Lye, Touraine (Loire)
This is a good time of the year to taste wines, especially when the winemaker keeps parcel batches separated and they haven't been blended yet or racked. For that you need to have many containers and vats of different sizes, and be open to experimenting and listening to what each parcel can yield in terms of expression, which is the case at André Fouassier in Touraine. I suddenly remembered that and paid him a visit to taste casually a few of his wines while these different batches are still maturing in their separate vats, coming out slowly from their relative winter sleep. I tasted great wines at this stage on a similar visits, I remember a lovely Côt for example with a divinely light color and an almost silky throat feel. See by yourself (almost at the bottom of the page) on this wine-news story published june 2015 (the actual tasting of this Côt was probably in march or april) with the color of this Côt being a proof by itself. What I like at his place is that he's keeping such a high number of batches fermenting on their side. André's wine farm is the typical surface facility which you find when there's no underground cellar nearby, the vats are spread out in several rooms and barns with thick walls which are doing a good job to soften to a certain extent the temperature swings.
Asked about the 2015 if he had lower yields than usual, André says that his yields were relatively low like usual, he made 1000 hectoliters total from his overall 25-hectare surface, which makes 40 hectoliters/hectare, some parcels giving more and some less. His parcels are spread between two villages, Chabris and Lye, the terroirs being either under the Valençay AOC or Touraine. I read somewhere that the maximum yields for Valençay reds is 65 ho/ha and for whites 68 ho/ha.
But before going to the vats in the outbuildings André wanted me to taste a couple of bottles :
__ Menu Pineau 2014, that's just a very small batch, a small 200-liter tank (not bottled yet). This wine was made from a parcel where he let the grapes hanging very late in the season, picking them in december when it was beginning to freeze. It stayed on its lees very long, nothing added. The wine has a very high acidity. Interesting wine, it's dry he says but the alcohol is high, although I don't feel it that much. He says the skin had frozen but not the inside of the grape and they had picked before colder nights settled in. And 2 days later all the grapeswould have fallen. He picked the small parcel with his parents and his brother. He says Menu Pineau (also named Arbois) is a late-ripening variety with which you can do such experiments.
__ Menu Pineau 2013, this one is bottled but he doesn't sell it yet, he put the wine on the side waiting when he feels it to be ready. This time the harvest here took place in october. He usually used these almost-50-year-old menu-pineau vines for his sparkling but here again he wanted to see how they'd do for a still wine. He has close to 1,5 hectare of menu pineau overall, in two locations. The aromas are something like dry apricot. André says that the great thing about this wine is that it has a high natural acidity and that it will age well. In the mouth I don't feel any unusual acidity, the wine is balanced with a nice coating feel on the palate. The wine is filtered and fined. He doesn't know yet the retail price at the domaine, probably around 5 or 6 € he says.
__ Menu Pineau 2013, same vintage but from grapes picked one month and a half later, when frost had made the leaves fall, leaving only the grapes on the vines. He had left this parcel unpicked because the fruit load was low and there was no rot threat, so he could afford a late-picking try. He says these Menu Pineau resist quite well to rot, in part because the vines are 50 and the grape load is smaller (this variety has otherwise tightly-packed clusters that are prone to rot). This wine has more character but still this smoothnessin and unctuousness the mouth with some length with a bitterness side. He adds SO2 before bottling here, his mùenu pineau being the base wine for his sparkling he uses no SO2 during the vinification. Should age well also he says.
__ Surprise bottle of white with a color darker than usual : some reduction on the nose, in the mouth very acidic, very vivid and at the same time quite round. This is a Menu Pineau 1985 made by his father, unfiltered but fined. Interesting old vintage of menu pineau, it's not passed its peak, stands well the years (and it was stored in a surface cellar, one of these thick-wall buildings with dirt floor). Of course the vines were younger and the yields were much higher. You'll find nowhere around here a Menu Pineau from these years, it's a rare document.
__ Valencay white Vieilles Vignes 2015, this is the bottle above, I forgot to take a shot of the label. Nose : elderflower notes prominent, I ask if it's the sauvignon part of the blend that is behind that (this is a blend of 70 % sauvignon, 20 % chardonnay and 10 % menu pineau) and he says yes. There is indeed a Sauvignon feel in this nose, and in the mouth it's pleasantly aromatic. He opened the bottle the day before and says it was more sauvignon than sureau then. Vinified mostly with indigenous yeast, he tried a vat with lab yeast just to see, it was night and day, the wild yeast yielded a much livelier result. He blended all the different vats and the o,ne with the lab yeast was only 25 hectoliters for a total volume of 360 hectoliters for this cuvée, so the try didn't really impact the wine. The wine makes 12,5 % to 13 % in alcohol but the chardonnay was powerful in 2015, reaching easily 14 %. The chardonnay part was late to finish its fermentation and it got some volatile on it, he still put the batch in the blend and says it brings a nice vividness to the whole.
The first vat room we walk too in this wine farm was in its former life full of goat cheese prepared by an elderly woman-neighbor, and André's family later bought the building to store more vats. I find that a nice continuity with other types of yeast striving certainly on its walls, maybe this past cheese-making history even made the wine yeast different... André has 11 such vat rooms including 4 in the village of Chabris a few kilometers away.
__ Pinot Noir 2015, the press juice. André says it has completed its malolactic somewhere else, then they put the wine here to have the wine setlle down a bit, they added some SO2 and then taste from time to time to follow it. This pinot noir stayed a long time on its lees. Speaking of the lees, he sauys he has the project to vinify some pinot noir in barrels on racks fitted with small wheels so that he will be able to easily turn the barrels around at will and get a better contact with the lees without having to open the barrel and bring oxygen in. they may do it with this vintage too, using a real cellar in the rock. He'll certainly keep the wine unfiltered, but he'll fine it, saying it recovers after some time. He says as he's not organic he can't pretend to the same end prices and he has to have non-turbid wines because of the market.
The wine is very cold and I spend time warming the glass with my hands.
We walk to another, very similar vat room where André wants me to taste a batch made from Côt and Pinot-Noir press juices (same wine pictured when he's pouring, top of this page).
__ Côt / Pinot Noir 2015, press juices (there's a bit of Gamay too in there, he says), the end of the presses actually, it's been on its lees since the harvest. He gets this wine maturing separately, tasting it along to see if he blends it or not with the rest. I certainly like that, when he told me about the end of the press I wasn't excited but that tastes real good, even though the wine is still a bit cold (it takes a long time in the hands to warm up a glass, even not full).
There's a nice concentration, it's not excessively tannic, delicious wine...There's a nice chew with just the right tannin, none of the harsh astringency you'd expect from what is partly a young Côt wine. It's not even dark as you'd expect it to be when dealing with the end of the press. He says as his yields are moderate the grapes are well ripen and the end of the press is thus usually qualitative. I tell him he should bottle that separately and he says yes, that is his plan. He may also put this in barrels for a while. I also tell him to let it as is, without filtration or even fining because it tastes so good. He says he'll follow my advice because I told him several times about several wines I tasted in similar vat-tasting runs. For example he recognized that he made a mistake last year by blending the terrific Côt I had tasted, he blended it with a harsher Côt batch and (I tasted the blend later) the magic had gone away in the process.
We then walk outside to a couple of white vats in an open barn, just protected by a roof, I remember having tasted a couple of times from this vat in the past few years.
__ Côt 2015, from massal selections planted in 2000. This is precisely the same wine (albeit from the current vintage) which I tasted and loved so much a year ago (picture here, see this gorgeous color!). This was was terrific last year, thinking again about it I should have asked André to buy him 5 liters in bulk back then. This one, the 2015 is maybe a bit darker because it's the vintage with juice being more concentrated due to the lack of rain. Tastes great too, not at all the young Côt you might expect. there are 50 hectoliters in this tank. The wine is a bit darker than the one last year but there's definetely the same truth and enjoyment in its expression. He has 50 hectoliters of this, I plead with a grin for some separate bottlings for this wine, he should be normally blended with his red Valençay but I'm optimistic he'll bottle some as is...
__ Côt 2015 from vines planted in the 1960s' by his father, from another vat behind. This is also a massal selection, his father used only massal selectionwhen he planted some Côt. Looks very light and even a bit fuzzy like if it was still working. After warming the glass there's a beautiful fruit here.
While André himself uses the Garnon massal selections, his father back then sort of made his own selections from wood sourced here and there. But André occasionally selects wood for replantings too, like 2 years ago when he spotted, in an old parcel which was about to be uprooted, 3 vines of Côt with round-shaped clusters, they were obviously different from the rest of the block and he took wood from them to have them replanted. This means that even today you can stumble upon nice specimen and make new vines out of them.
André climbs briefly over the large tank in the from because he noticed the pressure gauge for the floating lid wasn't working properly, these lids have a rubber tube all around that must remain tight so that no air spoils the wine.
When I left with my old Citroën André showed me one of his parcels of Menu Pineau right outside the small hamlet. Interestingly there's a one-square-meter shack along it which André tells me was used in the past to store anti-hail rockets stuffed with silver iodine, they'd fire some of these rockets when frost was threatening the buds (on certain early moriniings of the year).
You can see such a rocket in the 1934 ManuFrance mail-order catalog (scrll down 6 pictures), and it was certainly popular even before 1934. These rockets could explode at 700 meters, 900 meters or 1200 meters and were made by ManuFrance (that's why the letters MF on the rockets), a company which was originally a guns & ammunition manufacturer. It's interesting to know that even in the village of Lye far away from prestigious appellations they were familiar with these "modern" techniques which were apparently at their reach financially. I guess this is possibly one aspect of the arms industry reconversion after WW1. André remembers that his own father had been using such rockets too. I'm surprised that this technique seems to have fallen out of favor in spite of the cheap and plenty Chinese pyrotechnics available on the market today.
The Menu Pineau is also known under the name of Arbois or Orbois, which maybe be disconcerting as you may associate the variety with Jura. It was more common in the past in this region but the appellation system by ignoring its value pushed it out, many growers choosing to plant chardonnay or sauvignon instead. Good growers know its value and keep it, many of the ones I visited are too happy when they have some, like Christophe Foucher whose wine farm is a handful of kilometers away. I'd almost say that if you want a quick selection of good growers, take the ones who still tend some menu pineau, pineau d'aunis and grolleau, there's a good chance you find better wines in the process.