Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon vertical (1953-2003)
Vignobles Touchais is steeped in history. Founded in 1787, the Doué-la-Fontaine-based Loire producer has been in the Touchais family for several generations.
While the packaging of its most famous wine, Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon (a sweet Chenin Blanc), may have changed to suit the market (it was labelled Anjou in England because Anjou was better known), the wine itself has changed little. It’s a good old-fashioned, unoaked moelleux, softly and smoothly sweet rather than super-concentrated and unctuous, which is rather more fashionable these days.
Grapes are harvested late, but are golden and generally not botrytised – this is not a Sélection de Grains Nobles (with over 300g/l of residual sugar, the richest style of Coteaux du Layon, which must include botrytised grapes). In fact the first pick, around 20% of the crop, takes place quite early (around 90 days after flowering, the balance being harvested after 120 days), which explains Moulin Touchais’ fresh style. Moulin Touchais’ average residual sugar hovers between 80-90g/l.
Only the cream of the crop, representing 35ha out of Moulin Touchais’ total holding of 150ha (which is located mostly between the communes of Martigné-Briand and Tigné) goes into Coteaux du Layon and only the best cuvee goes into Moulin Touchais. The rest is sold in bulk to sparkling companies in nearby Saumur.
The wine is naturally fermented, a temperature-controlled cool ferment, in concrete, epoxy-lined tanks and bottled (curiously in 73cl bottles) in April following vintage. Moulin Touchais sees no oak. Since the 1950s, it has been kept a minimum of 10 years in the cellar before being released for sale.
With sweet wines, relatively high sulphur levels aid preservation (as well as stopping wines from re-fermenting). In the past, Loire producers have been heavily criticised for excessive use of this anti-oxidant, which can mar a wine with struck match notes and worse. According to Frederik Wilbrenninck of Moulin Touchais, in line with current trends, sulphur additions are significantly lower these days. Apart from one vintage (1994), I was not troubled by it.
As you’ll see from my notes below the most recent vintages, especially the 2003 and 2002, showed very well. Save for 1990, vintage conditions made for some rather undistinguished wines in the early 90s, while the early 80s seemed a low ebb – the wines were awash with faults. The 70s, 60s & 50s however proved fertile ground, with some lovely wines.
The tasting was presented by Frederik Wilbrenninck of Moulin Touchais and Loire/Chenin nut Richard Kelley MW of newly appointed UK importers, Awin Barratt Siegel.
Flight 1: The Noughties
Moulin Touchais 2003 (release set for January 2013)
This year was a heatwave vintage – the hottest summer on record in Europe since at least 1540, with 14,802 heat-related deaths in France. I vividly recall visiting Coteaux du Layon in August. By the time I got back to where I was staying, just 40 minutes away, corks were already syrupily easing their way out of the bottles! In the circs, this wine is a triumph of balance. Exceptionally (surprisingly) well-modulated of delivery, a sweet, silkily smooth, honeyed palate unravels notes of barley sugar, ripe apricot and roasted peach with delicious marzipan/calisson nuances and a teeny tiny hint of struck match. With delightful balancing freshness, it’s sleek and not in the least gras, though ampler than many of the other wines shown. Jean-Marie Touchais reckons this will be very long-lived given its concentration of fruit and balance. Quite lovely – really impressed by the balance here.
Moulin Touchais 2002
Lighter in colour than the 2003 with green glints, this is from one of my favourite Loire vintages – renowned for its fabulous acid/sugar balance. The 2002 is much more perfumed than the 2003, with floral camomile and white blossom lift. In the mouth, it’s prettily, subtly persistent with delicate but concentrated honeydew melon, sweet mandarin citrus notes, jasmine, dried honey and super fine caramel notes. Very long, fine and lifted, with a bright but seamlessly integrated beam of acidity. Gorgeous.
Moulin Touchais 2001
This vintage is spicier, showing saffron and orange peel notes as well as fleshier, slightly syrupy mandarin; hints of wet wool too. It seems more than a year or two older than the 2002 and 2003 – less pure – but is no less enjoyable for that. Rich with good balancing acidity, there’s a touch of warmth to the (quite long) finish. Satisfying depth with complexity.
Moulin Touchais 2000
The pithy spicy orange peel factor rachets up a notch here as do other developed notes on a nutty, beeswaxy, raisiny palate with an earthy edge to finish. Shorter and less well balanced than the other noughties’ wines. My least favourite of the flight.
Flight 2 – The Late Nineties
Moulin Touchais 1999
Lots to like here already. A honeycombe/cinder toffee nose with spicy, earthy cassia bark leads onto a palate with lovely concentration and mid-palate richness. A lingering finish is delicately nuanced with pineapple, star anise, orange peel and saffron. Lovely intensity and balance.
Moulin Touchais 1998
This seems knocked back – query reduced or just dilute? I pick up a touch of mouldy orange skin and lanolin in addition to fleshy white peach. Not great.
Moulin Touchais 1997
A hot vintage and boy does it show. This is a feast of a wine, wine as dessert not dessert wine! It’s a deep golden hue, the nose intensely honeyed with ripe apricot which follows through on an opulent palate crammed with pineapple, white sultanas and white and yellow peaches ‘n cream – a real lick of vanilla, even though this wine is unoaked?!? Fresh underlying acidity carries a very long, persistent finish with a hint of earthiness showing at the very end. Very good and very youthful.
Moulin Touchais 1996
Another hot year, though I’ve always found the 1996s firmer of structure, just like this fabulous wine. It combines wonderfully ripe bruléed roast apricot, yellow peach and white currant fruit with spicier saffron, cassia bark and orange peel notes. Long, pithy and firmly structured, with terrific fresh, still tight acidity, a compelling finish reverberates. Fabulous.
Moulin Touchais 1995 (limited availability)
An earthy porcini quality to the nose also pervades the palate and, unless you’re into savoury, detracts from the peachy, barely-sugar lifted palate. Lively acidity makes for good persistence; shame about the lack of purity.
Flight 3 – The Early Nineties
Moulin Touchais 1994
I find the sulphur on this wine glancing, making it hard to penetrate the sweet and sour pineapple chunks fruit for wet wool and struck match. Not keen.
Moulin Touchais 1992
I sense a greenness to nose and palate – unripe apricot and, in the mouth, the acidity is knifey without being tart, the fruit dilute.
Moulin Touchais 1991
A medicinal/Angostura bitters nose and palate with herbaceous coltfoot and bitter, phenolic, mouldy orange peel and earth notes. Poor.
Moulin Touchais 1990 (not available)
The following vintages must have been a shock after the high five 1990 and 1989 vintages. This, the 1990, is correspondingly a much deeper hue than the younger wines from this flight. Like the 1997, it has a creaminess, here segueing into a licorous, glycerol quality that makes for a dangerously slippery wine. Caramelised peach and apricot fruit with a hint of sugar-singed brulee mingles with calisson, dried honey and butterscotch notes. Long and deliciously on song now; perhaps lacks the acidity to be truly great.
Flight 4 – The Late Eighties
Moulin Touchais 1988 (not available)
Though lively acidity makes for a persistent finish, this has an earthy porcini and phenolic quality which detracts from its freshness and purity. Shame because the cassia bark/sweet cinnamon edged pear fruit is attractive.
Moulin Touchais 1987 (not available)
Moulin Touchais 1986
Surprisingly youthful, intense, focused and quite exotic with buttermint, lemon grass, papaya, sweet, creamy but zesty lemon (think lemon tart) too – toothsomely sweet and a little one note, but with good acidity to drive through the flavours.
Moulin Touchais 1985
Deep antique gold with dried herb edged and honeyed roasted apricot and peaches to nose and palate; a poached pear coolness and silkiness too in the mouth. Though there’s some calvados lift to the finish, gently rolling ripe orangey acidity teases out a long, complex finish. I liked this much more than others who found it a touch warm.
Flight 5 – The Early Eighties
Moulin Touchais 1984
Deep gold and, on the nose and in the mouth, high toned and slippery, with bruised brown apples, honey and caramel and an orange peel pithy intensity which helps ground it a little. Flavoursome and enjoyable, if lacking the palate presence of the best.
Moulin Touchais 1982
Out of condition, this wreaked of Sarsons malt vinegar!
Moulin Touchais 1981 (not available)
Deep amber. A dirty, bitter, phenolic palate shows nutty rancio characters. Edgey and off.
Moulin Touchais 1980
Flight 6 – The Seventies
Moulin Touchais 1979
There’s an earthy porcini note to nose and palate. This seems well ripe with bruléed, honeyed, roast apricot fruit; though lacking a little freshness, verve and purity, it’s enjoyable nonetheless. Drink up.
Moulin Touchais 1976 (not available)
This wine has the original labels (the others being museum releases). There’s an acetic, v.a. edge and slipperiness to this which makes for a rush of calvados and buttered apple flavours. The finish has a smoky, nutty, ozony (think Manzanilla) nuttiness. Quite like it anyway, but drink up.
Moulin Touchais 1975
Though it has a core of ripe roast peach fruit and an intriguing sweet ‘n savoury salted limes note, volatile acidity seemingly nips away at it, shortening the finish which I found quite shrill/biting in terms of acidity.
Moulin Touchais 1971
Very calvadossy, which spirits away the high toned applely fruit, yet there’s a penetrating and attractive salty, nutty edge to this and, beneath, a still concentrated core of syrupy, peach fruit. By no means perfect, but again, I quite like it anyway and, with more depth and purity than the 76 (or at least our bottle of 76), I reckon it will last longer.
Flight 7 – The Sixties and Fifties
Moulin Touchais 1969 (not available)
Surprisingly pale golden yellow (high sulphur?). Corked.
Moulin Touchais 1964 (not available)
Deeper yellow gold in hue and super-nutty and sweet, with its peanut brittle nose. The sweet, sour and savoury characters follow through on a lively palate, not just peanut brittle but also salted limes, lemon tart and spicy orange peel. Very toothsome, so has the sugar to balance the acidity. Good length too. Animated – a real tongue twister of a wine. Very good.
Moulin Touchais 1961 (not available)
Deep gold with a pungent nose and palate, showing fenugreek, saffron, angostura bitters, struck match and still youthful pink grapefruity acidity. Shame I find the flavours forceful but not attractive.
Moulin Touchais 1959 (not available)
A fishy, nam pla, kelpy nose and palate with an almondy, orange peel paneforte core. Though it’s persistent and long and holds its structure well I’d not have guessed it was a Chenin – it actually put me in mind of aged Madeira….
Moulin Touchais 1953 (not available)
A deep amber hue, with a slightly woody, deeply nutty nose with more than a hint of mouldy orange peel. In the mouth it’s much more attractive (not hard, it’s true!). The nuttiness follows through together with rich eggy Madeline notes, orange peel and salted limes. The balance is a little awry but it still holds interest and delivers some pleasure. Not bad after nearly 60 years!
The Wine Detective
(Wines tasted 7 September 2012)