Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Première Trie 1993

“Between Saumur and Tours there are the Bourgueil and Chinon wines (very strong red wines, these); on the hills a little to the north and all around Tours, Coteaux de Touraine; but Vouvray is made near Vouvray and a little to the east there is Montlouis.”

An Illustrated Guide to Wine, George Rainbird (Octopus Books, 1983)

The late George Rainbird (1905 – 1986) was a publisher – he founded the eponymous house George Rainbird Ltd – who seems to have had a penchant for a glass or two of wine. He chose to indulge his passion with a couple of publications penned by his own hand, including the aforementioned Illustrated Guide, as well as a tome entitled Sherry and the Wines of Spain which, I confess, I have not read.

Rainbird dedicated just four pages to the Loire Valley in his 1983 guide, the majority of which is given over to photographs (well, it is an illustrated guide) including a full-page spread of Château de Luynes and a few nearby vines. Personally, if I found myself wandering around Luynes with a camera, I would go to see the remains of the Gallo-Roman aqueduct just outside the town, but maybe that’s just me.

Perusing these four pages (as I am wont to do, from time to time, for light entertainment) I get the sense that Rainbird was not really interested in the wines of the Loire; glib comments such as “Vouvray is made near Vouvray”, which is the sum total of his commentary on this most prestigious appellation, are typical. A few paragraphs later we learn that the sparkling wines of Saumur are simply not the equal of Champagne, and the red wines of the region don’t compare with those of the Médoc, but that Muscadet can at least be enjoyed on a hot summer morning as an aperitif. I must admit the combination of Luneau-Papin’s Cuvée L d’Or with a bowl of Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes is one I have yet to check out.

Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux Première Trie 1993

Hopefully with more than a year or two of writing about the wines of the Loire Valley under my belt, and with more than a passing interest in Vouvray, I have made up for some of Rainbird’s Ligérian lip-service. Well, I am trying, anyway, even if my efforts are not universally appreciated, even within Vouvray itself. And in this time it should come as no surprise that, in the appellation that he so summarily dismissed, I am now revisiting wines I have previously reported on ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. And so it is with this weekend’s wine, from Domaine Huet.

The 1993 vintage in Vouvray never garnered the accolades that were heaped upon the 1989 and 1990 vintages, even though it was without a doubt the first truly good vintage to follow this pair. The 1991 vintage was wrecked by frost, the volumes produced thus miniscule, and while the subsequent season saw a compensatory bounce in yields the 1992 harvest was ruined by persistent rain. The 1993 vintage was not an easy one either, with mid-harvest rains and abundant botrytis, but it at least facilitated the production of the moelleux style for the first time in three years (although I should point out that the ever-intrepid François Pinon made a single moelleux cuvée in 1992).

Manning the Huet press in this era was Noël Pinguet, who had taken over the running of the domaine from Gaston Huet in 1976. He was sufficiently impressed with the sweeter side of the harvest that he originally combined the best lots from the Clos du Bourg, Le Mont and Le Haut Lieu into a 1993 Cuvée Constance, and the first bottles were commercialised as such (there is even an old report from me on the wine, published back in 2007, with some rather poor photographs – I doubt they would have made the cut for Rainbird’s illustrated guide).

Subsequently, however, Noël rued this decision, and the wine was later rebranded as the 1993 Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Première Trie, as here. Now thirty years old this wine displays a convincing orange-gold hue in the glass, showing maturity but nothing like a really mature (by which I mean fifty- or sixty-year old) Huet. The aromatics are fabulous, with layer upon layer of grilled peaches, apricots and orange slices, nuanced with scented sandalwood, dried vanilla pods, black tea leaves and toasted tobacco. The palate is no less brilliant than the nose, carrying all the same intense complex evolution, with the wonderfully juicy acidity that characterises the 1993 vintage, cutting beneath the wine’s supple texture. While polished and seamless, it has plenty of life, with bitter orange and grapefruit zest, in contrast to sweeter themes of caramel pastries and toasted coffee. A delicious composition, with great poise. Smoky, tense and charged in the finish, lingering on and on, this is a classically styled cuvée which will develop magnificent maturity. Drink now or hold for another ten, twenty or thirty years. The alcohol on the label is 12% (although I note that the Cuvée Constance bottles said 11.5%, so presumably the true figure is somewhere between the two). 96/100 (14/8/23)

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