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Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 1989

Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny
Terres Chaudes 1989

It was just a few weeks ago, in my report on the 2018 Chinon Le Logis de la Bouchardière from Serge and Bruno Sourdais, that I asked the question whether this most recent vintage might by ‘our’ 1989, a vintage which in the Loire Valley may match the very greatest of the 20th century. The quality in the red wines I have tasted thus far, from entry-level cuvées already in bottle such as the Sourdais family’s wine, through to some of the very best cuvées such as the Clos de l’Echo from Couly-Dutheil and La Croix Boissée from Bernard Baudry certainly suggest the possibility.

These musings vintages soon saw me scurrying off to the cellar to see what bottles from the greatest vintages of the 20th century I have left. When it comes to 1921 and 1945 I imagine you can probably guess the answer (although I have tasted some pretty astonishing 1921 Vouvray this year), but I still have good representation from the 1989 vintage. These are mostly wines from Vouvray of course, namely those of Noël Pinguet of Domaine Huet, Philippe Foreau of Domaine du Clos Naudin, Bernard Fouquet of Domaine des Aubuisières and François Pinon, who today teams up with his son at François et Julien Pinon. At the time some of these now famous names had only been standing at the press for a handful of vintages, and yet the quality of the vintage and their wines shines through with great clarity.

Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 1989

The red wines of the vintage have never had such a strong representation in my cellar, with the 1989 Clos de l’Echo from Couly-Dutheil being one that I did buy in some volume. But then my hand came to rest on this weekend’s favourite bottle, from Domaine des Roches Neuves. This domaine, today elevated to a leading position within the Saumur-Champigny appellation, enjoys a significant level of fame thanks to several decades of work by Thierry Germain (subscribers can read my recent report on his 2018 vintage). Thierry bought the estate in 1991 though, and thus this wine was made by his predecessor, Denis Duveau (born 1948). He was the great grandson of Jeanne Hélène Pasquier (1839 – 1893) who had rescued the estate during the late 19th century following the devastation of phylloxera. Denis was in charge from 1981 onwards, first expanding and replanting before going on to make some great wines, particular in 1989 and 1990. But then the great frost of 1991 laid waste to the domaine once again, and the deflated Denis threw in the towel. The domaine was sold, and the Germain family had their first foothold in the region.

Thierry Germain trained in Bordeaux, and Loire-o-philes will remember only too well his early vintages, brimming with extracted tannin and wrapped in many ribbons of oak, as if a St Emilion modernista had settled in Saumur. It is noteworthy that his predecessor was also a graduate of the oenology course at Bordeaux university though, and I wonder if this doesn’t show through in the character of this wine, shaped over the years by substance, tannin and oak. At thirty years of age the 1989 Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes from Domaine des Roches Neuves has a quite beautiful appearance in the glass, still dark and near-opaque at its core, with a gradual fade out to the rim, the pigments running through oxblood to a thin orange-tawny note at the very periphery. The nose is classically poised, evolved but correct, with a complex array of aromas, including black truffle, black bean, dried black cherry, tobacco leaf and green peppercorn, so pure and persistently expressive. And it is no less convincing on the palate, where there is a fabulously silky-velvety texture, with resolved tannins but fresh and decisive acidity. It has great flavour, all wrapped up in an evolved but confident and well composed structure. This is drinking well now, but like all the best wines from 1989, there is no need to rush here; I suspect this will continue on this plateau for many years yet before it fades. 96/100 (9/9/19)

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