Thursday, June 20, 2013

Domaine Huet - Recent Changes and a few Old Bottles.

A little over a year ago Noel Pinguet resigned his position as the wine maker at Domaine Huet, the Loire Valley legend that is generally considered to be its finest producer of Vouvray wines. Noel took over from his father Gaston in 1976 and continued in his footsteps making the highest possible quality wines from the estates three vineyards (Le Haut-Lie, Le Mont, and Clos du Bourg) and in all styles (sec or dry, demi-sec or off-dry, and moelleux or sweet).

Why would this famous wine maker, this man whose father's and now his own life's work has been to make these great Vouvrays at Domaine Huet - why would he leave before reaching retirement age? In 2003 Huet was sold to the Hwang family and it was widely reported that Noel Pinguet resigned because of disagreements with the new ownership. Huet's wines are all well regarded, but it is my understanding that connoisseurs consider the off-dry wines to be the apex of their achievements. Supposedly the Hwang family wanted to reduce production of off-dry wines and focus on dry wines, and over the course of almost 10 years this created enough friction between Pinguet and the Hwangs to cause them to part ways.

I felt upset when I heard about this because Huet makes wines that offer us as wine lovers a rare opportunity - to drink the very finest wines of their type at an affordable price. Huet's dry wines sell for under $30 and the off-dry wines are in the mid $30's. And we are not talking about the world's finest Vidal Blanc here - this is Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, unquestionably one of the world's greatest white wines, when well made.

So with no more Noel Pinguet, does this mean that the wines will be different? I don't see how they could stay exactly the same. Although SF Joe, one of the biggest American collectors of Huet wines, told me not to worry because the assistant wine maker under Pinguet took over after he left, and made no changes. I hope this is true. Or at least, I hope that whatever changes this person makes are well-considered and come from years of apprenticeship and discussion with Pinguet.

I found off-dry wines to buy in 2008, 2009, and 2010, but I have not seen any in 2011. I hear 2012 is another year that might produce only dry wines. I would verify this by looking at the Wine Doctor's site, but whoops - you have to subscribe now for about $70 per year. I generally buy a few bottles each year, a mix of dry and off-dry wines. And I try to wait for them to mature. These wines, particularly the off-dry wines, improve with age for a very long time - many decades.

Recently I had the chance to drink a few bottles with just a bit of age on them. They were spectacular. One thing that happened for me after drinking these wines is that they reminded me of the story of Noel Pinguet leaving, and of how much I want today's wines, in time, to become like the ones I recently drank.

I drank the 1993 Huet Le Mont Demi-Sec last month with simply prepared swordfish during a weekend trip to a friend's house in Martha's Vineyard. 1993 was not a terribly good vintage and this wine doesn't get rave reviews. We loved it, though. It definitely showed maturity - this is not a vibrant and energetic wine. But it was all class, and pure pleasure. I bought the wine a few weeks before opening the bottle at Chambers Street Wines - according to their website there are still 2 bottles left!

Here are my notes from that night: Needs a little air to open up and then shows lovely toffee and gingery notes on the nose with a strong saline undertone. The aromas promise something rich and with discernible sweetness but the wine does not taste as sweet as I expected, not at all. There is plenty of acidity to balance it. The clean and clear flavors are pretty and expressive, but this is not as complex a wine as I've had from other, better vintages. That said, this is a very good old Huet and it was a pleasure to drink.

That same weekend my friend brought along a 2004 Huet Le Mont Sec, and we drank that too. Also, not considered to be a great vintage. We drank about half the bottle on day one and it was all wound up and hard to figure. Thankfully we waited to drink the rest until the next day. On day two it was glorious! So harmonious and fine, such finesse, such a rewarding thing to drink. The wine showed classic waxy and woolly aromas, apples, pears, honey...Complex, balanced, unmistakably Vouvray, absolutely delicious. Quite an advertisement for cellaring the Secs. 

And then a few weeks later I drank the 1995 Huet Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec with a few friends. I bought this also at Chambers Street, this one a little over a year ago. Whoa, it was fantastic. Fresh and youthful, clean as a whistle, perfectly balanced, classic aromas and flavors, so complex and long, such intense material and without excess weight. And this also is not reputed to be a great vintage. Who knows how that works anyway. What are the great Huet vintages? Don't tell me 2005 (although I remember liking those wines). I hear 2002 is a great one...

Anyway, you already know the old vintages are great. But how about the recent vintages, anyone have thoughts they care to share on the wines? Have they changed, or is it still the same old great Huet?


Anonymous said...

Gaston Huet was Noel Pinguet's father-in-law.

Doug Salthouse said...

Nice post: I am a big fan of these wines as well. Anyway, I believe Noel Pinguet is actually the son-in-law rather than the son. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

I know nothing about these things, which has never stopped me. But my sense was that Huet's sec and demi-sec were shifting, maybe due to global warming, and that today's sec has nearly as much RS as yesterday's demi. That maybe this was as much a labeling as a production controversy. But again, je ne sais rien.

jason said...

from what i have seen in the 2011 range, huet made a trilogy of sec wines and also a "la mont 1er tri". i have not tasted them yet, but from what i have gathered, there was very little or no botrytis in 2011.
o7 made great secs with ripping acidity. the 08's can be softer but pretty nice demi secs. the o9s are killer across the board. '10 has more focus and less opulence then o9. james molesworth noted, the '10 sweets are the best since 97!
thanks for this post. it gives me more will to hide my huet bottles longer than i was thinking.

Mark Scudiery said...

Had a bottle of 2010 Huet Sec Le Haut Lieu about a year ago. Huet quality. Still young and will benefit from cellar time.

2009 Huet Vouvray Clos du Bourg Sec - had a bottle 2+ years ago. my notes: "Terrific juice. Round on the palate and nose. A great effort, but will benefit from a few hours of decanting before drinking as well as cellar time."

2009 le Haut Lieu (Gaston Huet) Vouvray
Cuveé Constance. My notes: "Spectacular juice even at this young age. While not an equal to the prodigious 1997 this is beautiful on the nose and palate. Made in a botrytis-driven style the just keeps evolving and each sip is sublime."

The Ultimate Wine Kick said...

I was just as disappointed when I heard the news about Noel and have therefore been stocking up on Huet recently. For the price level the Huet wines are some of the best I have ever tried.

Have tasted the Clos du Bourg Sec and Le Mont Sec of 2010 and they where both amazing. We also visited Huet when we where in Vouvray last summer, but unfortunately it was not one of the more inspiring vineyard visits. We did however have a very pleasant visit at Champalou, who produces a nice Sec. The quality is not quite at Huet level, but still a very good buy.