As much as I love Loire wine and Chenin in particular, it’s alarming (at least to me) how little firsthand experience I actually have with the Savennières of Nicolas Joly. I somehow suspect I’m not alone in that camp, as Joly’s wines seem to be talked and written about more often than they’re actually drunk. Or is it his farming and winemaking practices more so than the wines themselves that get all the attention? Whatever the case, I was happy to help shift the balance recently, spending time over the course of three days with a bottle of his 2006 “Les Clos Sacrés.”
Savennières “Les Clos Sacrés,” Chateau de la Roche-aux-Moines (Nicolas Joly) 2006. $45. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vintus, Pleasantville, NY.
Called “Les Vieux Clos” (and formerly “Becherelle”) on the French market, Joly’s entry-level Savennières is rechristened “Les Clos Sacrés” for the US market. At upwards of $40/bottle, about twice the price of other producers’ basic bottlings, “entry-level” may not be quite the right term. Be that as it may, this is Joly’s front-line offering, produced from relatively young vines spread across 12 hectares of vineyards planted in schist-dominated soils, along with some parcels of quartzite and sandy soils. As with all three of Nicolas’ Savennières, fermentation occurs on the natural yeasts with no temperature control, followed by aging in old oak casks. Sulfur is used in both the vineyard and the cellar, though at very minimal levels.
Notes on Joly’s wines are rife with accounts of bottle variation, so let me begin by saying that this was much more than just perfectly sound.
On day one, “Les Clos Sacrés” was driven by energetic, near savage acidity and bracingly herbal aromas of quinine and menthol. Its acid and extract levels resulted in stick-to-your-teeth texture and length. Very, very persistent. Butterscotch came through on the mid-palate, along with a mineral sensation that I often find with good Savennières, as if I’m drinking wine that’s been leeched through rocks and dripped directly into my glass. With air and a gentle rise in temperature, the wine took on greater aromatic depth, revealing scents of chamomile and sweet herbal tea. A sense of sweetness – though the wine is nearly bone dry – continued to build in the flavor department, the marmalade-like flavor influence of partially botrytized fruit becoming more apparent.
Twenty-four hours later, the waxy and wooly side of Loire Chenin made its appearance, along with a discreet and quite pleasant hint of oxidative aromatic character. The wine was also even more potently aromatic, with flowers, dried herbs and tea leading the way. It was richer, too, in the mouth than on day one. I couldn’t help thinking of a cross between Ricola, nougat and marzipan. More so than a day earlier, I sensed the influence of what I expect is just a couple of grams of residual sugar. Very grippy and very lengthy, the wine, as Joly suggests, is also very good at or near room temperature. By the end of the night, the aromatic profile had shifted again, this time toward scents of oil soap (as in Murphy’s) and peaty single malt Scotch.
That peaty character carried through to the third day. There was also a shift in color, but rather than getting darker golden I’d swear the wine began to take on a pink hue. Intense aromas of apple cider at one end contrasted with the lightness of rose petals at the other, while in the mouth the wine delivered an impression of a freshly baked apple tart kissed subtly by the nuttiness and brininess of fino sherry.
Word is that these wines sometimes hold up well for an entire week after opening. There’s no way this bottle was going to last that long.
As I suggested earlier, there’s plenty to read about Joly's wines. If you’re hungry for more, you’ll find an excellent profile of the Coulée de Serrant, along with some recently updated tasting notes, at The Wine Doctor.