I recently opened a couple of Vouvrays from the great Domaine Huet on consecutive evenings. These wines clearly illustrated the greatness of the wines of this famed domaine in the Loire Valley of France. Of course, Vouvray is 100% Chenin Blanc, and it comes in a range of sweetness levels. Both of the bottles I had recently were designated "sec", or dry. In Vouvray, "sec" does not necessarily mean bone-dry, and the versions from Huet generally are not, at least not when tasted in their youth. The sweetness of each of these wines was so subtle, though, that it was barely noticeable, and served as a minimal yet adequate buffer against the serious amounts of acids that these wines contain. The two bottles were from two different vineyards and, more interestingly, from vintages that were 14 years apart. Here are some brief impressions of each one:
1996 Domaine Huet Le Mont Sec Vouvray: This wine was really firing on all cylinders. It poured a beautiful golden color. It was at what for me was the perfect point in its maturity, having maintained a gorgeous sense of fruit that had become more dried than fresh in nature, but was intense enough to give the wine a great sense of livelihood. Specifically, I was getting dried apricot, dried apples, and a little dried tropical fruit, with still evident traces of fresh examples of all of those fruits as well.?Aromas beyond the fruit had intensified with age to the point where they were just preparing to take center stage in the next phase of the wine's life. There were scents reminiscent of wet wool (classic Chenin character that sounds weird to many people but tastes absolutely delicious to many of us), a little bit of dusty earth, and a faint hint of nuttiness. On the palate, the wine tasted bone-dry (wines with sweetness tend to taste more and more dry as they age), and the elements of the nose evolved nicely, with different characteristics being more prevalent at different times of the progression from attack to midpalate to finish. All the while, everything was underlined by a core of minerality like wet stones and steel. It seemed that with age, the wine had become much more broad and open in nature, and had probably picked up quite a bit of flavor intensity, which was far greater than that of the younger wines I have had from this domaine. This was a truly outstanding wine that I am happy to have had the pleasure of drinking.
2010 Domaine Huet Le Haut-Lieu Sec Vouvray: There are people out there who say it is pointless to open these wines at such a young age, but I have to say I disagree. This wine was so pretty and refreshing, it was just as joyous a drink, if a tad less complex and certainly less intensely flavored than its more mature sibling. What was there was said with a whisper, almost demanding attention due to the depth on which I had to really focus to completely grasp. There was subtle wool here, too, which was far overshadowed by an overriding sense of steely, metallic minerality that was like the frame on which the soft white and yellow floral tones were hanging, joined by subtle yellow apple, pear, and citrus. The mouthwatering, refreshing acidity was glorious, and made the tiny bit of sweetness almost seem like it wasn't there. I've compared some Rieslings to being outside on a beautiful spring day, and this wine had a similar kind of feel to it. I could have been chugging it if it weren't for the alcohol content. There was also what I can only describe as a tension to the wine, where it was pretty and delicate, yet having something of a rigid, ageworthy structure (my description of my use of the term "tension" is dreadfully inadequate, but it's the best I can come up with right now). I think this was also outstanding, and extremely pleasant not in spite of, but almost because of its youth. My wife even preferred this wine to the '96 we had the previous night.
I have read that Noël Pinguet, who had been making wine for and leading the estate since 1976, has resigned as of earlier this year. I don't know what the future will hold, and I hope the quality and style will remain the same, but we have no way of knowing what will happen until we get to try the wines from the coming vintages. For now, I am happy to have some bottles from the past couple of decades to drink and celebrate the consistently great wines that Huet has produced under his leadership. I don't know why Vouvray isn't more popular, but when I think about being able to get world-class, outstanding white wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared for decades, all for no more than $30 (our price for the 2010 Haut-Lieu Sec), I am kind of glad that it isn't. I am hard pressed to think of where else I can find wine of this caliber and aging potential for so little money. I am also happy that we were able to charge $55 for the 1996 Le Mont Sec, which had been cellared at the domaine until recently, ensuring perfect aging conditions. Sadly, there is no more (we do still have one bottle of '96 Le Haut Lieu Moelleux, a bit of a sweeter style), but at least I had my bottle. - April 2012