Les Sablons Vouvray Moelleux 1990
Some of the older wines I have featured in my Weekend Wine report in recent weeks (and those to come in future weeks too) have been sitting in my cellar for more than a decade, some of them for nearly two decades. The good news, though, is that it isn’t only those of us with a cellar and with the commitment (a polite euphemism for anorak-level wine geekiness) to cellar wines for long periods of time who can enjoy wine with a good amount of bottle age. These days there are plenty of older vintages to choose from on the market, all just a mouse-click away.
Of course, the problem with buying mature wine after other people have cellared it (apart from concerns about the conditions under which they have been stored) is that these bottles naturally command a premium. Try buying older vintages of Château Angélus or Vieux Château Certan and you will soon regret not buying the wine ten or fifteen years earlier. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. Wines from lesser-known domaines in unfashionable regions don’t increase in value in the same way as older vintages of Château Latour or Château Cheval Blanc, and the same is true of wines made in unfashionable styles; an old vintage of Château Coutet, for example, is always going to be available at a lower price than Château Margaux. With the sweet wines of the Loire Valley it is a double whammy; unfashionable region and style. You can still pick up wines from the 1989 and 1990 vintages (and others) for a song.
I remember a few years ago chatting with Barry Phillips, the proprietor of The White Horse, in Chilgrove, which under his tenure gained an unparalleled reputation for its wine list. I had recently bought a few old bottles of moelleux Vouvray from him, he revealed for more or less the same price he had paid for them a decade earlier. “It’s like that with the Loire,” he told me. “You buy them. You sit on them. And eventually you sell them, years later, usually for the same price you paid. But as long as someone enjoys them, that’s fine by me”. I suspect this is an approach Barry can afford, having seen a cellar stuffed full of Château Latour and Petrus accrue more than enough value to compensate for a few ‘under-performing’ bottles of Vouvray.
You don’t need to scour the secondary market for old bottles from Vouvray though, as there are people in the wine trade doing the hard work for you. Up and down the Loire Valley there are aging vignerons sitting on stocks of old vintages tucked away for a rainy day, or even as a little contribution to their pension fund. This was the source of the 2002 Noyer de Cent Vouvray which I featured a year or two ago. Noyer de Cent is one of two parcels within Le Peu Morier, a vineyard on the première côte today worked by Vincent Carême, one of the appellation’s superstars who I profiled back in 2010 before most writers had even woken up to the revolution that was coming in Vouvray.
This more recent discovery, also brought to the market by Vincent, is another parcel of old stock coming from within the appellation. Les Sablons is again the lieu-dit of origin, situated in the Vallée de Vaugondy within the commune of Vernou-sur-Brenne. This puts us on the deuxièmes rather than premières côtes, the vines rooted into sandy-pebbly soils, hence the name Les Sablons. The proprietor and his son are retired, and this cuvée comes from their personal stock. The 1990 Les Sablons Vouvray Moelleux seems a touch more convincing than the 2002 Noyer de Cent; of course there is more bottle age here, but I think there is a touch more botrytis influence in this cuvée, which lends it a little more weight and complexity. In the glass it displays an attractive mid-gold hue, and while it takes a little while to open up on the nose, when it does it reveals a lemony freshness followed by the scents of apricot, ginger sponge cake, toasted almonds and even little praline and biscuit. The palate combines a fresh backbone of acidity with a lightly sinewy and pithy substance, with an admirable but undeniably reigned-in sweetness. It has poise, is quite energetic, with a pithy finish, and although at first it seems to fade away quickly with time in the glass it shows a more imposing and broader finish. Ultimately this is a good wine, subtly built, and there is no denying the charm here. 92/100 (22/10/18)
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