They rode into the Carlton Wine Bar together, just as they had ridden side-by-side across the Atlantic. Two old friends. The white knight and the black knight: the man from Muscadet and the man from Cahors.
The champion of white wines and Jean-Ernest Sauvion, as lively in character as the sample he'd brought. It was a 1982 Muscadet, Domaine de la Bodiniere, bottled in early February. As a muscadet should be, it was freshd, lightly fruity and delicate. "Nerveux," Sauvion called it.
Sauvion's family estate, Chateau du Cleray, is in the department of Sevre-et Maine, the best region of Muscadet. Here at the Atlantic end of the Loire river, the family is both growers and negociants. In addition to their estate label and a pretige marque, Cardinal Richard, they have their "Decouvertes" range. The "discoveries," such as the Domaine de la Bodiniere, are wines from other estates, whose grapes are selected and vinified by Sauvion & Fils.
The estate and "discovery" labels specify "sur lie," two important words for muscadets. The muscadet grape, or melon de bourgogne, produces a light, delicate wine. It would lose whatever body and flavor it has if overprocessed. "Sur lie" means that the wine is bottled straight off (or "on," as the French say) the lees, which are the sediment deposits after fermentation.
Sauvion reported that the 1982 vintage produced a large crop of high quality. For growers, prices were lower than those for the samll 1981 crop. By the time the wines reach us in April, the regional labels will be about $4 and the "discoveries" will be in the $6 to $7 range. It's going to be a good summer for seafood and muscadets.
From a wine from the Loire to one from the Lot. From a humorous, talkative champion of a white wine to a quieter, determined defender of a red. "The mad man of Cahors, they call him," said the white knight of the black knight. It appears that Georges Vigourouxof southwest France. In 1970 he planted vines on the rocky hillside soils of his Cateau de Haute Serre, land that had not seen vines since the phylloxera devastation of the late 19th century.
Vigouroux wanted to return to the "old" style, the black wines of Cahors, reputed to be heavy in both color and body. A century of vine diseases and wars had forced most growers to take the east way out, to plant their vines in the valley and produce lighter, quicker-maturing wines from high-yielding vines. Vigouroux is prepared to get smaller yields from his soils and intends to make the fuller, frimer wines of old.
Madness or sanity? These are still early days, but there are two different Vigouroux lables from which to judge. The one is 1978 Chateau de Haute Serre, $7.50. In color, it's more of a red plum than a black plum; medium-bodied, astrigent in the finish, it opened up after half an hour into a pleasant wine. It should age well, but big and black it is not.
"Germain Vigouroux" is the other lable. Both the '79, $6, and the '75 $8.50, were well-made wines, with good color and fruit. THe '79 finished on the lighter side and the '75, as expected, was fuller, yet ready to drink. Comparisons could be made with the better petits chateaux of Bordeaux, but the Virouroux wines do have a style of their own. I hope the made knight succeeds in his quest, but, for now, his wines are in a tough segment of the market.