Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec 1946
Despite having worked my way through a healthy selection of wines this weekend, choosing which to talk about today is something of a no-brainer for me, as it isn’t often that my weekend drinking takes me back to the 1940s. Indeed, this bottle was – until it met its end in a very graceful fashion on Saturday evening – the only representative from this decade in my cellar.
Prior to my pulling the cork, the oldest wines from Domaine Huet I had the good fortune to taste were presented by Noël Pinguet at a tasting which showcased the demi-sec style. This was back in 2009, just after the 2008 vintage, which was of course hugely successful for the demi-sec style, with both Montlouis and Vouvray giving forth numerous superlative examples. We lucky tasters worked our way through a number of top demi-sec vintages, taking in the 1971 Le Haut Lieu, 1962 Le Haut Lieu and 1957 Clos du Bourg, eventually landing at the 1949 Le Haut Lieu. They all showed magnificent style and verve; the demi-sec style really does age remarkably well.
This wine takes me back another three years, to 1946. Now seventy years old it seemed to me, even though it has lain in my cellar for a minority of those years, that it was about time I pulled the cork. The fact it was my 46th birthday on Saturday only served to strengthen my resolve to do so (it’s a 1946…..I’m 46 years old now…. geddit?). Of course there is one very significant difference (which I was prepared for) between this particular bottle and those great wines I tasted back in 2009 with Noël; here we have a sec, not a demi-sec, and this fact inevitably has a significant impact on how it ages.
Before looking at the wine, let’s look back to what the domaine was like in 1946. Victor Huet had only arrived here less than two decades before this date, in November 1928, which was when he and his wife Anna-Constance Huet (née Moreau) purchased the estate. What they acquired at this time was the house at Le Haut Lieu and the associated vineyards, not the full extent of the domaine as we know it today. There were just 3 hectares, although today the Haut Lieu vineyard has expanded to a more impressive 9 hectares. The purchase of Clos du Bourg came in 1953, and Le Mont in 1957. Keen-eyed fans of the domaine (and I know there are many) may have noted the existence of earlier bottlings of Le Mont, going back as far as 1953. These are genuine wines which originated from the Huet cellars; the likely explanation for their existence is that Victor’s son Gaston rented the vines for a few years before he bought them. Gaston’s internment during World War II is the stuff of legend, and is described in more detail in my fifteen-page Domaine Huet profile. In his absence the vineyards were tended by Victor and his wife, but they naturally needed some restoration when Gaston eventually returned. One year later, he fashioned this very long-lived wine. In 1947, he was elected mayor of Vouvray, and produced some of the domaine’s most legendary wines. The rest, as they say, is history.
The 1946 Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec was, happily, at 70 years of age, in seemingly perfect nick. The cork came out in one piece without any difficulty, which left me wondering if it had ever been reconditioned. The wine has a rich, clean, bright golden hue in the glass. The nose is not short of character and complexity, but it does talk clearly of the aged, sec style here. I find lime, lemon, smoky quince and dried yellow plum, along with notes of toasted almonds and oats. There follows a very tense, sour-lemon and green-apple acidity washing over the palate, supporting a leaner texture, with a sappy-sour and fairly long finish. It has a fairly severe style, but at table (with chicken breast stuffed with shiitake mushrooms) it works pretty well. In fact, I think it would do well with any dish featuring mushrooms or truffles. Overall, the wine is an interesting look at old Vouvray, rather than an independently great wine, but it is certainly enjoyable when one considers its grand age. 16/20 (7/3/16)