Friday, 9 August 2013

Jimmy's Loire - Week 2; Vouvray & Chinon

Yet more vinous delights awaited us at the West London Wine School for the second week of Jimmy's Loire course. As with the previous week we got an opportunity to taste a great selection of wines - some which are unavailable in the UK - and were guided through them by Jimmy, who once again engaged the room with his infectious enthusiasm, expert knowledge and charm.

Domaine Vincent Carême, L'Ancestrale, 2010 (ex cellar)

Served as an aperitif to get us in the mood, this was a lovely sparkling wine with green apple and sherbet notes. Light, not hugely intense on flavour, but very refreshing. This is one which doesn't generally leave France, made mainly for themselves and their friends.

Domaine Huet, Vouvray Petillant Brut, 2007 (£25, Berry Brothers)
Domaine Huet, Vouvray Petillant Brut Reserve, 2002 (£27.50, Fine & Rare)

Petillant wines are lightly sparkling (also known as sprizig in Germany, and frizzante in Italy), the level of fizz being linked to the amount of sugar used in the secondary fermentation. When making a fully sparkling wine, for example champagne, wine makers would add 20-25 grams of sugar, whereas for a petillant they would use only 8-10 grams. The resulting wine is also therefore a little lower in alcohol, and has only a third of the pressure (and therefore carbon dioxide) in the product. It is a difficult wine to get right, and so you only tend to see these being made by the best producers. Petillant wines are generally domestic in Vouvray, so not much makes it to the UK.

Domaine Huet is one of the oldest domaines in the Loire, and one of the largest producers of petillant wines. The 2007 petillant was released a year ago, which seems odd until you consider the maturation time of 4-5 years, which is similar to that of a vintage champagne. The long maturation time means the wine gains complexity, and a good petillant can give champagne a run for its money.

The 2007 has a pale golden hue with fine, light bubbles. On the nose it is quite closed, with grassy, fresh notes, biscuity and creamy, with less green apple than expected. To taste it is clean and elegant, refreshing and very drinkable, with citrus, green apples, and again the biscuity creamy notes which you get on the nose. The flavour is very similar to a Chardonnay dominant champagne.

In comparison the 2002 has a deeper golden colour, and as you'd expect is far more complex on the nose, with sweet apple, savoury, nutty and tropical notes. You can almost smell the age of this wine. To taste it's bone dry, with a more complex and deeper flavour, fuller mouthfeel and pronounced biscuity and nutty characteristics. Very close in flavour to a vintage champagne and would go well with rich nutty cheeses like the Comte we tried. The high acidity means that over time this is likely to develop even more complexity of flavour, and this was one of our two favourites of the night.

Domaine Huet, Le Mont Sec, Vouvray, 2011 (£27.75, Berry Brothers)

The Le Mont comes from a vineyard where there are large fragments of silex (flint) in topsoil, and the last vineyard to be picked so therefore the grapes are riper. The wine is a clear pale lemon, with hints of green apple, grassy, mineral, savoury notes and citrus on the nose. It also has a slightly smokey hint to it. To  taste it's a true terroir wine, the flavour reflecting the silex, with strong mineral and stoney flavours, green apple, citrus, medium to high acidity, and a perfumed aftertaste. The winemaker recommends ageing this wine for up to 10 years, so that it develops into a bigger, deeper flavoured style wine.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Les Grenouilles, Vouvray, 2010 (£10.95, Wine Society)

Vincent Carême and his South African wife Tania inherited 5 hectares of vineyards from Vincent’s father, and then proceeded to buy 15 more. They’re one of the newest producers in Vouvray, starting out in 1999 from scratch, but you’d never guess they were relative newbies based on the high quality of their wines.


Les Grenouilles is a clear pale lemon in colour, and on the nose you get citrus, honey, vanilla, orange blossom, light peach and freshness shining through. To taste it delivers the same flavours as on the nose, but with the addition of sweet apple. It's fresh, clean and punchy, with a nice balance between the acidity and the sweetness, but I found this one almost too fruity, and whilst lovely, for me it's probably only a one glass wine. Having said that we thought it was exceptional value for money, and went surprisingly well with a slice of Brie.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Les Clos, Vouvray, 2008 (£23.25, Berry Brothers)


An off-dry, barrel aged wine, this is still a clear pale lemon in colour, but with tropical fruits, peach, passion fruit and light oak on the nose. The fruit carries through to the taste, with passion fruit, peaches, mango, orange blossom, honey and vanilla, the flavours more complex than the previous wine, and even tastier. There is a good balance of acidity versus sweetness, with a big full mouthfeel, and very easy drinking. Jimmy suggested pairing this with sweet chutneys, fish or nutty cheeses like Comte. This wine would age well and was our other favourite of the evening.

Domaine Vincent Carême, Le Peu Morier, Vouvray, 2008 (2010 vintage available at £18.00, Wine Society)

Clear, pale lemon, moving towards a light gold in colour, this wine isn't as powerful on the nose as the previous two wines, and less complex, with honey, apples and peach. A demi-sec, it's syrupy and sweet with medium to high acidity, and similar flavours to that on the nose. It's a more grown up version of the previous wine, richer and more powerful, but less impressive for me seeming a little bland in comparison.

Clos de la Meslerie, Vouvray, 2010 (ex cellar)

Clos de la Meslerie is a new start-up by American Peter Hahn who in 2002 bought and renovated the estate. When renovating he cleared an out-house and discovered an old basket press which he now uses, and locally he is known as 'the crazy American and his old press'. His wine is currently organic but he is moving towards biodynamic production, and with only 4 hectares of vines, he describes it as an organic micro-winery.

This wine uses only natural yeasts, and is barrel aged for a year to a year and a half, stirring the lees regularly. Clear, pale light golden in colour, on the nose there are notes of grassiness, peaches, minerality, honey, cinnamon and slightly earthy, with cider-like farmyardy notes in the background. It's demi-sec, but tastes off-dry, with cooked apples, honey, peach, sweet spices and cinnamon, with light mineral notes.

Domaine de la Noblaie, Pierre du Tuf, Chinon, 2010 (£17.99, The Sampler)

Domaine de la Noblaie's Pierre du Tuf has an interesting production method, being macerated in a porous open vat carved from tufa (a type of limestone). This rock barrel was carved out for this purpose over 600 years ago. The tartrate deposit build up in the vat means the wine doesn't leak out through the porous limestone. This traditional method of production means that there is a low yield of product, usually around only 20 barrels per year.

This was the only red of the night, and a really interesting wine. 90% of the wines produced in Chinon are red and like this example are usually 100% Cabernet Franc. Some Chinon can be found with a 10% blend of Sauvignon. The wine is a deep ruby in colour with a purple tint. We weren't sure what to expect with this wine having never tasted a Chinon before. The nose was surprisingly complex, with deep earthy, leafy notes, ripe cherries, plums, black pepper and spices, but wasn't as powerful as expected. The taste reflects what we detected on the nose, with chalky minerality, cherries, red fruit and pronounced peppery notes. This wine would age well, and reminded me of a pinot noir but with a peppery edge. I loved this wine, but Sam was less impressed with it.

Domaine Huet, Le Mont Moelleux, Vouvray, 2011 (£28.99, Fine & Rare)

A sweet wine, the grapes coming from the same area of vineyards as the first Domaine Huet wine we tried, but the grapes have been affected by botrytis, or by using very ripe/over-ripe fruit. It's a clear golden, leaning towards amber in colour, with a strong scent of sweet apricots, peaches and honey, with a slight flintiness about it. The taste matches the nose, although is less sweet than expected, with high acidity balancing the sugar out well, and a very refreshing (not cloying) fresh fruit and mineral flavours. This was served with a very sweet tarte tatin, which oddly I thought may have been a little too sweet for the wine!

All in all we felt this was a great two-week course, very good value for money, and a great showcase for some fantastic examples of Loire wines, including some surprises along the way. Keep an eye out for the Loire trip Jimmy mentioned - it'd be well worth trying, and rather picturesque too judging by some of Jimmy's photos (although you don't get to take Jeff with you).

Photo courtesy of Jimmy Smith, 2013

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