François Pinon Vouvray Demi-Sec 1987
Grower first, vintage second, is a wine maxim most commonly trotted out with regard to Burgundy. It’s meaning is perhaps obvious, but just in case I am mistaken in holding that belief, the rule suggests that it is more beneficial to be concerned with the name of the person who made the wine, rather than the vintage they were working in. Because, even in the most questionable of vintages, the very best, most dedicated growers will make a wine worth our time.
Burgundy does not have a monopoly on challenging vintages though, and the maxim can of course be applied to any of France’s more northerly wine regions (or, perhaps, any wine region at all?). Such as, for example, the Loire Valley.
Thirty years on, the likelihood of encountering a wine from the 1987 vintage is pretty slim, unless I happen to invite you round to clear out my cellar, that is, in which case we might just find a few. For much of the Loire Valley it was a fairly second-rate vintage; there was rain early on, but thereafter the conditions were good, right through to mid-October, and while the picking of the earlier-ripening Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet went well, producing some superb wines, heavy rains from mid-October onwards ruined the harvest for pretty much everybody else.
The later-ripening Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc were largely picked during and immediately after the rains, and naturally the grapes and must suffered from dilution. The whites tended towards sec and demi-sec, the conditions not right for moelleux, and the reds tended to be leaner and lighter than preceding vintages. Writing in Vintage Wine (Websters International, 2002), published barely fifteen years after the vintage, Michael Broadbent summed up 1987 in a peremptory fashion; “Dry wines only. Now long past their sell by date”.
The complexity of the Loire Valley confounds yet again, it seems, as there were certainly demi-sec as well as sec wines in this vintage, although I imagine they were not great in number and must have been difficult to come by even back in 2002. And now, thirty years on from the vintage, the grower first, vintage second maxim brings us to François Pinon and a wine that is certainly not past its sell-by date.
The 1987 François Pinon Vouvray Demi-Sec starts off a little like old-school Vouvray; poured straight from the bottle into the glass without decanting, it shows some rather woolly and funky notes, which I know some fans of Chenin Blanc adore but I find these elements less appealing than some. If you like them drink this one quickly, because the wine evolved over the next one to two hours, the scent of the wine’s long captivity fading into the ether, leaving behind more interesting and complex notes of desiccated citrus and orchard fruits, together with aromatic notes of white flowers and a little coconut, and some Sauvignon-like yellow capsicum notes. It displays great purity and focus, despite the difficult end to the vintage, an intensity resembling lemons rubbed on steel, with a whisp of grey smoke. The palate, in keeping with this, is very fresh, delightfully pure, with veins of mineral and citrus pith, along with a richer, more tangible fruit substance, dried apricot and even a little quince. It is bisected and defined by a fabulously bold acidity, juicy and tense, with a grapefruit-like character, which presumably harks back to the character of the season. Overall it feels tense, barely sweet, bright and energetic, and very long and pithy. And while it is delicious to drink now, I have no doubt it will hold here for a good few years yet. A real success in a difficult vintage which demonstrates the value of the grower first, vintage second maxim. Chapeau, François. 17/20 • 94/100 (11/9/17)