Deep in the Middle Loire, discover the secrets of Vouvray’s long-lived whites
Visiting the vineyards of Vouvray, a stone’s throw from the medieval city of Tours, feels like taking a journey back in time. They rise from the northern bank of the Loire and perch on a sheltered plateau of soft limestone called tuffeau. Ancient troglodyte dwellings are cut into the small tuffeau cliffs beneath the vines; some are used as wine cellars, while others have been converted into modern homes. There are even a few atmospheric troglodyte restaurants, where you can sip the wines beneath the vineyards where they grew.
Vouvray is a white wine made only from the chenin blanc grape – king of the Middle Loire’s white varieties. The weather here is notoriously variable, so vignerons produce a range of styles to reflect weather conditions during each vintage.
Perhaps ironically, the fashionable sparkling Vouvray, made by the traditional method, is favoured when weather is cool and variable, and when grapes must be picked early because of autumn rain. Years with grey skies and uneven ripening, like 2014, favour dry wines; while the warmer years with Indian summers make fine medium-dry (demi-sec) and sweet moelleux dessert wines. And in years like 2015, for instance, when the conditions are ideal for the development of noble rot, the most concentrated and sumptuous stickies are made.
A wine for all seasons
Sparkling Vouvray, which comes in both sec and demi-sec styles, offers delicious apple and brioche aromas combined with bracing, full flavours.
Dry Vouvray can be intensely mineral, and sometimes needs a few years to show its more flattering fruit flavours. Demi-sec is a riper style, made from later harvested grapes, with pear and quince aromas, while moelleux wines show exotic, candied fruits and, when noble rot occurs, intensely honeyed notes. The combination of fruit intensity and high acidity means the best sweet Vouvrays can age gracefully for many decades.
Most Vouvray is blended from various vineyards – an important option in an unpredictable climate – but Vouvray’s best sites, such as Le Mont, Le Haut Lieu, and Clos du Bourg, all owned by Domaine Huet, wear their names proudly on bottle labels. These are some of the finest, and age-worthy, white wines not just in the Loire Valley, but anywhere in France.
- Château Gaudrelle
Choice wine: Vouvray ‘L’Extra Brut’ NV (sparkling)
- Domaine Champalou
Choice wine: Vouvray demi-sec ‘Les Fondraux’ 2020
- Domaine Huet
Choice wine: Vouvray ‘Clos du Bourg’ Première Trie moelleux 2015
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : The Vouvray territory lies near Tours, in the Loire Valley © ODG Vouvray
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