There’s no place like home for no­blest of va­ri­eties

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

PINOT noir and neb­bi­olo are no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult va­ri­eties to ca­jole into great, even good, wines away from their re­spec­tive birth­places of Bur­gundy in France and Pied­mont in Italy. Ev­ery now and then scat­tered places are dis­cov­ered across the world where they per­form well, but they are the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule, and over­all plant­ings re­main small.

There is an­other variety that is planted widely in places as di­verse as South Africa, Cal­i­for­nia, Aus­tralia and many other coun­tries that might lead you to be­lieve it is a happy trav­eller away from its birth­place in France’s Loire Val­ley, but noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

Only in the Loire Val­ley does chenin blanc make great wine of vary­ing style and char­ac­ter across five re­gions: Vou­vray, Mont­louis, An­jou, Bon­nezeaux and Quarts de Chaume.

The uni­fy­ing fea­tures are the tremen­dous per­son­al­ity and in­ten­sity of the good ex­am­ples (of which there are many) and the ex­tra­or­di­nary longevity of the wines.

Th­ese days Do­maine Huet is un­chal­lenged as the finest pro­ducer in Vou­vray, it­self the most im­por­tant re­gion in the Loire. For the past 30 years it has been man­aged by Noel Pinguet, the sonin-law of co-founder Gas­ton Huet, his orig­i­nal qual­i­fi­ca­tion as a math­e­ma­ti­cian be­ing of in­ter­est be­cause he was re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing the vine­yards into full bio­dy­namic sta­tus by 1990.

His in­tel­lec­tual rigour en­sured that 1ha (of the to­tal 35ha) was con­verted to bio­dy­namic sta­tus for sev­eral years of com­par­i­son be­fore he was con­vinced of the ben­e­fits and took three of the best es­tate vine­yards down the same track.

Those vine­yards are Le Haut-Lieu, 9ha on very deep soil with pre­dom­i­nantly brown clay, pro­duc­ing what Pinguet de­scribes as sup­ple wines. Le Mont, 8ha on ideal slopes, with stony soil of green clay and sil­ica, gives el­e­gant and fem­i­nine wines.

The third is Le Clos du Bourg, a 6ha block sur­rounded by stone walls dat­ing back to the 7th cen­tury. Here the soil is only 1m deep, sit­ting on top of in­ac­tive lime­stone rock; the wines it pro­duces are pow­er­ful and struc­tured.

At a re­cent tast­ing in Melbourne hosted by Pinguet, the dif­fer­ences be­tween the 2006 Le Haut-Lieu sec, def­i­nitely rounder and softer, and the 2006 Le Mont sec, with more min­er­al­ity and struc­ture and aro­mas of wild flow­ers and honey, were plain to see.

Pinguet says there is no doubt the dif­fer­ences be­tween the sites have be­come greater since the adop­tion of bio­dy­namic prac­tices.

In the same bracket as the 2006 wines was a 1946 Le Haut-Lieu sec, still as fresh as a daisy, the fin­ish with the elec­tric, lemony-min­er­ally acid­ity that is the hall­mark of Loire chenin blanc and the prin­ci­pal rea­son for its longevity. The next bracket in­cluded a ’ 90 Le Haut-Lieu, deep orange-bronze in colour, with wave upon wave of flavour and a dis­tinct lift of volatil­ity, and an ’ 89 Le Mont Moelleux, bril­liant yel­low-green, a stark con­trast, with ex­cep­tional struc­ture, not yet very com­plex but with decades of im­prove­ment in front of it. The dif­fer­ence is due to botry­tis, ex­ten­sive in 1990 and largely ab­sent in 1989.

Pinguet is philo­soph­i­cal about the role of botry­tis: it pro­duces a dif­fer­ent style, but the most classical wines, rang­ing from sec through demi-sec to moelleux, are made from late-har­vest grapes that have par­tially shriv­elled. Th­ese wines take longer to ex­press them­selves than those af­fected by botry­tis.

The fi­nal bracket was a roller-coaster ride from ’ 45, ’ 47, ’ 71 and ’ 05, grouped to­gether in that or­der be­cause they were (the­o­ret­i­cally) in as­cend­ing or­der of sweet­ness. Pinguet sug­gested we com­mence with the ’ 71, be­cause of its very high acid­ity (about 10g a litre), and there ap­peared to be a la­belling prob­lem with the ’ 45, which was in fact dry, not sweet.

This left the ’ 47 Haut-Lieu Moelleux and the ’ 05 Cu­vee Con­stance in play. The ’ 47 (in a 750ml bot­tle), from the most cel­e­brated vin­tage since ’ 21, will re­tail for more than $2000 a bot­tle, which is not that much more than the price of Chateau d’Yquem from 2001, and you don’t have to wait 54 more years for it to reach peak ma­tu­rity.

More­over, in a cover story in 2004 in De­canter mag­a­zine on ‘‘ the 100 wines you must drink be­fore you die’’, it ranked sixth, one place in front of the leg­endary 1962 Pen­folds Bin 60A. As for the ’ 05 Cu­vee Con­stance, it is fea­tured in FromtheRe­gion .

www.winecom­pan­ion.com.au

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