La Grange Tiphaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Nouveau Nez 2014
The vignerons of the Loire Valley are no strangers to the occasional malevolence of Mother Nature. This is a region which, perhaps in part due to its great scale, stretching from the foothills of the Massif Central all the way down to the Atlantic coast, barely a vintage goes by without someone, somewhere, suffering hail, frost, mildew, rot or even flooding. Some events, such as the hail that swept through Vouvray during the summer of 2013, remain lodged in our collective wine memory forever. Others slowly fade though (for us, anyway, although I am sure this is not the case for the vignerons); only yesterday I was looking through some old notes on tastings with François Chidaine which reminded me Montlouis-sur-Loire had been hit by frost in both 2012 and 2013. My memory suitably jogged, I found an old report in La Nouvelle République describing the frost of the morning of Monday April 30th 2013, which hit Azay-le-Rideau and Montlouis-sur-Loire particularly hard, with 80% of the crop lost in the former appellation, 30% in the latter. François himself lost 40% of his crop. This winemaking lark is not for the faint of heart, I think.
As I suspect most visitors to Winedoctor are already aware, in 2016 even more significant devastation has again been visited upon the Loire Valley, not to mention Burgundy, nearly two weeks ago now. In 2013 the overnight temperatures went as low as -2.5ºC across a broad swathe of vineyards, and they dipped down as far as -4ºC in some parts. Two weeks ago the mercury dived rather lower, -4ºC being commonplace, while some regions saw -6ºC. The destruction was widespread, from the vineyards of Muscadet all the way up to Sancerre, but again it appears to be Touraine that has borne the brunt of the damage. The worst-hit appears to have been the appellation of Touraine-Noble-Joué, where there has been almost total wipe-out of the crop. Elsewhere, speaking in very rough approximations, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil have seen perhaps two-thirds of their crop destroyed, while vignerons in Chinon have lost perhaps half. In Vouvray the picture appears more variable and less catastrophic, perhaps because the temperatures were not quite so not so low here. Even so, nobody got away without losing something. The extent of the destruction is estimated to have cost the wine producers between €100 and €200 million in lost revenue. That’s a lot of bottles of wine.
There is never a good time for frost damage of course, but it would be hard to imagine this frost coming at a worse time. Viewed from a financial point of view, Touraine has had a run of difficult vintages recently. As mentioned above, 2012 and 2013 were both afflicted by frost and hail, reducing volumes, and the wines themselves weren’t the greatest the region has ever produced (except perhaps for the 2012 Touraine Sauvignons, which were delicious). Then came 2014, a good quality vintage which was saved by an Indian summer, and then the delicious 2015s. While the wines of both vintages are worthy of our attention, neither vintage was bountiful. The frost of 2016 has been likened within the region to the catastrophic devastation seen in April 1991, but at least then the vignerons had well-stocked cellars overflowing with the produce of the 1989 and 1990 vintages. Now, times are more straitened; it is well known in the region that some famous names have struggled financially recently, their survival ensured only through charity auctions or the sale of old highly-valued stock, and I hope they have the tenacity and financial strength to see out this latest challenge without succumbing.
I will visit Montlouis-sur-Loire, Bourgueil, Chinon and Vouvray in about eight weeks time, to see how the vines are recovering for myself, and to hear more certain projections for the harvest. In the meantime, sadly there is little any of us can do, other than cross our fingers and hope, and to buy and drink the 2014s, the 2015s, and ultimately the 2016s when they come on the market, whatever limited volumes are made. This weekend’s wine was opened with this thought in mind, as well as some hope that maybe this region will get a break in the 2017 vintage. The 2014 Montlouis-sur-Loire Nouveau Nez from La Grange Tiphaine, based in Amboise but who work many vineyards in Montlouis of course, is a pétillant naturel made in the typical, minimal-intervention manner. In the glass it has a vibrant gold with a fine yet plentiful bead. There is a nose of grilled peaches and rose petals, peppered with nuances of marzipan and a touch of baked apple, yet despite this it feels fresh with bright and powdery edges. It has a quite fine palate, the pétillance has an immediate impact, quickly followed by flavours of peachy fruit, desiccated citrus peel and more of that apple note seen on the nose, with some blanched almonds on top. This is bright, full of zip, the fruit framed by lovely acidity with some perfumed, floral overtones. This is top work from Damien Delecheneau; here’s hoping, despite the trials of 2016, we see many more wines like this in vintages to come. 16.5/20 (9/5/16)
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