Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Chenin Blanc heaven - 50 years of Moulin Touchais

I was pleased and honoured recently to receive an invitation from Richard Kelley MW to partake in a vertical tasting of Moulin Touchais. For the uninitiated, Moulin Touchais is one of the oldest wine estates in Anjou, dating back to 1787. One of the largest and oldest stock of single estate wine stocks in the world sits maturing in miles of underground cellars, with somewhere in the region of 1,000,000 (yes, one million!) bottles squirrelled away, some dating back to the 1800's.

The vineyards are situated in the heart of the Coteaux du Layon region and have been farmed by eight successive generations of the Touchais family. The methods of viticulture and vinification have changed little over the years. The Chenin Blanc grapes are hand-picked in several stages, with 20% of the grapes being picked around 80 days after flowering, while the fruit is still under-ripe and loaded with acidity, and the other 80% being harvested late (as late as 120 days after flowering) which yields fruit with very high sugar levels and concentrated flavours. This combination of high acidity and high sugar levels is aimed at determining the Moulin Touchais house style. The grapes are carefully sorted, the pips are removed and the must is clarified by decanting before beginning the slow fermentation process, which lasts several weeks.

The wine is bottled early - between the end of February and early March following the harvest. Residual sugar levels tend to be around 80g/l (+/- 20g, depending on the vintage). Only the best vintages are released for sale, and then only after a minimum of ten years' ageing. Whilst the grapes are harvested late, they are generally unaffected by botrytis (noble rot) although some noble rot does occasionally occur, depending on the characteristics of the vintage.

This impressive line-up of wines, spanning 50 years of Moulin Touchais, was presented by Richard Kelley MW, accompanied by Frederik Wilbrenninck, who represents the interests of Moulin Touchais and was able to offer further insight into the wines during the tasting. The venue was the Old Bridge Hotel in Huntingdon, and owner John Hoskins MW was also part of the tasting panel.

Frederik Wilbrenninck, Richard Kelley MW and John Hoskins MW
Along with the wines which are commercially available from Moulin Touchais, further wines were included from Richard's own cellar, whilst Frederik also provided some additional vintages from the 1950's, courtesy of Jean-Marie Touchais. Interestingly, although most of the wines were labelled as Coteaux du Layon, some of them were labelled as merely Anjou (especially for the UK market), the reason being that they assumed the UK wine-buying public wouldn't have a clue what Coteaux du Layon was or where it was from! Another interesting fact is that production varies from as little as 6,000 bottles to as many as 200,000 bottles, depending on the quality of the vintage. Hence, presumably, why some of the wines are no longer commercially available. Additionally, no Moulin Touchais was made in either 1983 or 2008.

Frederik talks about the wines and winemaking philosophy
What follows are my notes (which are relatively brief, since we had at least 30 wines to get through, at around 5 minutes per wine). I personally can't be doing with scores as such, but for clarity, I've used a 1, 2 and 3 star system, to indicate my preferences/favourites. The lack of a star doesn't mean that I didn't like or rate the wine - just that it was probably decent but unspectacular.

The tasters:

Sarah Ahmed
Jim Budd
David Hesketh MW
John Hoskins MW
Gary Jordan
Richard Kelley MW
Chris Kissack
Jo Locke MW
Duncan Murray
Leon Stolarski
Frederik Wilbrenninck

FLIGHT ONE – The Noughties

2003 (release set for January 2013)
Deep-ish colour. Notes of orange peel, mineral and a hint of barley sugar, with a sweet attack that carries through to a long finish. Rich orange marmalade flavour, with spices and herbs. Decent acidity for such a hot year. Jean-Marie Touchais apparently thinks this one has great potential. It certainly has the stuffing to reach a great old age! For now, I'll give it *+.

Lighter colour. Nettles and grass. Mineral/wet wool too, along with a touch of florality/fruit blossom. An unusual but rather attractive palate, with a hint of acetone, which does nothing to detract from the overall enjoyment. Packed with orange flavours, deep, stoney minerality and brilliant acidity. Very long. Lovely wine. **+

Similar colour to 2002. Candied orange fruit/peel. Very perfumed and complex. Citrussy, floral and mineral at the same time, with hints of herbs and spice, and even a touch of leather. The palate is rich and hedonistic, with flavours of orange marmalade, ginger, clove and cinnamon, with brilliant structure and real mineral depth. Beautiful wine. **+

More like the 2003, with more barley sugar, but also more expressive on the nose, with mineral, wet wool, lemon peel and lemon oil aromas. Slightly earthy, but attractively fragrant. Fresh root ginger and spice on the palate, with lingering marmalade, spice and mineral flavours. Very long. **+

FLIGHT TWO – The Late Nineties

Less expressive than the wines from the previous flight - at least in terms of fruit and savoury elements - but with lots of subtle mineral notes. Decent wine, but pales into insignificance, relative to what followed. *

Full of apple and quince flavours, with an almost savoury/meaty quality, with a not unattractive vegetal note. Amazing richness to the palate, with intense spice and marmalade flavours, toffee apple and fig. Very long. **

A lovely bright yellow colour, which suggests richness, as does the nose, with aromas of raisins, figs and lemon marmalade. Gently floral but not (yet) particularly mineral. Almost as rich and spicy as the 1998, but perhaps a touch more elegant and harmonious. Rich and deeply mineral, with a backbone of mouth-watering acidity, which carries all the way through to an almost endlss finish. Superb wine. ***

Quite high-toned apple and lemon aromas, again with plenty of stoney minerality on the nose. This is (for me) where Chenin takes on an almost Riesling-like character, with some definite grapey, petrol/kerosene aromas. The palate shows power, concentration and complexity, with waves of dried fruit flavours, nervy acidity and immense length. A wine which manages to be both powerful and delicate at the same time. Fabulous wine. ***+(!)

1995 (limited availability)
Slightly stinky and cheesy - in an attractive way - with nicely rotting peach and apple aromas. Actually, quite farmyardy! A bit of barley sugar and a hint of woodsmoke, with a faint whiff of fermented hops. The palate is hugely mineral and much fruitier than the nose would suggest. Even richer and sweeter than the 96 and 97, with more of a barley sugar quality, but with plenty of complex rotting fruit. **

FLIGHT THREE – The Early Nineties

Hints of woodsmoke, tree fruits, lemon and wet wool, but a touch muted. The palate, on the other hand, is very expressive, with a rich, ripe, almost dried fruit quality, wrapped around a core of steely/stoney minerality, with further notes of spiced marmalade, ginger and lemon peel. Finishes rich and gently bitter-sweet. **+

Similar to the 94, but with a curious hint of emulsion paint. Opens-out to reveal further notes of lime oil, wet wool and polished old wood. The palate is sweet, but not so much fruity as medicinal, with cloves and balsam/expectorant to the fore. Perhaps a touch of marmalade, but overall, this reminds me too much of a trip to the dentist!

Apricot, cider apple and a hint of sulphur or reduction. Old wardrobes and a sprinkling of dried herbs as well, but overall, rather unexpressive. Again, a sweet, medicinal palate, with huge spiciness. A bit too much of everything (except fruit), with bitter acidity. Not my favourite!

1990 (not available)
Very deep colour, almost orange. Reeks of figs, marmalade, hops and Parmesan cheese(!) Like the 95, a touch of farmyard manure, but really rather interesting and inviting. The palate is rich and sweet, with toffee apple, fig, fudge and orange peel flavours - like a fruit-laden butterscotch. Rich, but with decent acidity and moderate length. *+

FLIGHT FOUR – The Late Eighties

1988 (not available)
All four wines in this flight are quite deeply coloured. This one smells like Riesling! Grapey, herby, honeyed, with strong lemon and kerosene notes and bags of minerality. Very spicy and sweet - almost bitter-sweet. Rich and hedonistic, with some genuine botrytis, adding a honeyed, nutty quality. Very long. Not my absolute favourite style, but a very good wine. **+

1987 (not available)
Damn - corked! Which is a shame, because it otherwise smelled rather lovely, though it deteriorated very quickly during the flight.

Lemon sorbet? Lemon grass? Lemon oil? Did I mention that this smells very lemony?! A wine with immediate appeal, with further notes of diesel and toffee apple. The palate shows enormous concentration and richness, very spicy, with apricot, fig, apple and fudge flavours. Has some real grip, too. Intense and complex. **+

Smells almost fortified, like a white Maury or Banyuls. Apples, oranges, cloves and even a hint of salinity. Immensely rich and powerful (13.9% abv). Powerfully sweet, too, with flavours of toffee apple and lime oil. To be honest, the acidity is hidden beneath that enormously rich, sweet structure, but I think it will emerge in time. A massive wine, which I suspect needs another 20 to 30 years to really get into its stride. Currently, I'll give it ** but it could turn out to be even better.

As the wines age, they take on a deeper colour
FLIGHT FIVE – The Early Eighties

Even though I have seen bottles of this on various auction lists for some years now (and have tasted one or two examples myself) it is still commercially available from the estate. Rich toffee aromas, with an almost chocolatey quality, with burnt apple, cloves and orange marmalade, though not really showing much in the way of minerality or high notes. The palate does though show some genuine wet wool character, along with spice and tangy lemon and lime. Long, too, and really very good. **

This is faulty, I think. Acetic on the nose and palate, with a quite "dirty" feel to it. Possibly corked, but definitely not in good condition. Shot, in fact.

1981 (not available)
Very slightly rancio in character - high-toned, honey, nuts, orange and lime - but still with a nice dollop of minerality. Again, we have notes of baked apple, fermented hops and toffee. Seems fully evolved and even slightly cheesy. Rich toffee, orange and spice flavours, but with plenty of balancing acidity. It is good now, but I don't think it will improve any further. *

A bit dirty, old wood, cardboardy. Corked, perhaps? The palate says yes.

FLIGHT SIX – The Seventies

Apart from toffee, orange and barley sugar, this isn't particularly expressive or interesting. The palate is "winey", but not really saying much about its origins. Slightly spicey, but also slightly hot, with a bitter-sweet finish. As I said, winey, but not "Loire-y".

1976 (not available)
Another one showing toffee, orange and barley sugar, and slightly cheesy/farmyardy. It also shows some volatile acidity - bordering on acetic, but not quite, and again showing a hint of emulsion paint. The palate is possibly a touch on the dirty side, but it does have some nice apple, orange and fig flavours and sprightly acidity. It could evolve, but why wait? Good, but not great. *

Vanilla. Earthy, but not fruity, though it does have plenty of allure, with polished old wood aromas accompanied by notes of citrus, honey and toffee. The palate shows genuine richness, countered by searing limey acidity. It isn't hugely complex, but it certainly appears to have plenty of life left in it. I like it. **+

High-toned and seemingly very evolved. Ginger, spice, orange peel and toffee on the nose. Again, some old woody, forest floor/damp earth notes, but with a delicious core of apricot and apple fruit and some richer toffe and fig nuances. And all countered by simply wonderful acidity. Perhaps not the finest wine of the tasting, but in comparison to the wines from the late 70's and early 80's, an absolute cracker. Very long, too. **+

Deeper still!
FLIGHT SEVEN – The Sixties and Fifties

1969 (not available)
Oh dear - corked again! Badly.

1964 (not available)
Another wine with a Rivesaltes/ Banyuls nose - somewhat sherried/rancio, but with some attractive earthy and tertiary fruit aromas and flavours. Unfortunately, there is also more than a hint of Airfix glue to it, and depite the fact that there is plenty else going on, it really does get in the way.

1961 (not available)
My birth year, so a (very) rare treat. What a lovely nose! Woody, with an almost new oak character, polished, earthy, leathery and meaty. It almost smells like an old red wine, a theme which in some ways carries through on the palate, with curious (but delightful) hints of black fruits and red capsicum, with all sorts of other crystallised fruit nuances. Deceptively light and fresh, earthy and contemplative, rather than heavy or rich. Not especially complex, perhaps, but just delightfully (old) winey. Not a great wine, but a very, very good one. **+

1959 (not available - though apparently it was until a few years ago!)
A Madeira-like nose of rotting fruit, volatile acidity, old wood and sous-bois. Perhaps even more like a fine old Tokaji 5 (or even 6) Puttonyos - so definitely up my street! Wonderful flavours of rotting white fruits, honey, minerility by the bucket-load and huge acidity. Complex and very lovely! ***

1953 (not available)
A distinct note of fireworks! Further notes include old wood, forest floor, nuts and some tertiary fruit. The palate is gently oxidative (but in no way oxidised) and totally wonderful, like an old Maury, but without the alcoholic edge. Indeed, the palate is delightfully clean and fresh, with cranberry and lemon fruit flavours. It isn't hugely complex, but is deliciously tangy and very moreish, with mouth-watering acidity. A lovely wine on which to finish. ***

My overall impression from this tasting is that Moulin Touchais is a source of some very fine wines indeed - but you have to pick your vintages with care. Or, to be more specific, pick your period carefully. Without the benefit of knowing who made the wine (or how it was made)  there appears to have been a 5 to 10 year period in the late 70's and early 80's where the quality of the wines (be that due to the winemaking or iffy vintages or a bit of both) dipped quite markedly. A similar lull appeared to affect the wines from the early 90's. That's not to say that every wine from these periods was bad - or, conversely, that every wine from the other periods was great - but it does seem to indicate that (a) the majority of the wines from the 50's through to the early 70's were beautifully made, (b) that the majority of those from the mid-80's (apart from that mini-dip in the early 90's) onwards have shown a real return to form and (c) that the wines of Moulin Touchais are built to last!

Many thanks to Richard for the invite, to Frederik for his valuable insights and to John for his hospitality. It was a real treat!


Bob Rossi said...

Wow, Leon, what a tasting lineup. You were certainly fortunate to get an invite to an event like that. I've never heard of the producer, but I think we'll be spending some time not far from the Coteaux de Layon next Spring, so I'm going to do some research. It's the kind of research I love, in contrast to the legal research that helps pay the bills.

Leon Stolarski said...

Thanks, Bob. These wines are definitely worth checking out. And note that many of them are still available from the estate! Not sure if they accept visitors, but there's no harm in asking.... ;-)

Bob Rossi said...

So far I haven't been able to find any contact info about the producer beyond the name of the town. Did you pick up any contact info at the tasting? Any help would be appreciated.

Leon Stolarski said...

Bob - I am told that there is no visitor centre, and not even a sign to indicate where Moulin Touchais actually is(!) But Richard Kelley has said he will enquire. Meanwhile, I found the following, which at least gives an address and contact telephone number........
Hope this helps.

A Gilks said...

I think you must have had a not so good bottle of the 64s. I have 3 bottles left of the 64 that I bought 30 years ago and they only show a little tinge of brown and no hint of glue. I have drunk the 45, 59 and 64 in the last 5 years, all bought in the early 80s, but I have never been that wowed by them. Guess I like a bit more botrytis.

Michael Horwood said...

I have a degree of jealousy, but found your notes very instructive. I live in Hobart (Tasmania, Australia) and the wine has not been imported here for over 25 years. The last vintage I have which was bought locally is the 1976 - and I think these are holding up very well. With the advent of internet sales I have found a single supplier in Australia (Nick's - Vintage Direct) who have imported multiple vintages in recent years direct from the Touchais cellars. It is not cheap, but I have bought and tried several vintages - and they certainly have left me with an impression of wines which have the capacity to age for a very long time due more to their acidity than their sweetness.

Anonymous said...

Be careful here . I knew Moulin Touchais and Willbreninck Father very well in the 80's - funny how they never had the dates either on the bins in the cellar or the corks - just a separate sticker on the bottle.