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Domaine Ricard Le Vinsans Ricard 2014

Domaine Ricard Le Vinsans Ricard 2014

Sauvignon Blanc has its fans. And of course it also has its detractors. So do most grape varieties, I suppose, although it seems to me that opinions on Sauvignon Blanc are often expressed with much more passion than they are for other varieties. I only have to think back through a few weeks of memories in order to find an example of somebody telling me just how intense their hatred for Sauvignon Blanc was. I can’t think of ever hearing such fervent distaste for the likes of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, among other varieties.

Curiously, I think it is the same few distinctive features of wines made using this variety that provoke these markedly differing reactions. Thinking specifically of the New World, determined earlier picking reinforces the influence of methoxypyrazines, bringing that green, herbaceous, bell pepper note to the wine. These aromas and flavours are, along with the early-picked acidity, seemingly loved and loathed in equal measure. Similarly, thiols, aromatic molecules also known as mercaptans, tend to produce sweeter notes more reminiscent of exotic fruits, including blackcurrant, passion fruit, grapefruit or guava. These can perhaps be regarded as the ‘good’ mercaptans, providing interesting fruit complexity, and they may also be at least partly responsible for the classic flint and gunflint aroma found in some parts of the Loire Valley. Some types of mercaptans, meanwhile, tend towards less appealing aromas, including cabbage, onion, rubber, cooked vegetables as well as those scents we might describe as reduction.

Domaine Ricard Le Vinsans Ricard 2014

When it comes to sparkling wine, few winemakers would turn to Sauvignon Blanc as their starting point (although, admitting my ignorance, I see more have tried in New Zealand than I had realised). In our Champagne-centric world many prefer to utilise the varieties associated with this pre-eminent region, which in reality means Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and perhaps Pinot Meunier too. This is hardly surprising when we consider the features of Sauvignon Blanc described above; imagine all those herbaceous box-tree and green-fruit characteristics, combined with vicious acidity and then decorated with bubbles. It doesn’t set the pulse racing, does it? It is perhaps no wonder that Loire Valley vignerons tend to focus on other varieties such as Chenin Blanc, especially around Saumur, Vouvray and Montlouis, and having tasted a small number of good sparkling wines from the Loire Valley made using Gamay, sometimes rosé, sometimes red, this variety is certainly also one to watch.

Having explored the Loire Valley in some detail, however, I am well aware that the best examples of Sauvignon Blanc simply don’t follow the thiol-methoxypyrazine schema described above. Wines from the likes of Gérard Boulay, François Cotat, Alphonse Mellot and Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau show little if any such varietal character. And riper Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps from less exalted producers, can reveal more interesting aromatic character, perhaps thiol-influenced, but with not a methoxypyrazine in sight. Even so, I was surprised to see when I encountered this week’s Weekend Wine that it was indeed a 100% Sauvignon Blanc sparkling wine, made using the pétillant naturel method. I was even more surprised on tasting it, as it seemed to exceed all my admittedly biased expectations.

The 2014 Le Vinsans Ricard, a Vin de France (what else could it be?) from Domaine Ricard, started out fermenting in three-year old barrels before being transferred into bottle without any liqueur de tirage, just a light filtration, in order to finish the job. On inspection in the glass the wine has a peachy hue with a touch of onion skin to it. And the nose is really quite beautiful, showing the very aromatic and surely thiol-driven side of Sauvignon Blanc (although it did call to mind this variety’s more scented cousin, Sauvignon Gris, as well), with a very ripe fruit character, perfumed with scents of orange blossom, peach, tangerine and chalk. On the palate there is no disappointment, the energy and presence here being quite delightful. The structure is fresh and zippy, with more notes of orange blossom and apricots here, lifted by the midpalate’s fresh acidity as well as its fine and delicate pétillance. I think what is key about this wine is the presence of genuine flavour and character, both of which come to the fore, gently underlined by the acidity and the bubbles, neither of which dominate, so the overall effect is charming, approachable and also interesting to drink. It finishes with a substantial chalky wash, with some very nice grip at the end. Even with my love of the variety (in certain styles) I never imagined sparkling Sauvignon Blanc could be this delicious. I will be looking out for this one again in the future. 16.5/20 (28/11/16)

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