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Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Etienne Henri 1990

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Etienne Henri 1990

As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting (already!) on some of my favourite visits and tastings this year. As usual I visited the Loire Valley several times during the course of the year (having just done a quick count, it was five times – January, February, June, July and a harvest visit in September) but of these perhaps the most memorable was my trip in July. Rather than staying near Chinon, my usual arrangement, I based myself in Sancerre for three days, and went knocking on some well-known doors. I called in for a tasting with Gérard Boulay, I tasted the latest releases with Pierre Martin, sat down to taste a huge range of old and young vintages with Jean-Max Roger, and over the river in Pouilly-Fumé I took a tour of the vineyards with Jonathan Pabiot and I tasted the wines of Didier and Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau.

And this isn’t an exhaustive list; I also visited Alphonse Mellot and Domaine Vacheron, with reports on these visits in the pipeline during the next couple of weeks. Another well-known name that I visited was Henri Bourgeois; for a tasting of their new single-vineyard wines, as well as a range of other recent releases.

Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Etienne Henri 1990

No tasting with Arnaud Bourgeois is finished without the debate almost inevitably turning towards older vintages, and Sancerre’s ability to age. Arnaud has a passionate belief that the wines of Sancerre can age, and I am happy to declare I agree with him. There are a number of domaines turning out ageworthy wines here, from cult favourites such as Anne Vatan and François Cotat to as big-name domaines including the aforementioned Alphonse Mellot and the too often overlooked Gérard Boulay, whose wines can eclipse them all. But nobody should overlook Henri Bourgeois in this matter; I have tasted more convincing old Sancerre at this address than I have anywhere else.

The Sancerre Etienne Henri, here presented in the 1990 vintage, is a case in point. If you are wondering who Etienne Henri Bourgeois was, and why he is so celebrated, he was one of an already long line of vignerons working in Chavignol in the mid-20th century who made his mark when he decided to vinify his wines in new oak barrels. In doing so he effectively created a new model for the family and for Sancerre, one which created wines which would age well. My great grandfather and grandfather did not fine the wines, nor did they filter them, nor did they do cold stabilisation”, says Arnaud Bourgeois. “The tartrates would come out naturally in the barrel. The stability of the wines came solely from their élevage”. Etienne Henri was thus also essentially responsible for creating the family domaine, shifting it from small-scale viticulture to a leader in Sancerre. The domaine is thus named for him (he tended to go by ‘Henri’ rather than ‘Etienne’).

The 1990 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre Etienne Henri comes, as the label helpfully informs, from old vines planted on a flint terroir. The flint vineyards of Sancerre are gathered along the faultline which runs beneath the town, and goes up through Saint-Satur, which both lie in the eastern corner of the appellation. This cuvée is today still pulled from flinty terroirs, and it sees fermentation and élevage in a mix of new and second-fill oak barrels, and presumably it was the same back in the early 1990s. In the glass it has a pale lemon-gold hue, despite being 27-years old. The nose is delightfully expressive, with the scents of flinty smoke and gunpowder, with a richer twist of lemon curd and vanilla flower, as well as an exotic note of mango lingering in the background. It has wonderful tension apparent on the start of the palate, with a bright acid backbone swirled with sour citrus fruits, the flavours of orange sea buckthorn berries, challenging bitter grapefruit-like acidity and bite, but it all comes softened by the midpalate’s citrus-cream and lemon-curd weight. It is long too. Overall, an impressive, delightful wine. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (4/12/17)

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