Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Bruts from the Touraine

There will be no intensely detailed tasting notes here today. Friends and I recently drank these two sparkling Loire Chenin Blancs. We were having a good time, I didn't take detailed notes, and the intricacies are no longer fresh in my mind, just the overall impressions, the broad strokes.

I'm intentionally writing them up in reverse order: oldest to youngest, pricier to less so, opposite to how we experienced them. You'll see why soon enough.

Montlouis-sur-Loire "Almendra" Brut, François Chidaine 1996
$42. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, NY.
It's kind of funny, you know, in that way that makes you say, "What the hell...?" I've visited the Chidaine estate in Montlouis, formerly sold their wines for several years, and have been enjoying drinking them for well over a decade. Yet it was only recently that I learned that François makes a sparkling wine called "Almendra," only in the best vintages or so I'm told, that spends 10+ years on its lees before disgorgement. This was my first time trying it. One of my favorite wine blogging buddies, as it turns out, drank and wrote-up the very same vintage of "Almendra" well nigh on three years ago. Turns out our reactions were very much the same, despite the three year and 3000 mile distance between them.

There was an intense mineral character, along with the mushroomy, toasty character that often accompanies sparkling wines that have seen extended lees-aging. The developed Chenin character of the wine sang loud and clear — wool, quince, dried honey, again, some pretty concentrated mineral character. It's that intense Chinin-ness that made appreciating the wine a complicated venture for me, almost as if the sparkling character was sitting off to one side, the Montlouis/Chenin character to another, not quite harmoniously joined. I enjoyed it in the general sense, but not as much as I normally do Chidaine's non-sparkling examples of Montlouis.

The experience made me think about something I hadn't considered in a while. As much as I enjoy sparkling Vouvray and Montlouis from producers such as François Pinon, Foreau, yes, Chidaine, even Poniatowski back in the day, and, more recently, Jacky Blot, I sometimes wonder whether there's any real benefit to be gained from producing Méthode Traditionelle examples of Loire Chenin, other than to satisfy market demand or to yield a product from slightly under-ripe fruit.

Then I drink this and the question again recedes...

Vouvray Pétillant Brut, Domaine Huet 2005
$26. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: The Rare Wine Company, Sonoma, CA.
Technically speaking, Huet's Vouvray Pétillant is not made according to the Méthode Traditionelle but rather via the Méthode Ancestrale, in which primary fermentation is stopped before completion (usually by dropping the temperature to a point where the yeast go dormant) and the wine is placed in bottle where fermentation will continue to completion, trapping CO2 in solution (bubbles!) along the way. I'm given to understand that Huet's winemaker, Noël Pinguet, adds a dab of yeast at bottling to ensure that the bottle fermentation goes smoothly, and that he finishes the wine with an small addition of one of the estate's off-day wines in place of the typical dosage used in the traditional method. For the 2005 Pétillant, that finish came courtesy of a soupcon of Huet's 2002 Le Mont Première Trie. (Check out The Wine Doctor's exceptional report on Huet for more details on this and the rest of the wines produced at the estate.)

Technical stuff aside, the Vouvray Pétillant Brut from Huet is consistently delicious wine. As much as I do like the others I mentioned above, I'm really not sure that Huet has a true peer in this context. The 2005 is still a baby, showing nowhere near the nuance of the best bottles of the 2002 I've drunk over the last few years but, like I said, it's still a baby. The wine is showing beautiful fruit, balance and structure, and complete integration between the sparkling and serious Vouvray sides of its personality. Given its balance and purity, I expect the wine to develop quite nicely over the next several years and will certainly enjoy exploring its evolution. I'll be sure to tell you if I was wrong....


Samantha Dugan said...

I have a bottle of that Chidaine in my wine fridge and just tasted it with my rep last week, and as much as I love Chidaine I think it is just kind of strange. Interesting no doubt but not something that I would just enjoy tossing back.

Jim Budd said...

'I sometimes wonder whether there's any real benefit to be gained from producing Méthode Traditionelle examples of Loire Chenin, other than to satisfy market demand or to yield a product from slightly under-ripe fruit.'

I guess it won't surprise you that I drink a number of Loire sparkling wines in preference to Champagne. Many are picked for riper than Champagne. Jacky Blot's Triple Zéro around 12%. Incidentally Jacky launches a pink Triple Zéro in December.

David McDuff said...

Have to agree with you there. The "Almendra" was certainly interesting, and I definitely want to sit down with another bottle to try to get to know and understand it better. But it's not something I'd think of drinking casually, or even with ease as I might the Huet.

You're quite right, absolutely no surprise there. You've also caught me in a bit of hasty writing, as I think I could have put things a little better if I hadn't been in a bit of a rush.

I have little doubt that Blot, along with Chidaine, Huet and the other producers whose wines I cited, are working with ripe fruit. Likewise, I expect you'd agree that plenty of other producers, albeit mostly less auspicious ones, are indeed working with under-ripe produce.

What it boils down to, for me, is that it's rare that I taste a sparkling Vouvray or Montlouis from among the upper tier of producers that makes me think the wine wouldn't have been as good if not better if "normally" vinified as a still wine. As with Chidaine's "Almendra," the personality of Chenin — its aromatic intensity and strong flavor signatures — often seems at odds with the flavors and textures resulting from the sparkling method.

Huet's Pétillant is one of the few that convinces me every time. I'm tempted to put Blot in that group, too, but I don't have enough experience with his wines. Glad to hear he's working on a rosé, though; I'll look forward to trying it.

bill l said...

one of the fun aspects of continuing to pursue this most noble of pastimes or hobbies, is the different reactions people can get from the same wines.

i found the chidaine allmendra fascinating and delicious while the huet ,was to me, unmoving. palate fatigue? who knows.

after a couple years of not seeing the chidaine nv sec i drank 3 bottles on vacation in maine this summer. terrific wine. a wonderful partner to two delicious sushi dinners at miyake in portland.

we will have to revisit the allmendra soon david. i see it as a nice match to turkey breast.

John said...

Hey David,

Oddly enough, I found myself choosing between these two wines along with Pinon's Brut (non-dosage) to accompany some Korean food some friends were preparing. The round, fresh and pretty Pinon was a bit overpowered by some of the bolder flavors in the food, and I get the feeling both of these would have met with the same fate. Nevertheless, your post has me excited to give both of these a shot soon enough, especially the Huet. Thanks,

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