DOMAINE VINCENT CARÊME, VOUVRAY
Having worked with Domaine Huet for virtually our entire wine careers (this is a more significant statement regarding Richard than the rest of us), our standards for Vouvray are extremely high and seeking an additional producer who would maintain the quality that our customers are used to from Vouvray while offering something stylistically new proved no small task… Enter Vincent Carême. My first taste was in Vouvray’s Val Joli restaurant some years ago – unfortunately the Carêmes were on vacation while I was in the region but as months turned into years I couldn’t forget the wine...
Vincent himself inherited 5 hectares of vines from his family, though none of his predecessors had made wine commercially. He decided it was time to pursue such ventures after academic and hands-on education in France and abroad (he met his wife and business partner, Tania, during a harvest in South Africa), making 1999 the first official Vincent Carême vintage. The Domaine is now up to 15 hectares of Chenin Blanc, including some rented vines, all of which is farmed organically and even more notably for Vouvray, all of which are harvested by hand. Including Carême and Huet, I have only spoken to three producers in the region who can make this claim.
I know that it’s actual heresy for a wine-guy to admit that there’s a sparkling wine-style that he prefers to Champagne, but such is the case with this writer. Varietal character shows itself quite differently (or not at all) in sparkling wine, and this is totally fine; nobody would criticize Clos des Goisses for not tasting like Pommard as it’s an excellent example of what Pinot Noir (yah, yah, and a bit of Chard) tastes like in one of its esteemed sparkling forms.
However, as somebody who simply can’t get enough Vouvray, I am enamored by the fact that good sparkling Vouvray tastes so much like good still Vouvray – except with bubbles! Carême’s Pétillant l’Ancestrale, made in the single-fermentation methode ancestrale style, is no exception. It radiates minerality, smells like glow-in-the-dark greengage and honey and has a mellow, luscious, pithy palate evoking many things apple-like, some of which are dipped in caramel, some of which have been treated with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, others of which are laced with an edible form of mercury.
The rest of the range consists of moving targets with nature dictating what kind of wines one can make in a particular vintage. Carême’s dry Vouvrays are typically drier and pointier than what Huet would make (in Pinguet’s time, anyway), very much Chablis-like in feel but with the unmistakable Chenin aromas and flavors. The “Tendre” range can be beeswaxy with coconut, lanolin and green apple and the single-vineyard wines are usually worth the extra money. When there’s a Moelleux, it’s a lavish, hedonistic delight – an electric, resonating apple-orchard in the glass.
All in all, the Carêmes are wonderful people and the wines that they make are shining lights in this classic appellation.