Le Rocher des Violettes Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant 2013
My tasting and drinking this weekend has been all over the place, from brand new Côtes du Forez only pulled from the vat and bottled a month-or-so ago, and similarly youthful St Estèphe (pulled from the barrel rather than the vat, but still very recently bottled) to moderately mature Pauillac and Vouvray, both hailing from the 2003 vintage. But the wine that intrigued me the most sat between these two extremes, and it was this pétillant cuvée from Xavier Weisskopf, of Le Rocher des Violettes.
The Pétillant Revolution in the Loire Valley isn’t news of course. The new wave of pétillant and pétillant naturel wines (you’re officially not cool if you don’t abbreviate this to pét’ nat’ by the way…..you will notice I’m not very good at that) began to surge any number of years ago now. As a very brief recap, key to the style is the lower pressure, the bubbles a more gentle pétillance rather than the foaming mousseux energy found in most young sparkling wines. This is largely down to the use of the méthode ancestrale, which involves bottling during the first fermentation, rather than the méthode traditionnelle, which involves bottling after a second fermentation induced by the addition of cultured yeast and more sugar. I can’t help thinking that this latter method really isn’t very traditionnelle at all, as the ancestrale method certainly came first, but I suppose vignerons have to find some term other than méthode champenoise for it, in order to avoid being sued.
So what’s the difference between pétillant and pétillant naturel? With a pétillant cuvée the methodology can be tweaked as desired by the winemaker, so the technique ends up somewhere between ancestrale and traditionnelle. Some vignerons might add a little yeast to keep the fermentation going, others top up with a little softening dosage after disgorgement. The Domaine Huet wines are good examples of both, as Jean-Bernard Berthomé and (before he handed in his notice) Noël Pinguet have long preferred to add a little yeast at bottling, and although recent vintages have been topped up with drier wines after the disgorgement, on occasion a much sweeter moelleux premier trie wine has been used.
Vignerons who view such interventions with a suspicious eye prefer a ‘nothing added, nothing taken away’ philosophy, wines made from the grapes and nothing else. This is pétillant naturel, usually Vin de France as few appellations cater for such wines. One exception to this rule, however, is Montlouis-sur-Loire. Here some vignerons go one step further than the simple pétillant designation and aim for Pétillant Original, essentially a regulated pétillant naturel, which was added to the appellation’s cahier des charges (rule book) in 2007 and which is naturally (pun fully intended, sorry) subject to a more stringent set of regulations. With the Pétillant Original designation manipulations such as the addition of yeast and the dosage and are entirely forbidden, as is the use of enzymes, chaptalisation and the addition of liqueur de tirage (the addition of extra sugar to help the ongoing fermentation when the wine is bottled). The designation also demands hand-picking, whole-bunch pressing and a minimum of nine months sur lattes before release. It is one more feather in the cap of the revitalised Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation.
With such stringent requirements it is perhaps not surprising that only a handful of vignerons working in Montlouis-sur-Loire have ever really engaged with the pétillant originel designation (when I last counted it was five). One who has, as you might have guessed by now, is Xavier Weisskopf of Le Rocher des Violettes, which is hardly surprising as he was involved in the drawing up of the regulations. Keen-eyed observers will note, however, that the label pictured above only declares the wine as Pétillant, not Pétillant Originel. Recent vintages have not been kind to Ligérian viticulteurs, and in 2013 the alcohol degree was too low for the Pétillant Originel designation, so Pétillant it is. In the glass the 2013 Montlouis-sur-Loire Pétillant from Le Rocher des Violettes has a pale hue, with a faint touch of onion skin, and a very gentle, central stream of bubbles. The nose is fascinating, very primary, the Chenin fruit perfumed with orange blossom and lemon balm over notes of gently powdery chalk. The palate has a similarly soft and welcoming character, perfumed in the same chalky manner as the nose, with a full, cream-soda plushness. This is very fresh, with precise acidity, and quite a bit of fruit-pith bite to it from the cooler vintage I suspect, which lingers in the finish, along with those orange blossom notes. Overall a charming wine, floral and undeniably distinctive. 15.5/20 (21/3/16)