Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant 2007
Tomorrow I will be publishing a report on two recent tastings of the wines of Domaine Huet, including a number of wines from the 2011 vintage, which we now know – following the shock news a little over a week ago that he and Anthony Hwang are to go their separate ways – was Noël Pinguet’s final vintage at the domaine. Stimulated by writing up my notes, together with a sense of guilt that – despite the belief that they were perhaps the first to arrive in the UK – I have not yet opened one of my own bottles, I thought it was about time I took a more detailed look at another very recent release from Domaine Huet, this being the 2007 vintage of the often fabulous pétillant cuvée. This exceptional wine often deserves more considered thought than it receives; with that in mind I include some detail on the wine below, much of it gleaned from a conversation with Noël when we met in November 2011.
Noël explained that although technically the production of a pétillant cuvée has long been possible, the technique is generally more applicable in recent years because of the higher sugar levels at harvest. Noël used to favour the méthode traditionnelle, where the concentration of sugar is less important, as this method – as utilised in the Champagne region – involves inducing a second fermentation in bottle by adding the liqueur de tirage, a solution of yeast (to do the work) and sugar (a substrate for the yeast) at the time of bottling. Noël was, however, uncomfortable with the process – it was “more Champenois than Vouvray” he said – and thus with improved concentrations of sugar at harvest, reducing the need for the liqueur de tirage, he switched to the méthode ancestrale, or at least his own adaptation of it. This technique involves arresting the fermentation by reducing the temperature of the must to around 5ºC, and then bottling the embryonic wine before allowing it to rewarm for the fermentation to continue in the bottle. This is the exact methodology behind the pétillant naturel or ‘pét-nat’ craze, which is most associated with Vouvray’s neighbour Montlouis, although there are others closer to home – Vincent Carême, for example – who are using méthode ancestrale. It should also be noted that even though Noël no longer added sugar, he still added yeast at this point to ensure a reliable continuation of the fermentation in bottle, so it is not a process left entirely to chance (and thus I suppose isn’t truly méthode ancestrale – it’s a sort of halfway house). Noël told me – and I clarified the date with him, as it surprised me – that he began using this technique with the 2002 vintage, which presumably means that the 2001, 2000 and 1998 pétillants which I have enjoyed so much in recent years did see some sugar addition prior to going into bottle. I’m surprised they weren’t more mousseux and less pétillant in style; I guess it depends on how much sugar and yeast you add.
The 2007 is the latest release of this pétillant cuvée, and the last that will be associated purely with Noël; when I met up with him in November last year he was just about to commence dégorgement, the plan being to start in the first week of December. To my surprise Noel confessed that – just at that moment – he had yet to settle on which wine to use for the dosage. Common practice – here at Domaine Huet anyway, not necessarily common anywhere else – is to use a moelleux cuvée from a reasonably recent – but not generally the most recent – vintage. I asked Noël about a couple of wines I have tasted or drank recently, to see which wines he had used. For the 2002 Pétillant Réserve, perhaps one of the most exciting releases from Domaine Huet in recent years, this was dosed with the same wine as the 2005 Pétillant, namely the 2002 Le Mont Moelleux Première Trie. For the 1998 Pétillant Réserve he used a Moelleux Première Trie from the 1990 vintage (I didn’t note which one – and it was a vintage which saw all three of Huet’s vineyards yield this style of wine), a difficult decision to make and one that he had to push through against resistance from his partner Anthony Hwang. What style of wine Noël opted for depended on the balance of acid in the two wines; the 1998 Réserve had a higher acidity than the 2002, hence the decision to go with a very rich and evolved dosage from a vintage with less acidity.
When I met with Noël in early February it was my first chance to taste the 2007 Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant, and also to discover exactly which wine he had used for the dosage. Which moelleux would it be? Which vineyard, and which vintage? A première trie again? Such decisions interest us geeks. The answer was unexpected; the wine was dosed with a unique blend of demi-sec wines from two vintages, and if I heard correctly (and when translating, there’s no guarantee of that) the vintages involved are 2001 and 2002. The wine was very good indeed, but I’m not reporting on that encounter here, but rather a more recent one at home, where I have much more time to linger over the glass and bottle. The wine has a good colour, with some evident richness, and a full pétillance. The nose is fascinating; it is immediately seductive with its rich, toothsome fruit aromas, but this is a fleeting impression on opening the bottle, and the prevailing style is more restrained than this comment suggests. There are notes of honey-drizzled sponge but these co-exist with vibrant, exuberant citrus fruits, even little hints of mango and peach. The character here is so exotic, so characterful, it is small wonder that Noël avoided using a première trie for the dosage, opting for a less rich demi-sec blend instead. I note that there is also a stony firm character to the aromatic fruit as well, though, giving some hint of balance. Rich and seductive in terms of texture, but with a very straight, lean, steel-tinged fruit character, with a good sense of firmness to the fruit. Sappy, restrained, almost a hint of sourness to it at the edge as well, so in the mouth this is certainly less seductive than the nose suggested, also less rich in comparison to some other recent vintages. A fine style. 17.5/20 (5/3/12)