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Vincent Carême Vouvray L’Ancestrale 2014

Vincent Carême Vouvray L’Ancestrale 2014

Right now it feels like I have more themes to my Weekend Wine slot than, well, maybe a compilation album of theme tunes. First, I have been trying to bring a little more affordable Bordeaux onto the site, with the likes of last week’s 2005 Château Montviel. Second, I have been taking a look at some Loire Valley reds from the 2014 vintage, such as the recently savoured 2014 Domaine Ogereau Côte de la Houssaye. And I have been casting the spotlight onto some of the Loire Valley’s most brilliant sparkling wines, like the 2014 François Pinon Vouvray Brut I featured a month-or-so ago. No prizes for guessing which of these themes applies to this week’s wine.

Having been released a year or two ago I have to confess I have worked my way though a good number of bottles of the 2014 Vouvray L’Ancestrale from Vincent Carême, and yet despite this I have written hardly a word about it, so I am putting that right now. The L’Ancestrale is one of several sparkling cuvées made by Vincent. His home-grown fruit is channelled either into the Vouvray Brut, made by the méthode traditionnelle, kick-starting a second fermentation in bottle with added liqueur de tirage (the solution of sugar and yeasts), or the Vouvray L’Ancestrale, where the bubbles result from bottling the wine before the first fermentation has even finished. Vincent also makes sparkling wines from purchased fruit for the négoce side of his business, under the Cuvée T label, but while this is an attractive wine, the first two are the ones to really look out for.

Vincent Carême Vouvray L'Ancestrale 2014

When I first met Vincent, close to a decade ago now, it was his L’Ancestrale cuvée that blew me away, as I immediately saw in his sparkling wine a quality that could match that of wines made at more famous Vouvray addresses. Over the subsequent ten-or-so years I have seen Vincent prove his worth in this regard, and he has played an instrumental part in the revitalisation and democratisation of this appellation. Today I buy and drink his sparkling and still wines with great regularity, although I suspect I have bought more L’Ancestrale than any of his other cuvées.

A year or two ago, during a visit to the domaine. Vincent and I were tasting together in the cellars when he made a really interesting point regarding méthode ancestrale wines, one which has stuck in my mind ever since. A still wine which finishes its fermentation in multiple vats or barrels is blended together to produce one homogenous assemblage before bottling, ensuring the wine in every bottle is the same. The opposite is true of a wine that is bottled before the fermentation is finished; in this case each individual bottle is essentially a micro-vat, each fermentation finishing in isolation from all the other fermentations, ongoing in all the other bottles. As the progress of any fermentation may vary from vat to vat (or here, from bottle to bottle), méthode ancestrale wines are thus potentially more prone to bottle variation than other wines, and it is perhaps surprising that such wines, in my experience, largely show great consistency.

The 2014 Vouvray L’Ancestrale from Vincent Carême is one where I have seen some bottle variation though. There seems to be, broadly speaking, two styles here; some bottles are characterised by minerals and white orchard fruit, very classic for Vouvray, very tight and pure, while some are marked by a subtle vanillin, lactone-like character which adds a softer, buttery, honeyed and floral complexity to the wine and which strongly suggests oak, even though this is a cuvée produced without any contact with wood at all. As a quick aside, the 2015 vintage (which I have also tasted recently) shows a similar vanillin character, which Vincent recognises. I asked him why the wine had developed this oak-suggestive character, when the vinification is conducted entirely in inert vessels. “I don’t know”, he replied; Vincent is nothing if not honest. As for this particular bottle, this one turned out to be in the first group, the more ‘classic’ style. In the glass it has a charming, straw-gold hue. The aromatics are very much in the orchard fruit and mineral spectrum, with none of the vanillin character seen in some bottles. It is suggestive of chalk and flint, a pebble-strewn beach, scented with a little note of peony. The palate is full, fresh and brimming with character, the wine’s confident mousse cut with a very fresh, dry, acid-bright structure, all carrying flavours of ripe orchard fruits, pears especially, with a citrus-oil bitterness which provides great interest and persists very nicely through the finish. Overall this has an energetic and delicious style, and I am happy to have more of this in the cellar (even if they turn out to be the vanillin-tinged style, which thankfully I also enjoy). 95/100 (26/3/18)

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