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Vouvray


Wine By Region Right Europe Right France Right Loire Right Touraine Right Vouvray


Vouvray is the greatest appellation of the Loire and one of the greatest in France. It isn't just high quality that gives Vouvray an advantage over other appellations, it's diversity. It is doubtful that any other similarly sized region in the world produces so many kinds of white wines. From the underrated grape of Chenin Blanc, Vouvray produces not only wines of all different levels of sweetness--from richer than Sauternes to bone-dry--but also Champagne-style fizz.

Everything depends on the vintage in Vouvray: in vintages conducive to sweet wines, producers wheel out extremely rich and flavorful botrytis-affected sweet wines. It is these styles that are the most acclaimed of the region. The critics like them not only for their distinctive, vibrant flavors, but also for their purported aging ability of over 100 years. Nobody has lived long enough to prove that the great Vouvrays are better after a century, but even if the maximum aging ability is 30-50 years, these are clearly some of the most ageable wines in the world.

The region's semi-sweet (aka off-dry) wines shouldn't be underestimated. From other regions, off-dry wines are often cloying, awkward mixtures of dry-wine flavors with anomalous residual sugar. In Vouvray, the semi-sweet styles are remarkably mellow; though they have the same flavors as the sweet wines, the flavors are more restrained in a natural way. The dry wines are usually bone-dry, and contrast impressively with the sweetest of the sweet here. And then there are the bubblies, which, like Champagne, vary significantly in sweetness and style.

At approximately 4,500 acres, Vouvray is a fairly large and climatically diverse region. It is, in fact, almost the exact same size as one of its main competitors, the great Sauternes. Interestingly, there are some smaller regions that are more exclusive in terms of acreage and production numbers than Sauternes and Vouvray, but despite the massive advantage of smaller size, none of them exceed these two mainstays in general quality.

As such, Vouvray's main competitor is Sauternes. Though pure quality might favor Sauternes, Vouvray is a tremendously more versatile appellation, making a million cases a year of wines of varying styles as opposed to 375,000 of only sweet wines. Also, some sweet Vouvrays can be as inexpensive as $20. So what Vouvray's wines accomplish at their best is a combination of the practicality and reasonable prices of Loire wines with the lusciousness and richness of the world's great sweet wines.

History

Winemaking has existed in Vouvray since the 700s. Originally, abbeys owned the vineyards but no one was sure how to make wines, as the technology was still in its infancy across the world. As time went on, winemakers realized Chenin Blanc's potential in the region, and by the time Champagne was popular were making their own impressive sparkling wines from the grape. Only in the 20th century did sweet wine really take off, and the century had many landmark sweet Vouvray vintages.

By 1936, Vouvray was considered the best appellation in the Loire, and, fittingly, was the first to receive AOC status. Four styles of sweet wines were authenticated: Doux (the highest in sugar; this designation is rarely used), Moelleux (literally mellow, but this encompasses most of the wines known to the world as sweet), Demi-sec (off-dry, for slightly sugary but not too strong wines), and Sec (the dry wines that can be surprisingly bitter).

Climate and Viticulture

Vouvray's vineyards are planted facing south on a plateau that overlooks the right bank of the Loire river. The characteristic mist and all other weather conditions are highly conducive to noble-rotted wines, but only in years that are warm enough; in cold years the rot will not form, and dry wines or Champagne-like sparkling wines must be manufactured.

The topsoil of gravel here is fairly normal, but what the gravel lies on top of is neither limestone, sand, nor marl. It's a special, very drainable kind of rock called Tuffeau stone, which is only found in the Loire Valley and has its highest deposits in the Vouvray appellation. The porous, beautiful rock makes for outstanding wine production, and also forms many underground caves in which Vouvray producers age their wines.

Grape Varieties

Major Producers

Many of Vouvray's producers have existed in the appellation for decades, even centuries. As a result, quality is quite reliable here. The following eight producers generally charge reasonable prices (not counting Huet), have good availability outside France, and make above-average Vouvrays.

Subregions

There are no officially designated Vouvray subregions or official vineyards, but all sweet wine aficionados should become familiar with the names of the three vineyards Huet uses to make their wines: Le Mont, Le Haut Lieu, and especially, the famous Clos du Bourg.