François Pinon Vouvray Moelleux Réserve Passerillée 1989
Is there anything that can be said of the 1989 vintage in Vouvray that has not already been said? Probably not, but given my obsession with the appellation and the vintage, I am willing to give it a go.
Although climate change has made early budbreak (and to some extent, frost) the norm even in France’s more northerly wine regions, such phenomena are not restricted solely to the vintages of the 21st century. After a mild winter, 1989 saw an early budbreak and as a result at the start of the season the vines were soon three weeks ahead of schedule. In an era when maturity at harvest was almost always touch-and-go, this was seen as a great advantage. Thankfully there was no frost. And whereas recent vintages in Vouvray have on occasion also been complicated by inclement summer weather, heavy rain and even devastating hail storms, the summer of 1989 was a dream. The weather was warm and dry throughout, these benevolent conditions persisting right through and into the harvest.
The result was a bountiful crop of beautifully mature fruit, and it was a vintage which clearly possessed some potential for high-quality sweet wines. The dry conditions should give you some clue as to the overarching style produced in 1989; the fruit gradually dehydrated and concentrated on the vine, a process known as passerillage, utilised as much here in Vouvray as it is on the grand cru vineyards of Alsace.
The result was a panoply of sweet wines with a pure expression unsullied by botrytis influences. Botrytis is glorious, but in Vouvray (and probably anywhere, I would think) I find it can mask the terroir and typicity of the appellation. It is for this reason I would rather drink a Clos du Bourg Première Trie than a Cuvée Constance from Domaine Huet. They are both great wines, but the former speaks more clearly to me of the relationship between Chenin Blanc and limestone that exists in Vouvray. If you are seeking mature Vouvray with a stronger botrytis influence I suggest you perhaps look to the 1990 vintage instead.
The minimal impact from botrytis in this vintage is reflected in the residual sugar of Francois Pinon’s 1989 Moelleux Réserve Passerillée, which at 70 g/l is only slightly less concentrated than his Moelleux Réserve Botrytisée produced in the same vintage. His Botrytis cuvée in 1990 hit 100 g/l, high for Vouvray, where traditionally the moelleux style tends to have more modest levels of residual sugar than can be found in Sauternes, or many of the botrytised moelleux wines of the Coteaux du Layon and its crus.
Now at well over 35 years of age, the 1989 Vouvray Moelleux Réserve Passerillée from François Pinon still displays only a lightly polished orange-gold hue in the glass, its fresh and youthful appearance an indicator of its passerillé status (heavily botrytised cuvées tend to deepen in colour much more as they age, to a golden-bronze hue, even tinged with red in truly liquoreux cuvées). Aromatically its purity is striking, with scents of pressed apple, sweet pear, orange peel and acacia, enriched with little notes of grilled biscuit and pastries, with a quite beautiful intensity and focus. The palate is just delightful, with fabulous fruit density, energy and superb tension, the flavours of sweet apricot and citrus-fruit pastries cut through by a brilliant acidity. It has superb poise and delicious drive, despite it being saturated with those biscuity baked fruits. A just brilliant and vivacious composition here, with both substance and great length. What a stunner; this is the best showing from this cuvée I have experienced in recent years. 97/100 (22/8/22)
Read more in:
- My detailed profile of François Pinon
- A François Pinon Retrospective looking at a number of older vintages
- Liquid Gold Episode 2, a tasting of the 1989 vintage at 30 years of age
- My guide to Chenin Blanc