Vincent Carême Vouvray Moelleux Le Clos 2009
Having just written an extensive report on the 2018 vintage in the Loire Valley, a warm and richer style of vintage which is set to give us some stunning sweet wines, it seemed like an appropriate moment to take a look back to the 2009 vintage. This was another year marked by fine weather, or rather it was when it counted. There was rain during the flowering, and hail in May brought some damage to some regions, so it wasn’t all plain sailing. Thereafter, however, there was dry and warm weather from July through all of summer and autumn, which are pretty much the same words I used to describe the weather during 2018. The main worry for the vignerons in 2009 was a reduced in the yields as the fruit dehydrated on the vine, which was also on the minds of some in 2018. Indeed, it is possible to draw any number of parallels between the two years.
In 2009 the fine weather persisted right through September, with just a few days of light rain early on during the first of these two months, which served to refresh tired vines. The official ban des vendanges for Vouvray was September 28th, although with the conditions looking good there was no stampede out into the vines. October initially looked promising, but there was a wobble when it seemed like the weather would finally break. Heavy rain was forecast during the first two weeks of the month, but fortunately these forecasts turned out to be inaccurate, and what rain did arrive was light and inconsequential. The harvest for the sec and demi-sec wines brought in rich and ripe wines (and the top sec cuvées still taste great ten years on I have to say – is this a lesson for me as I try to map out a future for the 2018 vintage?), and all that was set to do then was wait for the later pickings for the moelleux cuvées.
One interesting feature of the 2009 vintage is that despite the warm and dry nature of the vintage, there was a good presence of botrytis in the vineyard. Whether it was prompted by that little flurry of rain in October, or humid air brought upriver by westerly winds, early on in the month of October it was clear that some grapes and bunches were succumbing to botrytis. This is one major difference between 2018 and 2009; in 2018, the weather was warm, dry, with no rain showers of note as harvest progressed, and the prevailing winds came from the east, bring dry continental air. While there was some botrytis in 2018 (I saw it with my own eyes), the sweet wines are more likely to be classic and pure, and yet concentrated, more akin to 1989 than 1990.
In 2009, though, there certainly was botrytis, and many of the leading domaines released their top botrytis-driven cuvées, including Cuvée Constance at Domaine Huet, Cuvée Romulus at Domaine de la Taille aux Loups and Cuvée Les Lys from François Chidaine. Tasting the wines of the vintage today, the botrytis component is tangible, both in the sheer volume of residual sugar the wines carry, but also the flavour complexity. The 2009 Vouvray Moelleux Le Clos, a rare chance to taste a moelleux cuvée made solely from the harvest on Vincent Carême’s prestigious première côte vineyard, is one further example. In the glass it has a pale golden hue, attractive but not in itself suggestive of great richness. The nose, however, more assertively sets the scene, with aromas of dried apricot, peach, pear and mango, plenty of sweet fruit to the fore, and while some of them – apricot in particular – call to mind botrytis, the subtle twists of smoky caramel and praline remove any lingering doubt, although it is a lesser contribution than some wines saw in this vintage. The palate carries a similarly divine concentration of fruit, with a creamed, fruit compote consistency, backed up by a pithy texture and substance. It is firm, imposing and full of vigour, with a delightfully bitter and fresh character. It is undoubtedly at the lighter end of the moelleux spectrum, and looking back at my old notes I see it has a residual sugar of ‘just’ 45 g/l, but it has a caressing midpalate, great precision, and superb length. This is top work, and I look forward to tucking into to the rest of my bottles. By the time I have finished them I should have a good stock of 2018s to fall back on. 96/100 (4/3/19)
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