Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wine of the Week - Damien Laureau Savennières

The Savennières AOC is a small appellation, and a small group of producers makes most of the wine that hits US retail shelves. That list includes Château d'Epiré, Domaine du Closel, Domaine des Baumard, Roche aux Moines, and the famous and controversial Nicholas Joly. Damien Laureau is not one of these well known and often seen producers, although he should be, and I think inevitably will be.

The village of Savennières is a very small place. BrooklynLady and I traveled there in 2006 to visit Domaine du Closel. We had no appointment and no idea where we were going, really. We got lost, went into a tabac (kind of like an Optimo meets a café, but with a liquor license) and in my broken French I asked if he knew the way to Domaine du Closel. A voice from near the magazine racks called out "I am Madame de Jessey of Domaine du Closel." This is a village with one tabac, a church, a bakery, a café, and a butcher/meat shop - the bare essentials for a French village, from what I can tell.

Laureau is somewhat of a black sheep in Savennières, not entirely accepted by the old guard of growers. Why the outsider status? Damien Laureau is trying new things in Savennières, making wines that are fundamentally different. Savennières wines are world-class whites from Chenin Blanc, wines with enormous cellaring potential, but they are wines that can be austere in their youth, like a barren moonscape - nothing but rocks and sand. Most producers make several cuvées, and usually at least one of them is more approachable in its youth. But the producers who work with what are thought to be the best vineyards in Savennières - Clos du Papillon, Roche aux Moines, or Coulée de Serrant, for example, are making wines that are not very rewarding when young.

Damien Laureau's wines are approachable when young. They are intensely mineral wines, but the fruit is beautiful from the beginning. He harvests a bit later than most people, allowing the grapes to turn yellow. But Laureau's wines are not sweet - they are bone dry, and at the alcohol level that is typical of the appellation, about 14%. Laureau experiments with a witches brew of plant-based sprays to ward off molds and rot. He keeps yields low, at 35 hl/ha whereas 50 hl/ha is common. Fermentation occurs with indigenous yeasts, and the wines spend over a year maturing on their lees.

There are two cuvées. Les Genêts comes from a plot on top of a hill - you can see the vineyard in Bert's photos at Wine Terroirs. Le Bel Ouvrage is the top cuvée, the grapes grown on soils of sand and clay over schiste, and typically spends at least a year in barrel. I've had these wines a couple of times now, beginning with the 2002 vintage, and I think they're great, as good as anything I've had from Savennières. The one we drank this week was the finest yet, with a simple meal of pan-fried pork chops and bitter escarole. I have never had an aged example, and I look forward to it. Both the 2002 and the 2004 Bel Ouvrage seem like they will develop beautifully with cellar time.

2004 Damien Laureau Savennières Le Bel Ouvrage, $27, Jon David Headrick Selections. Definitely wound up, not revealing all of itself, and not at all settled, but gorgeous. The nose is a wall of wet rock, but with a little airtime shows classic beeswax and orchard fruit, fruit that leans towards pear and apple, very rich and subtly infused with spices. The palate is far more graceful than the nose at this point, although also less revealing. The fruit is ripe and mostly pear and apple, but there is an exotic pineapple note also. The acidity is vibrant and carries through to the finish, which really lingers with mineral and spice tones. This is a full bodied, rich, and concentrated wine, but also a graceful wine, one whose pieces are individually beautiful. With time in the cellar, when they harmonize better, this will be a majestic wine. If you are lucky enough to see this or any other Damien Laureau Savennières, you should just buy it. If you don't like it, you can put it on my tab.


sadams62 said...

I met Damien Lareau and tasted through his portfolio a couple of years ago in Chicago, and loved all of the wines. I thought he was producing some of the best wines from Savennieres, until I tasted the 2004 Savennieres of Eric Morgat two months ago, in particular, L'Enclos. Look for this young vigneron, and i think you will be blown away by the young talent coming out of Savennieres!!

Brooklynguy said...

Will do, thanks for the suggestion. I've heard of these wines but not tasted.