LOIRE VINTAGE REPORT

Loire expert JIM BUDD takes a close look at 2002 – the best Loire vintage since 1997 – and recommends his top producers and their wines

The 2002 vintage in the Loire is surprisingly good. In classic Loire style, the fruit in the wines is well balanced by acidity. The reds have been attractive to drink early but promise to keep well. Overall, it is probably the best vintage since 1997.

Unfortunately, 2002 is all too likely to be overshadowed by the remarkable but highly atypical 2003 – the year of the heatwave and the earliest harvest since 1893. The 2003s have opulent fruit, often high alcohol and significantly lower acidity than normal. While good for some wines, it is less good for others.

The Loire vineyards stretch from Pouilly to the Atlantic, cover some 400km and host a considerable range of grape varieties. Consequently, it is common for some areas to fare better in some vintages than others. Happily, 2002 has been a successful vintage throughout the valley.

The year started off promisingly enough with a fine April and no frost. But the weather for the flowering in June was not favourable, causing problems with the fruit set, and reducing the crop by 15–20%. This in itself is not necessarily bad as, although the best producers limit their yields rigorously, there are still too many who allow the vines to produce substantially over the appellation limits. July and August were very variable, with a few hot spells alternated by cool, wet weather. The grapes were less advanced than usual at this stage, and by the end of August, Loire producers were decidedly glum. A late harvest is inevitably more risky here with the arrival of cooler, shorter days and the threat of poor weather. Prospects for the approaching vintage did not look good.

After further rain in the first week of September, though, all changed. The wind moved to the east and four glorious weeks of fine, warm weather ensued. This allowed the grapes to ripen, avoided rot and the drying east wind helped to concentrate the juice. The smaller than usual crop ensured the grapes ripened quickly.

Muscadet

‘We were very spoilt in September,’ says Pierre Luneau, of Domaine Luneau-Papin in Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine. ‘Because of the fine weather, we were able to wait until the grapes were perfectly ripe.’ Luneau makes a number of different cuvées, according to his different terroirs, including his fabulous Clos des Allées.

Many people think that Muscadet needs to be drunk as young as possible. Although this is true for basic Muscadet, it is not so for well-made sur lie wines. In good vintages like 2002, these will keep at least 10 years and gain complexity with age. The 2002s are drinking well now with some good, round fruit and a backbone of acidity.

Louis Métaireau has long been one of the best Muscadet producers. Its Grand Mouton 2002 is well-made Muscadet, with the telltale slight prickle of CO2 at the back of the throat. In contrast, Petit Mouton 2002, made from younger vines, is lighter and more citric and would be good with oysters. Also showing well is Château de la Botinière from Jean Beauquin.

Domaine Luneau-Papin, Clos des Allées, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ****

Mid-lemon with a touch of green, minerally on the nose and palate, with good length and a prickle of carbon-dioxide on the finish. Up to 2008.

£5.60; CPy, RSJ

Anjou-Saumur

2002 is successful across the whole range of Anjou, Saumur and western Touraine, from dry white to sweet as well as the reds. Although the quality of the sweet wines of Anjou has improved dramatically over the past 15 years, sadly they remain very difficult to sell – even aficionados only drink small quantities over a year.

Inevitably, some growers are reducing the amount of sweet wine they make in favour of dry white. At Château de Fesles, Bernard Germain now uses the La Chapelle name that was once used for the property’s top Bonnezeaux for its dry, barrel-fermented Anjou Blanc. Made from 100% Chenin, the 2002 has good structure with a touch of honey and crisp acidity. Also in the Layon Valley, Jo Pithon, once the leader of super-concentrated sweet wines, has had to focus on dry whites. His Les Pépinières has both rich fruit and finesse.

The dry whites can be drunk over the next five years, while the sweet wines can be enjoyed now but should keep for several decades. The easier-drinking red wines have been attractive since they were first bottled. The more structured cuvées will repay keeping as this is probably the best red vintage since 1996.

Domaine de Closel, Les Coteaux, Savennières ****

Mid-lemon colour, lightly floral on nose, and typically steely and minerally on palate. Delicate with good length. Up to 2015. Yap (earlier vintages)

Domaine de St Just, La Coulée de St Cyr ***

A full-flavoured, barrel-fermented Saumur, the 2002 is more vibrant than the decidedly rich 2001. 2006–2012 N/A UK; +33 2 41 51 62 01

Domaine Ogereau, Anjou Rouge ***

Quite structured wine but with soft tannins, showing violets and black fruits. Up to 2007.

£6.29; CPy

Touraine

In both Vouvray and Montlouis – unlike 2003 when there was a preponderance of sweet wines made – 2002 saw the full range, from sec to moelleux. The wines have very good definition of fruit and balancing acidity. Some are now entering Chenin’s customary dumb stage that usually occurs around two years after the harvest, but they have a very good ageing potential.

After months of rumour and negotiation, Domaine Huet, the leading estate of Vouvray, was sold in June 2003 to Tokaji winemaker István Szepsy and Chinese-American financier Anthony Hwang. They now hold 80% of the 35ha estate, with Noël Pinguet, son-in-law of the late Gaston Huet, holding the remaining 20%. Pinguet has made the wines since 1976, and has been given a free hand by fellow shareholders to do whatever is necessary to improve on the estate’s already high standards.

Although not as rich as its 2003s, the Huet 2002s are very fine. At a recent tasting I was very impressed with Le Mont Demi-Sec and the Clos du Bourg 1er Tri Moelleux. Other fine 2002 Vouvrays include the Clos du Portail from Didier and Catherine Champalou.

Just before the start of the 2002 vintage, Jacky Blot of Domaine aux Taille aux Loups, Montlouis’ leading producer, bought Domaine de la Butte, a 14ha property on the coteaux of Bourgueil. Blot is making three cuvées according to the part of the slope from which the grapes come. Le Pied de la Butte is the lightest, with an emphasis on fruit, then there is Le Haut de la Butte, and the Mi-Pente is Blot’s most structured and concentrated cuvée, spending 18 months in barrique. Despite Blot only taking over just before the start of the vintage, the 2002s indicate the property’s potential.

In the nearby appellation of St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Joël Taluau made some very successful wines in 2002. Yapp Brothers will have the Domaine (£9.95 – currently 2000) later in the year, and the Vieilles Vignes when it is released. Yapp also has the full range of wines from Domaine Filliatreau in Saumur Champigny, including the Domaine (£8.50) and the Vieilles Vignes (£11.75).

During 2003, the Baudry family of Domaine de la Perrière in Chinon teamed up with a fellow estate – Domaine de la Roncée – to create a joint administrative and commercial structure, although the two will continue to vinify their own wines. Baudry’s cousin Philippe Alliet continues to be Chinon’s most impressive producer. His Vieilles Vignes and Coteaux de Noiré are especially good. Unfortunately, quantities are decidedly limited.

In eastern Touraine there are a growing number of very interesting producers in the Cher Valley to the east of the pretty little market town of Montrichard. The Clos Roche Blanche (Mareuil-sur-Cher), run by Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet, has been making exceptional Touraine wines since the 1980s. Barouillet, in particular, has become something of a local guru, inspiring producers like Jean-François Mérieau of Domaine Bois Vaudons (St-Julien de Chedon), Jérôme and Dominique Sauvète of Domaine Sauvète (Monthou-sur-Cher) and Vincent Ricard of Domaine Ricard (Thesée). Of particular interest is its work on differing styles of Sauvignon Blanc with varying degrees of ripeness and picking dates.

Vincent Ricard has 17ha (hectares), of which 14 are planted with Sauvignon Blanc. His grandfather was one of the founders of the Oisly et Thesée cooperative and his father continued to send his grapes to Oisly. Ricard has now left the cooperative and makes his own range of individual Sauvignon Blancs. The rich and mineral Trois Chênes

2002 comes from 30-year-old vines with a yield of 30 hl/ha. Cuvée Armand was picked at the beginning of October at 15.5% potential alcohol and has 20g of residual sugar.

L’Effrontée was not picked until 12 November. The yield was just 9 hl/ha, giving a rich and sweet, concentrated wine. Sadly Ricard does not currently have a UK importer – more evidence that UK buyers’ obsession with price means that few of the most interesting European wines are available here.

Touraine AC wines, on the other hand, are plagued by the perception that these wines have to be drunk as young as possible. ‘Everyone wants the latest vintage,’ says Jean-François Mérieau, ‘but we need time to let wines develop before they are bottled. By the end of December 2003, people will want the 2004.’

Right at the eastern limit of the Touraine appellation is the 62ha estate of Henry Marionnet at Soings. Over the last decade Marionnet has become increasingly interested in ungrafted vines; in particular, ungrafted versions of local varieties. Of his 62ha there are 5.3ha ungrafted. This includes a small plot of Romarantin vines that are around 150 years old. This variety is more usually found in the nearby appellation of Cour-Cheverny.

Marionnet also has ungrafted Côt (the local name for Malbec), Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay. He is now convinced that there is a significant difference between the quality of the fruit from ungrafted and grafted vines. ‘Wine from ungrafted vines is better,’ he says unequivocally. Ungrafted gives more colour, is more aromatic, richer in sugar and has more body. It is, however, more difficult to vinify, as the wine rarely ferments to dry. Marionnet still has some of the ungrafted Côt 2002 available, although the rest of his wines have moved on to the next vintage.

Domaine Huet, Clos de Bourg,

Moelleux 1er Tri, Vouvray *****

Light gold, rich honeyed fruit with wonderful balance, length and acidity. Still very youthful, it will age for decades. Up to 2070+. £28.95–29.20; BBR, Rei

Domaine Champalou,

Clos du Portail, Vouvray ****

With its mid-lemon colour, quince and a hint of truffle on nose, it’s a quite mouthfilling wine with vibrant length. Will benefit from keeping a couple of years before drinking. 2006–2014+. £11.50; CPy

Domaine Huet, Le Mont, Demi-Sec ****

Mid-yellow colour, marvellous balance of

minerally fruit and acidity and a long finish. Up to 2040. £16.95; BgW

Vignobles des Bois Vaudons, Coeur de Roche 2002 ****

Mid-lemon colour, rich fruit on nose and palate – apricot, grapefruit – plus good texture and length, along with sufficient acidity to refresh the palate. N/A UK. Tel: +33 2 54 32 14 23

Domaine de la Butte, Haut de la Butte, Bourgeuil ***

Shows a quite dense mid-plum colour, a ripe plum and blackberry nose and palate with medium structure. It can be drunk now but will improve over the next 2–5 years. £12.54; Adn

Domaine de la Perrière,

Vieilles Vignes, Chinon ***

Still youthfully purple, with a sooty Cabernet Franc nose, good blackberry fruit on palate, and some structure and length. Up to 2010. £8.85; RSJ

EASTERN LOIRE

Although many of the 2002 Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumés will now have been drunk, those that remain, especially the top cuvées, should keep well for at least the next four or five years.

One of the most attractive properties in Sancerre and Pouilly is the Château de

Tracy. The Estutt d’Assay family has owned the property since 1396, and it is set in parkland with views down to the Loire. Tracy’s Pouilly is among the best but needs some time to evolve.

Other successful 2002 Pouilly Fumés include two currently stocked by Marks & Spencer: Château Favray (£9.99) from St Martin-sur-Nohan at the north eastern end of the appellation and Domaine Chatelain (£9.99) from the hamlet of les Berthiers below St Andelain. Across the river in Sancerre Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy produces high-quality wines. Haynes Hanson & Clark has its Vieilles Vignes 2002 at £10.20.

Château de Tracy, Pouilly-Fumé 2002 ****

A classic Loire combination of fruit and balancing acidity, Still quite closed on nose and palate but with mineral backbone and vibrant acidity, it is likely to take on more weight over the next 6–12 months. Up to 2008. £13.25–14.25; Bls, Jer

Jim Budd runs wine investment website www.investdrinks.org, and is an expert on the wines of the Loire. He is author of Great Wine Tours of the World (£29.99, New Holland).