Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jean-François Mérieau's "L'Arpent des Vaudons"

I’ve been reading more and more compelling things about the producers and wines in importer Jon-David Headrick’s portfolio over the last couple of years but, until recently, I’d never seen any of them available in my local area. That recent change comes, surprisingly enough, via the good old Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. It’s hardly a surprise of earth shaking proportions, though, as it’s not as if the PLCB has suddenly brought Headrick’s entire book into the state. No, it’s much more likely, based on the rather random selection popping up here and there, that Headrick or, more likely, his local distributor has discovered and acted upon PA’s willingness to act as a clearinghouse for closeouts and back vintages. It’s always buyer beware in such circumstances but, with a little care in selecting, it is possible to come away with a winner from time to time.

Touraine Sauvignon Blanc “L’Arpent des Vaudons,” Jean-François Mérieau (Vignobles des Bois Vaudons) 2007
$15. 12% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Jon-David Headrick Selections, Carrboro, NC.

Vignobles des Bois Vaudons consists of approximately 35 hectares of vineyards in the Touraine, including a small parcel in Vouvray but primarily based around a home base in St. Julien de Chédon, located just outside of Montrichard and about 35 kilometers south of Blois. Representing the third generation of family wine making at the estate, Jean-François Mérieau took the reins in 2000 after returning from a wine making stint in South Africa, bringing with him a more terroir-driven, natural approach to managing the estate. Working the land according to the principles of lutte raisonée since that time, he’s now in the process of converting to organic farming and is slowly but surely moving to hand culture in the vineyards, a process that’s now about 75% complete.

“L’Arpent des Vaudons” is produced from one of the property’s two primary vineyards, “Les Vaudons,” which includes a nine-hectare parcel of Sauvignon Blanc vines growing in argilo-calcaire soils and ranging from 10-60 years of age. The wine undergoes fermentation on its native yeasts, followed by six-to-nine months of sur-lie aging in steel, with occasional stirring of the lees.

The wine leads off with a slightly waxy, unctuous mouthfeel and surprisingly un-citrusy, un-grassy aromatics. In fact, the fruit initially comes off as more toward the tropical end of the spectrum. It’s backed up by energetic acidity and a stony finish, both of which help to lift and carry the wine’s flesh. Headrick’s technical notes compare this to Sancerre but it reminds me much more of many whites I’ve had from Cheverny, rounder and less racy than the classic Sancerrois profile. As long as we’re drawing comparisons, there’s a faintly bitter, vegetal edge on the finish that reminds me more of the darkly herbal character of Rhein Sylvaner than of the grassy, floral character more typical to Loire Sauvignon.

Jean-François Mérieau (photo courtesy of Jim Budd). At his excellent blog, Jim's Loire, Mr. Budd has just posted a 2009 Loire harvest progress report that includes an update from Jean-François.

Mérieau has found good balance here, as the wine is abundantly ripe yet, again, uplifted by bright, full acids. Given the wine’s heft, it’s a bit of a surprise to find the alcohol content listed at a mere twelve percent, particularly as there are no more than a few grams of residual sugar in evidence; there’s no stamp of heat, though, so I have no reason to believe the alcohol level is fudged by any more than a half-degree.

Spending more time with the wine in the glass, I really am struck by its rich mouth feel; it possesses the marrowy qualities of a vin de garde Muscadet but with the greater fruit intensity of Sauvignon and the creaminess of a Mâcon Chardonnay. Actually, I’d like there to be a bit more fruit intensity, as style seems to have somewhat trumped the wine’s varietal character. With food, however, the fruit does come more to the fore. In fact, there’s the citrus element I’d missed at first pass – a now unmistakable blast of ripe, slightly bitter pink grapefruit.

What I’m trying to say with all this hemming and hawing is that Jean-François Mérieau’s “L’Arpent des Vaudons” is a fine example of middle-Loire Sauvignon, one that bears the clear marks of ambitious winemaking but that stops well short of being overwrought. And it’s enough, particularly given its price-appropriateness, to ready me for further exploration of both Mérieau’s wines and Headrick’s portfolio.


Jim Budd said...

David. Jean-François is one of several good young vignerons in the Cher Valley. L'Argent is his 'entry level' Touraine Sauvignon. The other one Coeur de Roche comes from old vines and is fermented in barrel.

JF often complains that wine buyers are in too much of a rush for the latest vintage, L'Arpent often benefits from a year or two in bottle.

David McDuff said...

Thanks as always for stopping by and commenting. It's good to get your close-up perspective on producers such as Mérieau whose wines I'm just getting to know.

Jean-François' comment about L'Arpent often being drunk in too much of a hurry makes a lot of sense. 2008 is the current release on the market so, as I hinted, I suspect the availability of this wine in the PA market was the result of a close-out on the '07 to make way for the '08. The wine, though, is clearly still in fine shape and I expect has actually benefited from that extra year in the bottle. Given its marrowy character now, I suspect it's likely quite leesy/yeasty and less finely filigreed when first released.

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