Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Didier Dagueneau - Madman or Genius?

My allocation of Dagueneau's wines came in today. I say allocation, but thats not strictly true. The flow isnt controlled as such, its just that they are getting much harder to find as they sell out almost as soon as they arrive at the merchants. I first came across Didier's wines when I worked at Amaryllis. Trevor Hughes from T&W wines brought me a bottle of "En Chailloux" to try and I was mesmerised (nowadays its too damned expensive to "give away" as samples!) I dont remember the vintage, but it would have been late nineties, Didiers wines are usually at least a vintage or two behind everyone else. I remember it wasnt cheap even then, though I am amazed at the prices his wines sell for now. But these are big wines, and his two premiere cuvees, Pur Sang and Silex are both capable of several years of bottle age. Indeed the lower cuvee "En Chailloux" can also stand four or five years bottle age. When I was at Gleneagles, I found five bottles of "En Chailloux" in the cellar that were four years old. Each one was absolutely stunning, solid fruit structure, the delicate acidity enough to complement the fruit without searing your gums. That was when I became convinced that we drink Sauvignon far too young, now I advocate leaving it a few years to "settle down". Thats why Im listing 2004 Cloudy Bay now, and cellaring the 2006.

(Picture courtesy of Bertrand Celce - www.wineterroirs.com)

Didier was considered the wild man of the Loire for many years. An imposing figure at over six foot tall with a wild mane of red hair and thick bushy beard, he could be seen ploughing his biodynamically farmed fields with a horse and till. An outspoken critic of his fellow winemakers, he has gone from being the maverick of the region to the benchmark. His vineyards are kept to severely low yields, each harvest is done manually over several tries, producing less than 3 tons of fruit per hectare. In the winery he continues to push the boundaries of winemaking, using a blend of wild yeasts and cultivated yeasts, fermenting some of the wines in oak barriques that he has made to his own specifications, and eschewing malolactic fermentation even when the acidity seems inordinately high.
While his wines have sometimes drawn criticism, they are completely natural, with no recourse to chaptalisation that he cites is rampant in the region.

Anyway, Ive managed to get six bottles of his main cuvees. The first is the entry level wine - Blanc Fume de Pouilly which I believe used to be called "En Chailloux". The label is quite a funky musical number, which is a bit odd as Im not aware of a musical connection.

Ive not tried this one yet, so Im going to have to sell one before I can make any comments.

Next up is one of the two prestige cuvees, Pur Sang. The name means pure blood or thoroughbred and is a reference to the horse that Didier uses to plough his vineyards. (Didier is an ex motocross racer and he still races dogsleds in between making wine). Harvested from a single vineyard, the grapes undergo fermentation in oak barriques made to Didiers own specification (one and a half inches longer!). I'm not 100% sure, but I dont think this wine is aged in oak, unlike his tete de cuvee, Silex which is both fermented and aged in oak. Silex comes from old vines between 35 and 70 years old which are grown on a clay soil loaded with Silica (Silice in French). I've watched the price of this wine more than double in five years, and truthfully dont know if I can justify buying it, if (when) the price goes up again. Which is a shame, because it is shows just what Sauvignon is capable of. If every Pinot aspires to be Romanee Conti, then every Sauvignon aspires to be Silex.

There are a few more of his wines that I'd swap limbs to get hold of, but they are so limited in production that they go for obscene amounts of money. He has a Jurancon called "les Jardins de Babylone" which is about £50 for a half bottle, and there is an extremely limited wine called Asteroide, which has only been produced three or four times in the last ten years. It comes from a small plot (ten rows) of ungrafted vines that are very fragile and require constant supervision. I want some!!! Ive not been able to get a price for these as most of the suppliers have never heard of it. But I will get some!


Jules said...

How about both? As for "If every Pinot aspires to be Romanee Conti, then every Sauvignon aspires to be Silex." I'm not too sure, I have a funny feeling that Cloudy Bay simply aspires to be Cloudy Bay.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Jules' comment, Just what does Cloudy Bay aspire to be? A mass produced, mass marketed wine trading on a reputation not lived up to for some 10 years or more?
Better try Kevin Judd's new venture, Dog Point vineyards Sauvignon Blanc if you want to see what Kiwi Sauvignons are all about these days.
Pinkman Out! PS had to sign in annon as forgot damn password

grazza said...

True enough the Dogpoint Savvy knocks the shite out of Cloudy Bay. But then so do most New Zealand Savvys these days. CB continues to be sold under an urban myth of allocation and unavailability, thats total bollocks. I can get my hands on about a hundred cases if I wanted. Probably more if I went to the grey market. Im not slagging CB (completely) because I do think it is a good wine, but then I dont think there are any bad wines from New Zealand. Even the supermarket plonk is way better than most wines on the shelves these days. But it isnt the greatest wine ever to come from New Zealand, and no amount of bullshit from LVMH will ever convince me of that.

Anonymous said...

come on stop the NZ crap!
Get a life!

Antonio said...

The Musical Connection is Georges Brassens. He is a 'cult' French composer who has done some wacky songs. You can go to wikipedia to check out who he is. He supposedly matches Dageneau's creative spirit.

Anonymous said...

Brassens is not a cult composer. We learned his songs in junior high school in France, and everybody in France knows at least a few of his songs. But is that what's on the label?

Antonio said...

When I asked the Importer that is what I was told. He had no idea as to which song was on the label.