Written by Al Drinkle
Very few wine estates have been as formative in my career, nurturing to my love of wine and the source of so many pleasurable bottles as Domaine Huet of Vouvray in the Loire Valley. In addition to introducing me to biodynamic farming, proving the virtues of truly old wine and serving as early vinous tutors to the idea of terroir, Huet also makes my favourite sparkling wine in the world (sorry Champagne!) and masters a stylistic spectrum that would be the envy of many German growers. Many readers will identify with this sentimentality as the best bottles of Huet are nothing short of haunting.
You may know that I have a penchant for emitting outlandish and hyperbolic statements. On a daily basis, my co-workers might hear something like, “this is the best wine from the Southern Hemisphere I’ve EVER TASTED!!!!” or “that’s without question the most vile Syrah on the planet, I swear I’m going to vomit!!!!” and my wife, often while trying to relax, is routinely subjected to such exclamations as, “AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!! THIS IS THE BEST BASSLINE THAT I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY FUCKING LIFE!!!!!!”
You are about to read statements that look as if they’re lunatic ravings in a similar mold, but I promise that the following writing has been very carefully considered and rendered as dispassionate as I feel that I’m capable of. That being said, this is probably the most exciting Huet lineup that I’ve ever been able to offer you, and certainly the most interesting.
2009 Haut-Lieu “Franc de Pied” $110
In 1985 Domaine Huet planted an experimental .20 hectare parcel of own-rooted Chenin Blanc in the Haut-Lieu vineyard (French patois for this is “franc de pied”). This micro-parcel had been bottled on its own in 2002, 2003 and 2007 and releases from 2014 and 2015 wait patiently in the wings. This is the kind of wine that you might see smug bastards hyping on Instagram, and I knew about its existence but had never had occasion to taste it prior to my visit to the estate in April. The upshot of my maniacal, foot-stamping, gesticulating enthusiasm in the tasting room is Alberta’s first ever tiny allocation – we have 3 of the 95 cases produced.
’09 was an extremely successful vintage for Huet overall, but the dry wines are benchmark and this is the most appealingly opulent dry Vouvray that I’ve ever had in my life. It’s got the affably gregarious aromas of Vouvray’s most exotic, pumped further by the unctuous texture of gangster-ass Savennières. This is a legend in the making and the best young dry Chenin that has ever passed my lips. Imagine how much it would cost if I was writing about the best young Chardonnay that I’ve ever tasted…
2008 Le Mont Demi-Sec Magnum $245
This is a contender for the greatest Loire Valley wine of a generation. The key word here preventing me from being my usual categorical self, is “contender.” Let’s discuss.
I’m fully aware that there are many excellent producers growing myriad winestyles in this vast valley, but few, if any, have maintained such a high level of quality over so many decades as Domaine Huet. And as important as the energetic and talented Gaston Huet was to Vouvray in general (not to mention French wine!), the wines certainly got even better under the guidance of his son-in-law, Noel Pinguet. Slightly more contentious would be the idea that few, if any, producers outside of Germany have ever been as skilled as Pinguet was at making off-dry wines that are still table-ready with sweetness serving as an appealing component of a multi-faceted wine and not the focal point – to me and many others, this makes the demi-sec style the apogee of utility in the Huet range. If you’re still with me, let me say that I feel that 2008 is the best demi-sec vintage of Pinguet’s career which spanned 1976 to 2011 (I haven’t tasted them all, but I know everything from 2001 forwards and all of the “important” bottlings prior). An identical but much more authoritative opinion due to his experience with the estate and the fact that he is one of the world’s preeminent experts on Loire wine belongs to Richard Kelley MW. And once during a phone conversation, Kelley quite nonchalantly suggested that Le Mont is the greatest vineyard in the world, on another occasion informed me that he wished to have his ashes scattered there when his time came.
In summary, and without taking any liberties that can’t be justified by the opinion of experts if not impregnable fact, this wine comes from one of the greatest Chenin Blanc vineyards on the planet, was crafted by one of the world’s most intuitive and skilled winemakers in pursuit of a style of which he was a peerless master and from a vintage that was more conducive to this style than any other in his entire career.
The wine has not budged an inch since the first time that I tasted it in 2009. This means that it has maintained its intensity, clarity and complexity of aroma and flavour, as well as its hedonistic, youthful deliciousness. It also means that its evolution hasn’t even yet begun, let alone come anywhere close to reaching its apex and according to Kelley comparisons can be drawn to the ever-durable examples from 1959, 1971 and 1988. The bottles slumbered in Huet’s limestone cellars until May 2017 and to learn that we could re-offer this wine to you in magnums excited me beyond words and is certainly one of the highlights of my career as a retailer.
The wine has gotten expensive, but this denotes a special format of a supernal wine from a legendary estate that is now considered a library release. I would like to point out that the relative expense of the wine might be due to the fact that other worldly pleasures that exude beauty of this magnitude aren’t really things that we are used to paying for with coin of the realm. These would include the sublimity, security and understanding inherent in a friendship that spans many decades, the splendour of the Rocky Mountains or the witnessing of your smiling child’s first steps. Undoubtedly, if such things were for sale, their prices would dwarf that of this equally rewarding, sizable bottle of wine.
Huet’s 2008 Le Mont Demi-Sec is one humankind’s most important and delicious interactions with nature. It is worth your money.
1997 Haut-Lieu Moelleux “Première Trie” $194
1997 Le Mont Moelleux “Première Trie “ $194
1997 Clos du Bourg Moelleux “Première Trie” $194
How could we not? This was a difficult but stylistically-prolific vintage that produced a range of absolutely legendary, botrytis-influenced Moelleux and the powers that be at the Domaine thought it fit to release a tiny amount of all three première trie bottlings to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the vintage. I’m fascinated by the vineyard comparison herein, and how the botrytis is beautifully subsumed by the personalities of each site. The Haut-Lieu is perky, creamy and tropical, the Clos du Bourg is mouth-wateringly juicy and highly sophisticated and the Le Mont is downright regal, its trademark salinity weaving its way through a Gravenstein apple mille-feuille. All are full flavour-pumpers right now excepting the Le Mont which is presently a little shut down (it’s always the slowest to develop). All three will continue to improve for multiple decades and are fascinating, delicious and cerebrally-rewarding wines.
2013 Vouvray Pétillant Brut $39
2009 Vouvray Pétillant Brut $55
Softly-effervescent Chenin Blanc with crystal-clear varietal character and fuzzy-wuzzy texture. The ’13 spent 36 months on lees and is steely and precise and wildly gratifying. The ’09 isn’t a special fruit or vineyard selection – it just spent an additional 3 years on lees (yep, 6 in total) and it’s Chenin Blanc in exelcis… with soft little bubbles!!!! I can’t get enough of this stuff, and it ages wonderfully (reference the 1969 that I was buzzed on when I got married!).