Right, let me get the bragging out of the way first: I have met Gaston Huet! He was a lovely, humble old man who was terribly pleased that a bunch of booze-obsessed students from Oxford, under the control of a distinctly dissolute Master of Wine, had travelled out to the Sticks to taste his wine. He took us through his cellars, and it was clear that he knew and loved every bottle in them. It was a delight and an honour to have met such a deservedly great name in the history of vignerons.
Gaston really was rather old when we met him, and he had long since passed on most winemaking duties to his son-in-law Noel Pinguet. M Pinguet carried the flame of all Vouvray’s wine until he accepted funding from a Chinese-American fellow who gradually tried to exert more and more control over the vineyard management and wine making – demanding more of the high-priced sweet wines be made.
The Editor and I met this investor-person in Jean Boxler’s tasting room. Since I would not want to put words in Jean’s mouth by repeating what he said, I will limit myself to saying The Editor and I were struck by the owner of the greatest estate in Vouvray’s total lack of appreciation for fine wine – the oaf. I understand entirely why M. Pinguet wanted to part company with his dad-in-law’s estate in 2012 – he must have been sobbing for months afterward….
But, before he went, he made magical, awe-inspiring, other-worldly things like this:
If you produced piss as orange as this you should be heading to your nearest Accident and Emergency department! However, top-rank Vouvray – made in a weirdly damp and rainy corner of the Loire valley, from a grape that rarely smells ‘fruity’ in any conventional sense and does not ripen in the way normal grapes do – is definitely not piss!
The briefest of sniffs says, “Yeah, that is Vouvray!”. It has all those rotting wood, pine-cabin, damp dog and lanolin aroma that Vouvray should have. Give it more than a philistine-length sniff, especially after a long swirl in your glass, prepare to be punched up the nose by an extraordinarily weird and stunningly powerful set of aromas. By arse, this is a truly great wine.
With a swirl you get more of the incredibly powerful botrytis characteristics of peaches and cream. You can also smell, if this is possible, the furriness of the peaches – something like the smell of apples of Russet-character.
You can also smell a real sense of place – the Clos du Bourg is a walled vineyard of 8 hectares which, we are told, makes the grapes there more susceptible to Botrytis growth – quite how that works I do not know, but that iodine/ozone/ketone set of aromas suggests it comes from a distinctly special place.
Drinky, drinky! Bloody hell it is enormous! Not alcohol, new oak-enormous, but powerfully savoury, astringent-enormous, titting-hell that is acidic-enormous, hell’s bells there’s a lot of Russet skin, botrytised grape enormous!
You have to set your mind and palate’s analytical powers to ‘impressive’ to actually realise quite how fantastically sweet this is. An unthinking vapid non-entity would just notice that the palate seems a lot more mouth-filling than whatever Pinot Grigio they pig-ignorantly pour down their maws as they screech about meaningless gossip.
You really feel the earthy, astringent grip, along with the sugar, on the finish. As my first enlightened tasting note of a properly fine wine went, “Wow, wine can taste of lots of different things!” and this tastes of an incredible number of wildly different things. Its palate – though it does have such an enormous scale it is in danger of undergoing gravitational collapse and becoming a black hole – is remarkably balanced. I would not describe it as conventionally lovely, but liking wines of such class, style and general coruscating brilliance is the mark of a supreme being. Amazing wine!
I must credit Gaston H himself for the time The Editor and I were most appreciated on a train in France. When visiting Perardel in Beaune on one trip to Burgundy, The Editor insisted that we get something special to drink on the train to ease the pain of us leaving Burgundy the next day. The wine we chose was a 1962 Vouvray Le Mont Sec, the train was the 05:30 from Dijon to Disneyland Paris (not our destination) and the people who all smiled at us approvingly were all parents who would far rather be drinking Huet 1962, made by the great man himself, at 06:00 rather than herding hordes of screaming children to bloody Disneyland!