Domaine de Montgilet Clos Prieur 1998
Should a life spent drinking wine be about the search for perfection, or the search for understanding? Or, indeed, something else altogether? These are questions that have been popping up in the back of my mind recently, ever since I wrote a couple of weeks ago on why I believe in buying wines ‘blind’ from the regions that pique my interest, rather than chasing points and optimal ‘wine experiences’. I also mentioned it last week, as I flew blind with a Savennières from Château d’Epiré. The experience was a very positive one, the wine was enjoyable to drink, and I feel I learnt something from it, as I realised I should probably reassess the wines of this very noble domaine. I think this is called affirmation bias; the outcomes were good all round, and so I will carry on buying ‘blind’ from time to time.
This weekend’s wine is another I bought ‘blind’ not that long ago. Domaine de Montgilet is certainly one of the top domaines of the Coteaux de l’Aubance, so no problems there. And having tasted a lot from Victor Lebreton over the years I have a personal tasting track record for the domaine, and I have enjoyed them a lot. The Clos Prieur is one of their top vineyards, planted with Chenin Blanc in 1991, with soils of shale and purple schist. It is the source of this cuvée, which sees the light of day in selected vintages, but also contributes to the more frequently seen Les Trois Schistes cuvée.
The unknown here is the vintage; 1998 was a rather mixed year for the Loire Valley, with a relatively cool summer which only really kicked off during August which was suddenly very warm, followed by sporadic rain in September. Some regions did well, some less so. Some wines from the 1998 vintage have made an impact on me in the past though; I have fond memories of Le 20, for example, a special grains nobles Coteaux du Layon from Philippe Delesvaux made to commemorate his twentieth vintage. It was enough to make me want to pull the cork on this one.
The most striking feature of the 1998 Clos Prieur is the colour; this wine goes way beyond the yellow-orange-golden hue that typifies most botrytised wines of the Coteaux du Layon and Coteaux de l’Aubance, instead it displays a very dark, red-gold hue in the glass, with some hints of deeper bronze. This vineyard is usually picked in five tries, with only the finest, most botrytised tri going into this cuvée; I suspect the colour is largely a reflection of this, although seventeen-or-so years of bottle age will no doubt also have had an impact. The aromatics are very evolved, starting off all candle-smoky, with perfumed beeswax and caramel sweetness, lifted by scents of rose petal, incense and tarragon. There is also, however, a very pointed, not-quite-rancio character which suggests to me that this wine is getting a little tired. The palate is rather soft at first, certainly voluptuous, the texture of the botrytis and sugar coming through, a feeling enhanced by the caramelly and pastry notes running through the wine. This is underpinned by a firm and somewhat sour-fruit character reminiscent of baked and spiced oranges, and it has a fine acid backbone. There is freshness here, helping to define the finish, and it certainly has length. But overall, with a little of those oxidative notes seen on the nose also coming in here, this feels a little past its best right now. Happily, it doesn’t feel so far gone as to disrupt my previously secure affirmation bias. I am glad I only have one bottle though! If you have any, I suggest that it may be time to drink up. 14.5/20 (10/8/15)