes 2012

Last week’s Weekend Wine was the straight 2012 Vouvray Brut from François Pinon, a wine which was disgorged after about three years sur lattes (see last week’s report if you want more detail on this) and which I added to my cellar back in 2016. As promised this weekend I dived into the same wine, but this time aged sur lattes for seven years, and added to my cellar only a few months ago. My reasons? First, to check out what the differences were between the two. And second, because with the wines of François Pinon, it is far from a hardship to pop any number of corks.

Having tasted both bottles, it is pretty clear that despite having started out in life as exactly the same wine, these two bottles have ended up in very different places. There are two principal reasons for this; first, as the wine has matured, François has reduced the dosage to zero, so this is now a non-dosé cuvée. The second, as I indicated last week, is that the two wines have been disgorged at different time points, meaning they spent different lengths of time sur lattes, or on the lees. Having last week explored the term sur lattes, this week I thought I would put my science hat on (yes, I do have one, and a white coat somewhere) and delve into why wines aged on or off the lees taste so different.

François Pinon Vouvray Brut Non-Dosé 7 Ans Sur Lattes 2012

It might come as a surprise to Champagne addicts (although perhaps not regular readers) that most of my experience comparing short- and long-lees-aged comes not from Reims and Epernay, but from Clisson, Gorges and other crus communaux wines. When I first encountered long-lees-aged Muscadet the most striking feature of the wines was how remarkably fresh they tasted; wines which had been aged on the lees for ten years before bottling were still floral, perfumed and enticing, while many ordinary sur lie wines of a similar age, which had spent a year at most on the lees, and nine years under cork, tasted very different. They were much more advanced in their development. Holding a wine on the lees certainly protects it from degradation through oxidation, the mechanism most probably the releases of reducing enzymes from the yeast cells as they die.

The lees not only protects a wine from oxidation, they can also have an appreciable and positive impact on aromatic profile. As they expire the yeast cells release amino acids and other nitrogenous compounds which ultimately add acacia-like aromas, said to be associated with recently disgorged sparkling wines but I find this to be a very noticeable element of long-lees-aged Muscadet. They can also release acetal aromas which add a biscuit-like character, not something I would look for in Muscadet (although some cuvées do develop baking bread and brioche notes) but it is certainly a desirable character of lees-aging in Champagne, and while Ligérian purists might rankle at the thought of sparkling Vouvray, Saumur and Crémant de Loire aged for a long time sur lattes exhibiting this sort of character, I find it can be very appealing.

The lees have other effects, absorbing nutrients in the wine and thus protecting against refermentation, and reducing tartrate precipitation through the release of proteins, but these seem of less relevance to how the wine tastes in the glass. So let’s take a look at the 2012 Vouvray Brut Non-Dosé 7 Ans from François Pinon, disgorged in 2020. In the glass it displays a straw-gold hue and a fine bead, in a single generous central column of bubbles. The aromatic profile certainly has a different character to the straight earlier disgorged 2012 Brut, with notes of toasted brioche and cashew nut laid over spiced sour pear and dried citrus fruits. This is followed by a lightly toasted character on the palate, with warm and spiced orchard fruit flavours and a touch of Pain de Noël, all lifted by a wonderful combination of fresh acidity and a fine mousse, which allows the texture of the palate to shine. This is delicious, nicely evolved, and while it is perhaps not for purists it seems so joyful. To be frank there is not much length to it, but it is a 2012, so we should not expect too much of it. What it does have instead is energy and impact which become more confident the longer it sits in the glass. For the vintage this is a great success. 95/100 (21/12/20)

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