Thursday, March 5, 2009

Three Days with Les Clos Sacrés

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.

14 comments:

Laboratory Chief said...

How is it you weren't a finalist in Wark's establishment blog awards in the tasting note category (at least)? Mystifying...

My experience is that most of Joly's wines go 5-6 days without breaking a sweat. We launched the Lab on such a test. Along the way found the Jamie Goode had done the same thing.

When they're good, they're awesome. When they're not, they're...

And while I don't know it to be a hard fact, I've heard from several folks who might know that Joly swore off sulfur after the 2002 vintage.

(for BG, my word was 'nooks')

TWG said...

Thanks for the extensive tasting note. I had extensively searched for the Becherelle but couldn't find any, now I know why.

David McDuff said...

Chief,
Mystifying? Perhaps, but I think what I (we, for that matter) do is too anti-establishment for the establishment blog awards, even if Alice, Wicker Parker and Peter did make the finals.

As to Joly swearing off sulfur, I've heard/read the same thing, but his own website says otherwise.

(Nooks are for crooks.)

TWG,
Glad to have been of service. I've seen some '03 Clos Sacres in the PLCB system of all places, but buyer beware. There's still a tiny quantity (as of yesterday, at least) of the '05 and '06 available at CSW.

Robert Camuto said...

David: A tip for what it's worth. Back in France now from my book tour of the US. In Boston, we ordered a bottle of Clos Sacrees (05 or 06 methinks)at Legal Sea Foods (Long Wharf) for retail store price! Who would have thought-- a chain resto?!
Robert
www.corkscrewed.info

TWG said...

Something odd about these Boston Chain restaurants. The AC Sonsie had/has the 2003 Clos Sacres for $52. Quite a good price considering the usual 3-4x NJ/PA markup in a restaurant. Waiters had no idea what it was. The bottles weren't especially memorable, but I think enjoyed at home, especially over several days is the way to go (ala McDuff). Especially given the preponderance of posts on extensive decanting times.

David McDuff said...

Good to hear from you, Robert. From what I saw on your blog and elsewhere, it looks as though the book tour went quite well.

To both you and Tom, I have to say I'm surprised to hear of Joly's wines turning up at chains, though I do recall seeing some decent wines on the list at the Legal Seafood in Logan airport back in the days when I was a semi-regular Philly-Boston commuter.

Joe said...

Very interesting - this is called "Les Vieux Clos" in Montreal as well (and only C$41) - we usually get US labelling. I will pick up a bottle and provide a lesser account of the wine - the Chief is right, you were hosed.

David McDuff said...

Joe,

"Les Vieux Clos" supposedly became "Les Clos Sacrés" at the request of Joly's US importer, who for some reason thought that people would have a hard time with "Vieux" but not with "Sacrés." Given that you're in a French speaking Province, it would seem to make sense that you have the French labeling. The better price is certainly surprising but that may be vintage driven, as the '05 is around US$30 as opposed to US$45 for the '06.

Thanks for the words of support.

Joe said...

Hi David - that's the '06 price. I find it hard to believe buyers of $40 Loire whites are fussed about the French on the label - at that price I am pretty sure the buyer knows what they want, whether they can read it or not...

David McDuff said...

The language change mystifies me as well, Joe. At $30 Canadian, btw, I'd consider the '06 an excellent value.

TWG said...

The PLCB has a bunch of 2006 Coulee de Serrant for $35. I presume it's not a good vintage but I picked up three anyway.

David McDuff said...

@TWG Have you tried a bottle yet, Tom?

I picked up one a little while back, drawn by the seemingly incredible bargain in spite of my skepticism with the PLCB and their damaged goods closeout practices. I figured I'd go back for a case if it turned out well. Though not undrinkable at all, I found the wine far duller than it should be which, combined with the fact that the cork was soaked through leads me to suspect mid-grade heat damage.

TWG said...

Haven't tried one yet, maybe this week. I'll let you know.

David McDuff said...

Please do, Tom. I must admit I've been tempted to go back for round two.

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