Domaine Huet – a focus on Demi-sec Vouvray, tasting the 2008s and select older vintages back to 1949

Huet are very probably Vouvray’s top producer, so it’s saying something when Richard Kelley MW describes the 2008 Demi-secs as probably Noel Pinguet’s best since he joined Huet in 1971.

Arguably Kelley would say that wouldn’t he – he works for Richards Walford, Huet’s UK importer, but there’s no denying the quality of the 2008s, nor is there any reason to question Kelley’s authority on the subject.  To the contrary, he’s in the enviable position of regularly tasting older Huet vintages – check out his Loire-focused website (click here).  It has a comprehensive profile of Huet and a fascinating appraisal of the 1919 to 2008 vintages with tasting notes.  You can find my notes of a tasting of select vintages dating back to 1924 here.

And it was a remarkable feat to make wines of such concentration and precision in 2008. A deluge on 31 May (150mm of rain in 90 minutes – click here to see a youtube video taken at Huet) caused substantial damage and brought in its wake an attack of mildew. Such was its virulence that, for the first time since 1988, Pinguet (pictured) sprayed the vines with chemicals to stymie the mildew. It must have been a tough decision for a biodynamic producer dead set against chemicals and, to add insult to injury, Huet must now forego certified biodynamic status until 2011 at the earliest.

I asked Pinguet if he had any regrets. Though if it happened again he said he’d still not want to spray, Pinguet confessed that the prospect of losing everything proved too daunting. As it was, around 50% of the crop was lost at Le Clos du Bourg and yields at Le Haut Lieu were drastically reduced to as little as 5hl/ha for some parcels.   Nonetheless, he’s quick to point out that Huet used a contact spray, which is not absorbed by the vine or its roots, unlike a systemic spray.  It’s his firm belief that, irrespective of what the rules say, one non-systemic spray in 20 years has not compromised the de facto biodynamic status of the vineyards.

Here are my tasting notes followed, by the abv, residual sugar and total acidity for each wine.

The 2008s

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Sec 2008 – a rich honeyed nose leads onto a textured, tangy, persistent and tight palate with a core of steely grapefruit and tangy Coxes orange pippens, with pink grapefruit coming through on a very long, honey-tinged finish.  13.16%, 15.4g/l, 6.47g/l

Vouvray Le Clos du Bourg Sec 2008 – steely and less expressive on the nose with delicate pear hints.  Really very different.  Shows juicy pear and citrus notes in the mouth, more lemon than grapefruit, but this is super-tight and mineral.  A powerful, closed wine, reflecting very low yields. 13.45%, 13.5g/l, 6.05g/l

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-sec 2008
– lifted, very floral with peachy fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, it’s super-intense with a fabulous purity, almost sorbet-like, of grapefruit, quince and apple.  A long, fine, persistent finish shows a steely, whetstone minerality. 13.43%, 27.1g/l, 6.03g/l

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-sec 2008 – floral, mineral and very Riesling-esque on the nose, it has a lovely weight and richness in the mouth cut with an invigorating serrated acidity.  Veritably pirouettes, carrying a long, juicy, lipsmacking, honey-licked finish – all apples and grapefruit. 13.24%, 29.8g/l, 6.06g/l

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Moelleux 2008 – apples and pastry on the nose.  In the mouth it shows apple blossom with a kiss of honey to its white orchard fruits.  And the great thing about Loire sweeties – it’s beautifully off-set by mouthcleansing acidity, giving a lovely purity, balance, delicacy and freshness.  Subtle, steely mineral notes to the finish. 12.3%, 53.1g/l, 6.25g/l

Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux 1ère Trie 2008 – lifted apple blossom nose.  Wow, a real intensity of orchard fruits here on a tight, tangy, textured palate, powered by lemon sorbet- pure acidity – surely a long life ahead.  12.42%, 62.7g/l, 6.14g/l

Vouvray Le Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1ère Trie 2008 – an exotic nose shows orange peel, hints of mango even, with apricot – could be oaked…The palate is unusually rich and ripe at this stage of the game with apricots and peach and, compared with the others, lacks a little concentration and thrust with its more licorous mouthfeel.   12.56%, 66.8g/l, 4.61g/l

I queried Le Clos du Bourg’s atypical profile with Pinguet.  He explained that the must underwent malolactic fermentation before the alcoholic fermentation.  Though he said each year one barrel does malo (after the alcoholic fermentation) which he usually arrests, this year he couldn’t control it because it happened at this much earlier stage.  It explains Le Clos du Bourg’s significantly lower level of total acidity/less thrusting palate.  Pinguet speculated that this anomalous occurrence is because it was imperative to use the sorting table in 2008 (usually selection is on the vine) and this over-agitated the grapes, precipitating a malolactic fermentation.  Afterwards, I wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that the wines had high levels of malic acidity in 2008 since I understand that this increases the scope for malolactic activity?  I didn’t ask Pinguet, so if you’ve got any thoughts, please let me know!

Some older Demi-secs

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-sec 2005 – Saffron, burnt honey and struck match to the nose which translates into a bit of wet wool on the palate.  There’s grapefruit and fresh cut tangy Coxes apples on the attack but it dumbs down a bit on the mid-palate – Pinguet says it’s quite closed now, retreating a little into its shell, which is not unusual at this stage.  13.11%, 21.4g/l, 4.3g/l

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-sec 2002 – I love this vintage and this is an exquisite example.  An enticing, fresh, lifted nose with some tufa (white porcini) and honey hints shows a very tight core of steely, almost smoky, grapefruit.  Long and persistent with a rich underbelly of honeyed fruit and chiselled minreals to finish.  Divine.  12.83%, 27.5g/l, 6.35g/l

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-sec 2000
– savoury tufa/white porcini notes with an intense saffron note.  Good freshness and balance, with mouthwatering white orchard fruits.  A limpid, long finish shows a burned honey/tatin edge to the fruit, with saffron, camomile and a steely undertow.  12.5%, 18g/l. 5.4g/l

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-sec 1988
– a lovely apple blossom lift to the nose with a lick of honey.  A crisp, very snappy orchard fruits palate with a delicate floral, honeyed quality shows a touch of orange peel spice on the finish. No shortage of freshness here, but it’s a little lacking length-wise.  13.4%, 14.8g/l, 5.4g/l

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-sec 1971
– a honeyed, peachy nose and richness to the tatin-edged palate well met with mouthwatering acidity.  Profoundly structured with a steely girder of acidity, this impressive wine still has plenty to give.   12.3%, 19.4g/l, 6.08g/l

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-sec 1962 – a deep gold hue, with a complex, developed nose and palate showing saffron, burned honey, biscuity notes, orange peel, spice and pith.  Lovely weight in the mouth, yet still very well-balanced with great intensity of flavour and length.  On song now but still a good few years under its belt.  13.02%, 26.4g/l, 6.45g/l

Vouvray Le Clos du Bourg Demi-sec 1957 – the nose shows acacia/beeswax, but there’s a remarkable applely freshness to the palate.  Persistent and long, it has mouthsluicing acidity to the finish and a smoky, steely green tea, gun flint character.  Powerful.  Figures not available.

Vouvray Le Haut Lieu Demi-sec 1949 – amber with a distinct patina of age to the nose with its calisson, saffron, buttermint and buttered apples.  In the mouth, it shows developed, complex flavours in a savoury spectrum (tarte tatin, burned honey, calisson/marzipan, a madelaine egginess), with enough acidity to linger.  But for me, it’s interesting rather than pleasurable.  12.74%, 66.8g/l, 6.22g/l   (Apparently, the second bottle showed better with a glowing review from Jancis Robinson).

Sarah Ahmed
The Wine Detective
16 September 2009

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