François Pinon Vouvray Cuvée Tradition 1997
Just a week or two ago I was down in London to participate in a panel tasting of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny for Decanter magazine. Three of us – myself, the ever-effervescent Jim Budd and Laure Patry, head sommelier for the Jason Atherton restaurant group (Pollen Street Social and the like) – spent the best part of the day tasting our way through dozens of wines, mostly from the 2014 vintage. If you’re interested in Saumur (and, I wonder, who isn’t?) then I think the tasting is slated for publication in the May edition.
During a lull in the day, with the tasting all done but before we summed up our thoughts on the wines, Laure asked Jim and I whether or not we had a favourite region in the Loire Valley. Jim, much wiser and more experienced than I, gave a consummately professional answer; he has no favourite region, as all wines and all appellations have their appeal. My response was much less considered, and was reminiscent of the final scene from Roman Holiday, the 1953 movie starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn and directed by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Hepburn played the part of Princess Ann, and when asked which of the European cities she visited on her tour was her favourite, she breaks royal protocol and responds with and undiplomatic “Rome, by all means, Rome”. My response to Laure’s enquiry was Vouvray, delivered with no less conviction than Hepburn, naturally, although perhaps with a little less allure.
Don’t get me wrong; I adore varieties other than Chenin Blanc, not just Cabernet Franc but Romorantin and Melon de Bourgogne, Gamay (on the right soils) and Côt. I have an interest in many other appellations too, from the Coteaux d’Ancenis to the Côtes de la Charité, but I think Vouvray leads the pack. It is Vouvray that brings the Loire Valley to the world stage, giving us wines of depth and interest to match any from Burgundy, South Africa or elsewhere. The vineyards (here and across the river in Montlouis it has to be said) are divided into a patchwork of lieux-dits sufficient to hold the attention of any committed terroir geek, even those that spend their time obsessing over Burgundy. The wines also hold a great future; Philippe Foreau maintains that Vouvray is the longest-lived white wine in all France, and I see no reason to disagree with him. It could happily wipe the floor with wines from Montrachet and the like in this department.
If you remain unconvinced I should point out that one of the two patisseries in the centre of Vernou-sur-Brenne, Vouvray’s ‘second’ town, sells the best chocolate éclairs in all France. Wine and éclairs combined, what more can you possibly wish for? Alternatively, perhaps you would be better swayed by my thoughts on this wine, the 1997 Vouvray Cuvée Tradition from Francois Pinon. This cuvée was for many years a linchpin of the Pinon portfolio, a demi-sec cuvée taking fruit from across the domaine. Two points here are interesting; first, François sees the demi-sec style as essential in the cooler climate of the Vallée de Cousse, as the sugar balances the higher acidity in the wines. Second, the cuvée combined the characteristics of both clay (richness) and flint (energy). The final vintage for this cuvée was 2006, as from 2007 onwards François divided his two basic terroirs, giving us Les Trois Argiles and Silex Noir instead. Many Vouvray drinkers have fond memories of this cuvée though, myself included, and the 1997 is a tip-top example of the style. In the glass it has a fresh, pale-gold hue. The nose feels just as fresh as the wine looks, possessing dried-fruit notes of great purity, with star fruit, whitecurrants, dried yellow plums and preserved lemons, dusted with wild flowers and a lightly honeyed, herbal edge. The palate has beautiful tension, but with a convincing pithy substance underneath, and some wonderfully bitter grapefruit notes. It is this tension that really defines the wine, the sweetness quite gentle, and there is a good grip in the finish. This is very impressive, a serious cuvée, feeling very contemporary despite being nearly twenty years old. There is none of that old-fashioned soft and woolly character that sometimes defines older and old-fashioned Vouvray (a style which I know has its fans, but I am not one of them). This is long and surprisingly savoury, with the acidity perfectly poised to knock the residual sugar into touch. That’s the magic you get chez Pinon. And that’s why, for me, it is “Vouvray, by all means, Vouvray”. 17.5/20 (28/3/16)