“But surely red wine is better than white, no?”
So said the guy who fixes things around the house for me and, as I’ve learnt, happens to be a reader of these reviews (hello, Richard!).
It reminded me how in a recent conversation with a colleague we both admitted that with years we gravitate towards Old World wines and more often than red we tend to choose white wine. It is not that we deny success of New World wines that appeal to so many people. “The thing is that most of the time their stuff is too heavy and too much of the same thing – you become fed up with it,” – my colleague said, summarising our mutual feeling.
Since we are talking about change in tastes, I’ll share my little wine evolutionary theory. According to it, the majority of people start their acquaintance with wine with something red and sweet/medium-sweet. Then they try something more dry but still stay with reds. Later they make a step further, towards sweet/medium-sweet white, and in the end embrace dry white wine. Perhaps this is because dry white wine is the category which is more difficult to appreciate than other styles. Here you don’t have tannins, sugar or excessive alcohol – all the things that might be attractive in simple wines and distracting your attention from possible defects.
Dry white is the culmination of “wine appreciation evolution” also because of our natural tendency to choose sweet tastes and avoid sour. Thus, for example, in countries with developing wine consumption culture, customers often prefer sweet/off-dry wines – so do people in India and Asian countries (there part of the explanation also lies in hot spicy food that shapes perception of taste.) In order to appreciate white dry wines one has to learn to appreciate dry wines in general – which usually happens during the switch from sweet reds to dry reds, and then learn how to handle acidity.
That is not to say that dry white should be too acidic – acidity works like a balanced framework. The best dry whites are not heavy, but complex. There are no ways to hide faults in dry whites; you spot the trouble immediately, if it is there.
French whites for me are the argument to give an affirmative answer when someone asks whether wines from France are the best in the world.
Though for many people France is first and foremost associated with the glory of Bordeaux and Burgundy, for me the French whites make this country the queen of the wine world. You won’t find anywhere else on this planet such diversity of styles. Steely, austere Chablis, Sancerres that remind you of freshly cut grass, aromatic Rieslings from Alsace, honeyed creamy Condrieu, fresh as sea breeze Muscadets, elegant Champagnes and cheerful Cremants, golden luxurious Sauternes – all that within the same country, within a few hours of travel.
Sometimes you don’t even need to leave the region to try a white wine that’s completely different. From the same grape variety, in the same appellation, winemakers can produce dry, off-dry and sweet, light and sparkling wines as it is in case of Vouvray.
You want evidence? There we go – let’s take Vouvray’s Domaine Gaston Huet as an example. This is a producer with a reputation and admirable history. The winery was founded in 1928 by Victor Huet and since 1947 Mr Huet’s son Gaston managed the family domaine.
During the war, Gaston, one-time mayor of Vouvray, was a prisoner in a POW camp for almost 5 years. The story of how Huet managed to organise a wine party for fellow prisoners is described in Don and Petie Kladstrup’s book Wine and War. Recalling that wine celebration decades later, Huet said: “It saved our sanity: Talking about wine and sharing it made all of us feel closer to home and more alive. It was only a thimbleful but it was glorious and the best wine I ever drank.”
Rare wines can match this level of personal significance, but probably it is safe to say that the level of quality of Domaine Huet’s wines is above the wine Gaston Huet enjoyed in the camp. I like a lot their sparkling 2005 Vouvray Petillant, Cuvee Brut, Domaine Gaston Huet. This is 100% Chenin Blanc that can stand comparison with many Champagnes. If you like vintage Champagnes, you’ll enjoy the intense biscuity nose of this wine along with it’s fine mousse.
Let’s carry on with 2009 Vouvray Le Mont Sec, Domaine Gaston Huet. This wine is made from the grapes from Huet’s vineyard Le Mont, giving the best and mineral dry Vouvray. 2009 Vouvray Le Mont Sec proves how versatile Chenin Blanc can be. This grape variety is still in the shade of more famous white relatives. But well-made Chenin Blanc is worth your attention and money. It is a wine, attractive in its youth and able to age well. Now 2009 Vouvray Le Mont Sec displays the aromas of green apples, silky texture and harmoniuos aftertaste.
I’d be interested in re-tasting it in a couple of years time. Apart from more mineral Le Mont Sec, Domain Gaston Huet makes more accessible, but still very sympathetic Le Haut Lieu Sec.
And to finish on a sweet note we have 2008 Vouvray Le Mont Moelleux, 1er trie, Gaston Huet. The grapes come from the same vineyard, Le Mont. This medium-sweet wine is as warm as the 2009 vintage, with mellow flavours of apricots and honey, endless finish and a special magical effect of making you smile.
All the wines mentioned above are available from BBR.