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Back to France Part 3: Vouvray (Again) and the Wines of Vincent Carême

Vincent Careme vineyardsFor the third part of our evolving look into French wine, we travel backwards a tiny bit and find ourselves once again in Vouvray, in the middle of the Touraine.  This is Chenin Blanc country, which can take many forms.  To get an appreciation for some of the breadth possible with this grape we turn to the wines of Domaine Vincent Carême.

Situated in the heart of Vouvray, Domaine Vincent Carême is the mastermind of young and dynamic Vincent Carême, who grew up on the property. While Vincent was born into a Vouvray farming family, he always knew he would set out on his own path. At the age of 14, under the watchful eye of his grandfather, he was already making his first wine. Upon completion of his viticulture studies, Vincent branched out to gain practical experience working harvests in Sancerre, Champagne, Alsace, Anjour, Muscadet—he even made CheninTouraine Map Blanc in Thailand.  Vincent worked four consecutive harvests in South Africa, where Chenin Blanc has established a strong foothold. His wife, Tania, is also from South Africa and had been working in the wine industry in Stellenbosch prior to meeting Vincent.

Upon his return to Vouvray, Vincent established Domaine Vincent Carême in 1999. The estate, which is overseen by Vincent and Tania, currently spans 42 acres. The different blocks are spread out over three villages: Vouvray, Vernou-sur-Brenne and Noizay, with soils ranging from limestone to flint and clay. Most of the blocks are on steep slopes overlooking the Loire valley with two of them, Le Clos (meaning enclosed vineyard) and Le Peu Morier, being vinified separately to express their unique terroir.

Vincent is passionate about Chenin Blanc and makes several styles of the varietal, ranging from still to sparkling and dry to sweet wines. He firmly believes that the quality of the wine is determined in the vineyard and

Vincent & Tania

Vincent & Tania

consequently spends every possible moment tending to his vines with the greatest of care. All of Domaine Vincent Carême’s wines have been certified organic since 2010 by Ecocert in France. The 2007 to 2009 vintages are certified as ‘converting to organic agriculture’. Harvest is carried out exclusively by hand with careful selection of the grapes performed by an experienced team of pickers.  In the cellar only the minimum amount of sulphur is used before bottling and no yeast is added for fermentation in any of the wines. Wines are aged in 400 liter French oak barrels.  Domaine Vincent Carême’s cellar is a traditional 16th century trogolodytic ‘cave’ which is hand carved into the limestone rock. The temperature remains all year between 50°⁰to 57°⁰F.

When not in the vineyards, Vincent lectures at the Amboise Agricultural College where he oversees the organic winemaking courses.

He has become a mentor for many young vignerons in the Loire valley and is always willing to lend a helping hand to newcomers. Vincent is an active and esteemed ambassador for the Vouvray Wine Appellation with an irrepressible passion for his favorite grapevarietal: Chenin Blanc.

Chenin Blanc can take on so many forms and styles, and we’re going to talk about a broad range of them just looking at the wines from Vincent Carême.  With this grape you could expect sweet, semi-sweet, off dry, dry, dry as a bone and the same across a range of sparkling wines.  Some are bigger and oaked, some are lighter and fresh.  The bracing acidity Chenin Blanc brings is frequently a beautiful counterpoint to some residual sugar, and in fact some of our favorite Chenins are not dry versions.  We do like them all generally, as long as the wine is made well.

We have five wines to evaluate, all 100% Chenin Blanc, and supplied by Cape Classics, who also provided the Domaine background information.  You can read more about Cape Classics and Domaine Vincent Carême on their website at http://www.capeclassics.com/wine.cfm?brand=30.

IMG_1991

Let’s see what’s in the bottle.

2010 Domaine Vincent Carême Le Clos –  This wine is not dry, carrying about 2% residual sugar.  With a pH of 3.09 you expect that to be offset with some IMG_1994acidity.  Le Clos is a single vineyard wine, with vines ranging from 50-70 years old, and managed in a trellised bush style.  They rest on a steep southwest facing slope, ideal for sun exposure.  The entire vineyard is six acres and surrounded by an ancient stone wall (Le Clos means “enclosed”).  All the grapes were hand picked.  The wine was fermented in 400 liter French oak barrels (20% new), with a subsequent 12 month aging period on the lees.  The wine aged in troglodyte caves, typical of the area and a perfect spot to let the wine sit in stable temperatures.  What did we think?

The wine is a light but rich golden color, and carries an equally rich nose with ripe melon, apricot and honey.  On the palate it has great texture, ripe fruits and a luxurious overall expression.  There is some noticeable sweetness, perfectly balanced by acidity and the result is nothing sort of delicious.  The oak gives it some depth, but doesn’t detract at all from the fruit.  Extremely well made wine, top notch and a good value at $39.99.  It is special.  Others apparently agree as this wine received 95 points from Wine & Spirits and made their 100 Best Wines of the Year list.  It’s early, but this might make our Top 25 Wines of the Year list.

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Le Peu Morier – made with fruit from two adjacent blocks (three acres in total) and vines IMG_1995ranging from 40-50 years in age.  Le Peu Morier is the name of the small hamlet where the blocks are located.  The growing season in 2013 started wet and finished cool, making for good dry and sparkling wines.  This wine was also fermented in 400 liter French oak (20% new) and aged for ten months on the lees with no racking.  Our thoughts:

Light golden in color, the wine shows peach and citrus on the somewhat restrained nose.  There is a strong minerality which really comes out on the palate.  This wine is bone dry, carries pretty brisk acid and has a beautifully clean finish.  There is clear spice on the nose as well, although that doesn’t transfer completely to the palate.  With a finish that is surprisingly long this wine would be great with food.  Very well made.  $39.99

2014 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Spring – the grapes for Spring are outsourced from strategically selected growers IMG_1997whom Vincent personally knows, and to whom he provides input throughout the year.  2014 was a bit tough in the Loire, with a cool and rainy summer.  A glorious September saved the day and the vintage.  This wine was fermented and finished in tank (75%) and French oak (25% and basically neutral).  Aging encompassed five months on the lees.  Our impressions:

More straw colored than golden, this wine has a nose of ripe citrus.  On the palate the citrus is there, as well as an almost tangy quality.  You could say it was a bit grassy, but that’s not quite it.  Clearly it could pass as a Sauvignon Blanc, at least in our opinion.  Very different than the first two wines, and without the depth, smoothness and overall character.  This is a straightforward wine, and not our favorite here, but highlights the diversity this grape can provide.  $19.99

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray L’Ancestrale – now things get sparkly!  From the same vintage as the Le Peu Morier IMG_1993above, growing conditions favored dry and sparkling wines in 2013.  The wine kicked off fermentation in tank with natural yeast for two months, then was bottled at 18 g/L remaining sugar without any added sugar or yeast to ensure the first fermentation completed.  During its twelve months of aging the wine was hand turned, or riddled.  After disgorging no dosage was applied (referring to the frequent addition of wine at the end with varying amounts of sugar depending on the style desired).  As such, you expect this to be bone dry and carry some stiff acid.  Let’s see what we thought:

Light straw in color the bubbles are wonderfully small and abundant.  The nose is clean, with hints of toast.  You would easily think this is top notch Champagne.  It carries a light, airy texture that the good sparklers all have.  The fruit is there, the finish is there, the bubbles are certainly there.  With a seal cap on this wine sparkled for four days in the fridge.  Very well made, we liked it very much.  Quality through and through.  $37.99

2012 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Cuveé “T” – another sparkler here.  The initial fermentation was conducted in tank IMG_1998over a one month period.  As in the Vouvray L’Ancestrale above, the wine was bottled when the residual sugar level reached 18 g/L.   No additional sugar was added and the fermentation finished in bottle.   The wine was aged for twelve months and a dosage of 5g/L was applied after disgorgement.  What we found:

This is very crisp, with abundant citrus flavors and aromas.  There is more of a tropical fruit profile here.  It’s very fresh and finishes nicely.  The acidity is brisk, and that helps keep it clean throughout.  A nice, delicious sparkling wine, perfect for an aperitif.  $24.99

Domaine Vincent Carême is classic Vouvray, all about the Chenin Blanc grape is its many forms.  We have run much of the gamut here, from bone dry to semi-sweet as well as sparkling, but we actually haven’t quite covered them all yet, so there is more work to do.  Chenin Blanc is perhaps my favorite white grape, and we have encountered many beautiful wines from its bounty around the world.  This is really its spiritual home though, and you can see why after tasting these wines.

You can read the previous article in the Back to France series by clicking here.   Next we’re going to get red, and look at some wines from Chinon.  You can read about that by clicking here.

A votre santé!

3 comments to Back to France Part 3: Vouvray (Again) and the Wines of Vincent Carême

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