Wine Wanderings: Loire Valley Day 3 (Continued)
After Huet we just had time to squeeze in lunch at la Geule Noire, a nice farm-to-table in a cave carved out of tuffeau stone where the chef attempts to “fuse” Basque and the local Tourainaise cuisines (razor clams, pig’s snout, pig’s feet, veal with Serrano and Manchego, washed down with the local beer Noirette and a bottle of Pinon’s Silex Noir 2010). One of the best meals of our trip and highly recommended.
After lunch it was 50 meters up the road from Huet to the other Vouvray great, Philippe Foreau. Philippe’s vineyards share the same plateau as Huet’s, and Philippe started the visit by showing us around. This was interesting. Like driving along RN74 in the Cote d’Or, where you can look up at the golden slopes and suddenly the entire terroir of Burgundy makes sense to you, standing up on the plateau had the same effect, as it forms part of a clearly defined elevation of limestone that streaks along the Loire river perhaps a mile from its shores. Of course, the composition of the soils was less obvious, but Philippe was a wealth of knowledge in that regard, showing us where is the clay, where is the silex, etc., and having us smell different piles of dirt. Plus he showed us a pretty good cut-out where you could see a meter or two down into the terroir (see photo). We noted that Foreau’s own vineyards were dominated by silex, just like Huet’s Le Mont.
The tasting that followed was sensational. It started with the 2010 Sec ($32.99). The similarity with Huet’s Le Mont was obvious, as it had that same stony minerality, but here there was precise crystalline quality, perhaps because 2010 was a nervier vintage, perhaps because Foreau uses less residual sugar in his sec wines (2-3 grams instead of 5-8 grams at Huet).
A range of demi secs and Moelleux followed. Tasting with Philippe is a pleasure. He is clearly a great taster and has an amazing nose. He told us that everything he does in the wine-making process is by smell. He will keep using the same barrels over and over again – some are 50 years old – until they start to smell “off”. As we tasted, his keen nose identified note after note – saffron, clementine, whatever -- and each time he mentioned one, it would magically appear in my glass. The younger wines, he observed, smelled of pears and citrus, as the malic acid (never any malolactic fermentation for these wines) is not yet absorbed in the wines. Older wines showed more savory notes, but still delivered orange fruit and fresh seafood.
Philippe’s “notes” extended to giving us lengthy descriptions of ideal food pairings. As we sipped the 2005 demi sec (incredible wine, by the way) he would explain that it is best served with scallops, sliced just so, dressed with pepper from Madagascar (Vietnamese pepper won't do). At another point he wanted to match a wine with a particularly small variety of lemon from the Mediterranean, but as he could not recall its name, he had to settle on simply describing the wine as “elegant”. We did not have the pleasure of sharing a meal with Philippe, but it can’t be a bad thing.
Philippe very generously culminated the tasting by pulling for us one of his few remaining bottles of 1989 Moelleux 1er Trie Reserves. Yet another candidate for wine of the trip, this was one of the most pleasurable dessert wines I have ever sampled. It was Chenin all the way, but drinking it was akin to being served a series of 3 star desserts with waves of exciting flavors, each one seeming to show a different expression of the grape. Yes, Chenin is in the very top league of white wine grapes, and that 1989 is about as good as it gets.