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Wine Wanderings: Loire Valley Day 3

Day 3 would turn out to be our longest day, and the five hours of sleep after numerous bottles of wine was not ideal preparation.  Still, we managed to pile into the car early enough to arrive in Vouvray only 20 minutes late for our appointment at Domaine Huet.

Huet (go on, pronounce that “t” as the locals do:  hoo-ett) is one of the great names in France, and is perhaps the greatest name in the Loire.  These are hallowed grounds for us, and it was with great excitement that we climbed down into the ancient cellars for a tour.  OK, we have seen some pretty amazing cellars in our time – Lopez de Heredia comes to mind – but this one had some firsts for us.  The cellar is directly beneath Huet’s top (in my opinion) vineyard, Le Mont, and you can see the roots from the old vines poking through the ceilings and climbing down the rocks out of which the cellar was carved (see the photo at the end).  We were literally inside the terroir of Le Mont, and it was a fun place to get lost among the old tunnels, stumbling across ancient bottles of Vouvray.

Huet's wine cellar beneath Le Mont.

We started the tasting with Huet’s bubbly wines – my absolute favorite sparkling wines outside of Champagne, and often the rival of many top Champagnes.  The highlight here was the 1998 Reserve, beautifully-aged bubbly-Chenin bliss – so good that our friend Andrew promptly bought six of the few bottles that remain at the domaine.

Unlike the sparklers, Huet’s still wines are all made from single vineyards, Le Haut Lieu, Le Mont and Clos de Bourg.  We started with a horizontal of the 2011 Sec bottlings to see up close the different expressions of Chenin.  Le Haut Lieu (clay soils) was nervy and oniony with pear and citrus.  Clos de Bourg (limestone and clay) was much more broad-shouldered, and the small amount of residual sugar seemed more pronounced.  Le Mont (silex) was somewhere in between in terms of breadth, but it had a firm stoniness, especially on the finish, that I came to associate with silex soils by the end of my tastings in Vouvray.

The wines were all tasty, the terroir clear, but in case anyone isn’t aware, these are wines that are meant to be aged, and they were nowhere close to fully expressing themselves.  We drank a bottle of the 2001 Le Mont Sec a few days later in Paris, and it was actually one of the best wines tasted on the trip!  (We liked it so much we suitcased home a bottle to share with everyone at the shop, but it turned out to be corked.)

After the secs came a range of sweet wines, with lots of different vintages and vineyards of the Demi-Sec, Moelleux, and 1er Trie, finishing with the 2003 Cuvee Constance.  Lots of great stuff here, and I’ll just mention a couple of highlights.  The 2007 Haut Lieu demi-sec was in a great place, showing lots of sea shells and a sweetness that was perfectly balanced with sizzling acidity.  The 2003 Le Mont Moelleux was surprisingly good for such a tough, low acid vintage, showing to me lots of unexpected freshness.  The 2008  Clos de Bourg 1er Trie was an incredible wine that just popped with delicious Chenin sweetness.  The acidity was good, even though it was one of very few of Huet’s wines to have undergone malolactic fermentation.  The 2003 Cuvee Constance was impressive, for sure, but I sadly found it too marked by the canicule (heat wave) of the vintage, unlike the Le Mont mentioned above.

There has been lots of talk about the change of wine-makers at Huet, and we were given lots of assurances that nothing is going to change.  It’s too early to tell, of course, but the veneration of tradition at the domaine could not be clearer – both from our discussions with Sarah Hwang and from the way the domaine and its wines were presented to us -- so I am very optimistic.

Le Mont's roots poking through into the wine cellar.