Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 2002
The past week or two has seen plenty of buzz about Burgundy 2010; early January is when Burgundy descends on London in an orgy of tasting sufficiently intense and prolonged to tire even the most hardened of wine critics. In one week there were close to 30 tastings dedicated solely to Burgundy, in most cases hosted by the many merchants which would now very much like to sell you these wines. Burgundy as a region remains of intense interest to many, so perhaps I shouldn’t me surprised that Twitter, Facebook, various blogs and a number of print columns all sprang to life with news of how the wines were tasting. Although Burgundy is very different to Bordeaux – I won’t bother elucidating the many distinctions here, you know them all already – in terms of the level of interest the two regions generate they are quite similar. Both are sold en primeur, and both are eagerly snapped up by enthusiastic drinkers. Perhaps the most notable distinction is that – apart from a few growers, perhaps – the Burgundies tend to get squirrelled away for drinking further down the line, and rarely do they grace the auction house catalogue; the obvious exception in recent years is Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which featured quite prominently the Chinese New Year auctions in Hong Kong last week. Bordeaux, of course, behaves in quite the opposite fashion, and any one vintage can be traded for many years after the wines are first sold.
Despite this obvious global passion for the wines of Burgundy, there are some who still see it as a misunderstood, under-appreciated wine region. Perhaps they’re seeing something I’m not, but to my mind this couldn’t be further from the truth. The arrival of the 2010 Burgundy en primeur offers are eagerly awaited across the world, and the region is surely – after Bordeaux, perhaps – the most hotly debated on the world’s online wine fora. There are more websites and journals out there dedicated solely to this region than any other; it was a mainstay for Clive Coates and The Vine (although Clive did look at many other regions, Burgundy was his strong point I think), and today the likes of Allen Meadows, Bill Nanson, Sarah Marsh and no doubt many others specialise in the region. And in the past couple of years we have seen a string of high quality texts on the region and its wines appear on our bookshelves, from Jasper Morris, Allen Meadows (again), Bill Nanson (again), Remington Norman and others. How could anybody suggest this region is under-appreciated?
This is all despite (and yes, I’m donning my tin helmet before I stick my head out of the trench for this paragraph), the prices continuing to climb in such a manner that the region threatens to emulate Bordeaux, in part perhaps due to increased Asian demand, and the quantities for sale in some cases being incredibly small. Critic after critic thronged to the Burgundy tastings to taste and write up wines where there are only, in some cases, a barrique or two of the stuff in existence. Small volumes mean high prices, tie-ins and exclusivity. The merchants have their telephone patter all prepared; you fancy a couple of bottles of that highly regarded grand cru from a top grower do you? Oh, I’m sorry sir, you don’t seem to have a track record of spending thousands with us, goodbye. Oh, what’s that? You are prepared to take fifteen cases of the rather mean village wine as well? Ah well, in that case, perhaps we could let you have one bottle.
Where’s the joy in that? Wine for a tiny hardcore of Burgundy geek consumers, written up by too many hardcore Burgundy geek critics, all wanting to sell their words. But who is listening? Do you think Eric Rousseau is quaking in his boots, wondering if he will sell his wines this year, depending on the critics’ words and scores?
OK, so I understand that many of these criticisms could be thrown at Bordeaux, but at least Bordeaux has the volumes to sell, although it’s fair to say the prices are even more ridiculous, and you still get tie-ins even when the production runs to thousands of cases. It’s how the négociants and the merchants shift the off-vintages, I suppose. But I’m not trying to make this a Bordeaux versus Burgundy thing; despite my ascerbic tone I acknowledge that both regions deserve the coverage they receive (just as both have their faults). My complaint is more about the coverage other regions don’t receive. I know I sound like a broken record here but it is now two weeks until the Salon des Vins de Loire, and I wonder just how many of those who swooped on the annual Burgundy tastings to add their voice to the cacophony already in existence will make the trip to taste and write up the wines of this diverse wine region, where their voice would ring clear in the wilderness. I am confident, judging by the poor showing of the UK wine press at Charles Sydney’s benchmark Loire tasting last week, that the answer will be close to zero. Despite having huge volumes to sell (plenty to write about, and no tie-ins here!) the Loire receives little coverage in the English-language press. It is a crying shame.
And for those who would point out that Bordeaux and Burgundy produce high class wines, whereas the Loire gives us a lot of dross, I would just like to point out that both of those pre-eminent regions have over the years given us all plenty of sorry and disappointing wines, and sometimes from the most famous of names. And when it comes to the Loire, there are no estates in the world that can turn out wines to match those of Marc Ollivier, Claude Papin, Damien Laureau, Jean-Pierre Chevallier, Xavier Weisskopf, Noël Pinguet or Jean-Dominique Vacheron. Not familiar with all those names? That’s a shame, but it’s not your fault; it’s the fault of the wine press who haven’t bothered to unveil and pick apart this region. They’re all too obsessed with Burgundy you see.
Naturally for this week’s wine I’m turning not to Burgundy but to a Loire classic, maturing Vouvray from a great vintage just starting to come into its drinking window. From the aforementioned Noël Pinguet, guardian of one of the region’s greatest names, Domaine Huet. The Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Mont Sec 2002, poured from a half bottle, has a vibrant yellow-gold hue, still very clean and bright, rich in terms of depth of colour but not overly so. Wines that are just too gold suggest excessive age or even oxidation, but there are no such thoughts here (the same can’t be said of much white Burgundy, sadly); this wine still appears very youthful despite its ten years. I find great, reassurring minerality on the nose, crunchy and intense, pure with the flesh of lemon and pear fruit wrapped around its stony core. Then it segues very nicely into a really pure, liquid-stone character. This is beautifully pure and lifted, minerally with great depth and grip, with a full and gentle flesh. Underneath though it is really quite energetic and charged, lifted by all that invigorating lemony pear-skin. And it is very long too. This is delicious now, but there is still massive potential here – this has years ahead of it yet. Burgundy, eat your heart out. Alcohol 12.5%. 17/20 (23/1/12)