Is Vouvray the most overlooked of the world’s great wines? Is Vouvray one of the world’s great wines? We believe the answer to be yes in both cases. But let’s look at it in a bit more detail.
Given some basic criteria for fine wine, somewhat arbitrary but worth a crack: limited production, very high quality, the presence of great terroir, perhaps a long tradition and an ability to age, how does Vouvray stack up?
Let’s start with the basics.
Just outside Tours, in the Touraine district of the Loire, Vouvray lies on 2,000 hectares of semi-continental terroir. That is pretty small. All wines are 100% Chenin Blanc and stylistically cover a range from dry, through off-dry, sweet to sparkling wines. That is pretty darned flexible, considering that each style can be produced to the very highest quality level.
What makes this terroir special is what is known locally as tuffeau¸ chalk to you and I, which preserves the grapes vibrant acidity and well as giving mineral, floral and waxy character to the wines.
There’s a wonderful tradition in this appellation that fractionates for grape quality in every season, where the greatest conditions, good skies, will deliver more of the moelleux sweet wines, and a less kind one more of the drier styles. Picking is the first step and is done using the trie practice, where many passes are made through the vines. This will mean at least a selection by bunch, sometimes of individual grapes!
If the vintage is hard, then the Chenin Blanc provides a wonderful base for the sparkling wines, since they need to be picked green to provide the best backbone for their great sparklers.
So it is plain to see that using these traditions, there is never a season when the grapes cannot be used to best effect, and labelled Vouvray.
As to aging, there are no white wines (outside fully dessert wines), and very few red wines, that will match the ability of Vouvray, from sec right through to moelleux in their ability to age gracefully in a cellar. The sweeter wines will break a century, in good years, the drier styles commonly celebrating their golden jubilee in bottle.
Have we ticked all of the fine wine boxes yet? I think so. But what of the wines themselves? Are they really great? Yes.
From dry through to sweet, these wines have enormous presence, filling the mouth with rich, unctuous fruit as well as all of the characters mentioned above. This is all held together beautifully by that trademark acidity. And the really remarkable thing? They are just not expensive. Pound for pound, France will not match the sheer grandiosity of these wines, from any, more well known fine wine region.