David 19 February 2013
It's only in the last few years that I've started to drink Vouvray, however it's quickly become a staple at my place. What I love about dry Vouvray is its ability to offer up the seemingly contradictory - on one hand it's aromatic and light, yet when left to open up, it gains weight and texture. I always marvel at this appealing combination. What also amazes me about Vouvray is that it's still such an underestimated wine. Its lack of profile here means it remains underpriced, representing some of the best value drinking around town.
Vouvray is a wine, a town and a region located in the stunning Loire Valley, amongst splendid Chateaux and gardens. The town of Vouvray is located within the Touraine district, about 10km east of the city of Tours. Around it sits the appellation - about 2000 ha, planted almost entirely with the white variety, Chenin Blanc. I can't help but agree with Jancis Robinson when she describes Chenin Blanc as "probably the world’s most versatile grape variety." It's amazing that Chenin from Vouvray produces such a wide range of styles:
Sec - dry
Demi Sec - off dry
Moelleux - sweet and often botrytised
Doux - the sweetest style, the term 'liquoreux' may also be used
Acidity is the backbone of Vouvray. Chenin has little problem achieving good richness and texture, however its naturally high acidity gives Vouvray finesse and length, and an ability to age for decades. Vouvray is one of the few whites, aside from Sauternes and German Riesling, that can be cellared very long-term. You might have seen Huon Hooke's recent article in the SMH (22/01/13) in which he tasted a dry 1954 Vouvray and referred to even older vintages of sweet Vouvray, which tend to last even longer.
In the US, after WWII, Vouvray was all the rage. US wine writer Frank Schoonmaker, who penned the classic Encyclopedia of Wine in 1964, reckons this was because the allied headquarters were situated at nearby Tours, so the soldiers developed a taste for the local drop.
2010 was a great year in the Loire for dry whites, with Wine Spectator rating it 94/100. Here’s a selection of top producers' dry Vouvrays from that vintage. I hope you like them.
1. Domaine Pichot 'Coteau de la Biche' Vouvray Sec 2010
The Pichot family has a long history in Vouvray, dating back to 1739. Currently at the helm are Jean-Claude and his son Christophe. They have about 24ha of organically farmed vineyards located throughout the appellation. The Coteau de la Bichevineyard has become renowned for producing great dry whites.
The wine sees a combination of ferments, with 90% in stainless steel, and the other 10% in 400 litre wooden vats. It is aged on lees (spent yeast cells which sink to the bottom of the tank) to give more complexity, before being bottled.
This is what classic, young, dry Vouvray is all about. You'll love the clean, crisp mouthful of refreshing acidity. It starts off with an austere and flinty old-world dryness, rather like a Chablis, however it opens up with time in the glass. How enjoyable to have a fresh, young wine driven predominantly by structure rather than fruit.
Wine Spectator says:"This is dry and racy, with a fresh quinine streak, but there's a succulent edge too, as fig and pear fruit fill out through the finish, where a lovely green almond note hangs on." Score 90/100.
The winemaker notes: "2010 is a classic vintage for dry Vouvray yielding wines of perfume, finesse and lip-smacking freshness. Aromas of pear, candied fruit and spice with hints of honey and that distinctive chalkiness that is so typical of great Vouvray. Fine, brilliantly focused flavours, with exceptional texture and length."
I'm pleased to point out that this vintage is significantly cheaper than the previous one due to the strength of the Australian dollar. There's also a new label for the 2010. The distinctive Stag has gone, replaced with a much simpler look.
You'll see this wine in quite a few restaurants around town, including Guillaume at Bennelong, where it's $17 a glass or $80 a bottle. I can't think of too many whites under $30 that drink so well now, yet have the genuine potential to age 15+ years . Great value and sure to become a favourite.
I can offer it for $26 a bottle. Click here to order new vintage.
2. Champalou Vouvray 2010
Next we have the exciting new kid on the block.
Husband and wife team, Didier and Catherine Champalou, established Domaine Champalou in 1983 and in an incredibly short period of time, have earned an enviable reputation. By 1996 they were included in the top tier of the appellation's producers (only 4) in the highly regarded A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire byJacqueline Friedrich.
I came across the Domaine via Kermit Lynch, legendary US wine merchant and importer. He raves about Champalou, "one of the most highly acclaimed in the appellation." You'll see the wines in groovy European and US wine bars, however they're hard to come by in Australia.
Here's what a few others have to say about the Domaine:
Hugh Johnson: (Top selling author and wine expert, with an OBE for "services to wine-making and horticulture") gives them 2-3 stars. To put this in context, he only rates two producers in Vouvray higher than this (one of which is offered below).
New York Times: "The wines were amongst the most wonderfully finessed Chenin Blancs I’ve had from this region in the Loire Valley" (Winter 2012).
Didier tends the 21 hectares of vines following the lunar calendar and the vineyard became certified 'sustainable' by Terra Vitis (French sustainable viticulture association) in 2005. The vines for this wine are an average of 25 years old. Daughter Celine now does the winemaking and has made this wine entirely in stainless steel to capture its freshness. It’s left on lees for 11 months prior to bottling to add a little extra weight and complexity.
The wine is slightly more generous than the Pichot. It's a little rounder, has more weight and is beautifully perfumed with an attractive floral nose. On the palate there's classic Vouvray characters of pear, musk and honey, bound together of course with that fresh acidity.
Kermit Lynch: "The honey and white acacia blossom in the Vouvray's perfume is a rare treat. The wine has a youthful deliciousness and great aging potential."
Wall Street Journal: "A bright, clean, vibrant, almost tingly pear-inflected white."
There aren't any retailers carrying this in Sydney and very few restaurants, however you'll find it at Felix Bistro at Merivale for $75.
I can offer it for $35 a bottle. SOLD OUT.
3. Domaine du Clos Naudin Vouvray Sec 2010
And lastly, the top dog.
This legendary estate run by Philippe Foreau is, in an unusual display of unity amongst the critics, universally acknowledged as one of the top two Domaines in Vouvray. (The other being Domaine Huet).
How's this for praise?
Robert Parker: "Philippe Foreau is one of the most scrupulous growers and vinificateurs as well as one of the most adept tasters in all France. 5 stars.Outstanding."
Andrew Jefford: "A reference domain, in sum." 2 stars (the highest he gives a Vouvray producer).
Chris Kissack: A Loire specialist who runs the website Wine Doctor: "I think they are among the greatest examples of Vouvray I have ever tasted. They show finesse, delineation, yet great character and flavour also. At all levels the wines are excellent."
Hugh Johnson: "Philippe Foreau is a perfectionist." 3-4 stars (the highest he gives a Vouvary producer).
I could go on, but you get the picture.
The Domaine was established in 1919 and is still family owned after 3 generations. Despite the accolades Philippe Foreau keeps a very low profile, with no website and no travelling to promote his wines. He also doesn't exhibit his wines at the all-important Annual Salon des Vins de Loire. Instead he tends his prized vineyard site fastidiously and without chemicals. His yields are low and he harvests entirely by hand. In the winery he's a minimalist with no acidification, no chapitalisation (addition of sugar), wild yeasts, no malolactic (a process that softens the wine) and minimal use of sulphur.
As noted above, 2010 was a great year for dry whites in the Loire and this is quite simply an excellent example of dry Vouvray with the potential to age 20+ years. I see the defining characters of the wine as freshness, minerality and purity.
Robert Parker scored the wine 92/100 and the highly influential Le Guide Bettane & Desseauve des Vins de France 2013 gave it 17/20.
Where else but Vouvray can you spend less than $50 for the best examples of a region? I can’t stress enough what good value this is. I guess this is the advantage of lesser-known appellations.
No retailers are carrying this, however you'll find it at a few good restaurants around the country, including Rockpool Bar & Grill where it’s on the list at $88 a bottle.
I can offer it for $45 a bottle. SOLD OUT.