We started our relationship with the Foreau family in early 1982 when André Foreau was still running the domaine. Our first purchases included the magnificent Vouvray Brut Réserve 1977 and Vouvray Moelleux from the 1976 vintage. Over the years, we have had the distinct pleasure on many occasions of enjoying older treasures from these marvelous cellars, courtesy of the generosity of both André and now Philippe Foreau. This kind of learning experience reveals the extraordinary capacity of the noble Chenin Blanc grape, when planted in the prime vineyard sites of Vouvray and managed by a talented and dedicated family such as Foreau, to develop complex flavors and aromas and seductive textures that are inimitable and grand.
The vineyards of the Domaine du Clos Naudin are located in the northeast corner of Vouvray, sited mid-hill with 100% south/southeast/southwest exposures. The principal vineyards are known as “Les Perruches” and “Les Ruettes”. The average age of the vines is approximately 45 years. Yields over the past 10 years have averaged 33 hectoliters per hectare. The vineyards are tended pursuant to organic methods – without the use of herbicides and worked with organic fertilizers. Production levels are approximately 30,000 bottles per annum of still wine and 25,000 bottles annually of sparkling wine made following the traditional “champagne” method.
Harvest is done manually with numerous passes through the vineyards to select ripe grapes bunch by bunch. Crush is done with a pneumatic press and fermentation occurs in barrels of 300 liter size. The barrels are of varying age with a renewal of about 5% annually. Malolactic fermentation never occurs. The wines ferment slowly in the cave over a two month period at about 16 degrees Centigrade. The wines are racked twice before bottling which occurs for the still wines normally in mid-May of the year following harvest. Foreau never chapitalizes his wines; demi-sec and moelleux cuvées are only made in years when the grapes naturally reach a high degree of ripeness. The sparkling wines remain on the lees for at least 48 months to achieve maximum richness and complexity; disgorging occurs once each quarter. In exceptional vintages, Foreau produces a “reserve” bottling of sparkling Vouvray that carries the vintage year on the label.
Philippe Foreau’s wines age remarkably well. Each wine exhibits an extraordinary panoply of flavors and aromas of fruit, floral and earth elements. Because we believe so strongly in these wines, we make a considerable investment in our stocks so that we maintain a series of older vintages for your pleasure.
|Vouvray Sec: When Foreau issues a “Sec” (and the decision to do so relates entirely to the vintage conditions and the composition of the grapes at harvest), the wine can carry from 1 to 2 grams of residual sugar but never more than 6 grams. Because of the vibrant acidity that accompanies these wines, the sensation one experiences is of drinking a scintillatingly dry wine, although one with considerable body and a honeyed texture. We tend to have several vintages available at all times so that our clients can have the option of enjoying the Vouvray Sec in its youth but also with several years of bottle age.|
|Vouvray Demi-Sec: Again, Foreau does not produce a Demi-Sec every year. All depends on the level of ripeness at time of harvest. When a Demi-Sec is released by the domaine, it can carry somewhere between 8 and sometimes as much as 20 grams or so of residual sugar but, more often than not, a Foreau Demi-Sec will be at the 8 to 12 grams RS level. Obviously, each year develops from its own unique circumstances. As indicated in the general description above, Foreau NEVER chapitalizes to achieve the Demi-Sec level and malo-lactic fermentations are never permitted to occur. All still wines at Foreau are bottled during the spring season following the harvest.|
|Vovuray Moelleux: The Moelleux cuvées are made in vintages when at least a portion of the vineyards produce grapes that carry significant levels of natural sugar. Botrytis sometimes occurs but it is not necessary in order to declare a Moelleux. Conditions of “passerillage”, that is extended exposure of the grapes to sun and high luminosity, create the impetus to release wines as Moelleux. Wines so declared can carry formidable leves of residual sugar: 25 grams is perhaps the minimum but more often the Moelleux at the Foreau domaine has 35 or 50 or sometimes even 80 or 90 grams of sugar left in the wine. The goal is to create a wine that is in perfect balance, maintaining a proper level of acidity while keeping the ultimate alcohol level under control.|
|Vouvray Moelleux Réserve: It is the rare vintage that is blessed with the conditions necessary for Foreau to release a Moelleux Réserve. Wines so declared frequently have levels of residual sugar that are in excess of 150 grams of residual sugar. It is not, however, simply the level of ripeness that creates the Moelleux Réserve; it is as much the conditions of the growing season that produce grapes that have a level of complexity and ripeness that demand this sort of classification. An error that many make in assessing and utilizing these wines is to consider the sugar quotient as a disqualifier for use of this wine during any stage of a meal. Our experience is such that these wines can marry well with a wide range of dishes served at the beginning, middle or end of a meal. Recent vintages that have seen the release of a Moelleux Réserve are: 2009, 2005, 2003.|
|Vouvray Brut: As noted above, Foreau produces a sparkling wine from 100% Chenin Blanc. Although the label does not specify a vintage, this vin mousseux is almost always from a single vintage and is left on the lies for at least 48 months before it is disgorged. Frequently, the grapes used to create this sparkling wine are harvested from the younger vines of the domaine and are harvested at an earlier stage of the season so as to preserve a particularly high level of natural acidity. Depending on production levels (once again, as with the other cuvées, not every year is ideal for producing a “Brut”), the Vouvray Brut from Foreau can rest on the lies even longer than the minimum of forty-eight months, thus providing even more richness and complexity.|
Vouvray Brut Réserve Millésimé: In rare vintages, conditions are so favorable that Philippe Foreau makes a separate cuvée of sparkling wine that specifies the vintage from which it is born. In this case, the vin mousseux remains on the lies for sixty months or more and, upon release, the exceptional qualities of Chenin Blanc from the best sectors of Vouvray handled by a true master of the craft are manifest! Recent declared vintages are: 2007 and 2002.
“Pure Energy”: the 2016s from Philippe and Vincent Foreau
Our biannual visits with the Foreau clan in Vouvray have developed a certain reassuring rhythm over the many years of our partnership. We convene in the house, toasting with the latest disgorgement of their peerless Brut (which routinely spends at least five years on its lees). Then, after exchanging pleasantries, we cross their quiet street and descend to their awe-inspiring cellar, dug by hand out of the zone’s classic tuffeau limestone during Philippe’s grandfather’s time. Its raw walls, lit sparingly by the occasional hanging bulb, speak viscerally of the local terroir. Barriques blackened and weathered by time—the Foreaus use them for 20 or 30 years—flank the cave’s tunnels, and one marvels that such pure wines are birthed in such humble vessels. The entire operation, in fact, is a powerful reminder that technology is not required to make great wine.
Deeper into the heart of the cave lies the stockage—the family’s impressive collection of the many vintages that comprise their history. Here, surrounded by bottles some of which are older than anyone present, is where we get down to the business of tasting. Philippe and his son Vincent—who technically assumed the reins as of 2015, and who is cut undeniably from the family cloth—walk us through a procession of wines, not just from the vintages currently for sale, but reaching far into the past. (We have enjoyed, in the past several years, 1989s, 1978s, and even the emotionally charged 1945—a wine the family never commercialized, instead retaining the entire production from the vintage’s miserly five-hectoliters-per-hectare yield.) Philippe, a legendary gourmand, offers precise tasting notes and mind-bogglingly specifies the proper food pairings for each and every bottle they present. The situation, though charming and fun, underlines that such thrillingly precise wines should be shepherded into existence by such a demanding, exacting palate.
Because the Foreaus have always made their wines in the same low-key way—natural fermentation and aging in the aforementioned ancient barriques, blocked malolactic fermentation, never any chaptalization—there is a clear thread connecting current vintages to past versions. Philippe and Vincent expressed justifiably heightened enthusiasm for the soon-to-arrive 2016s, a vintage in which frost inflicted a 30% reduction in yield, but which compensated with wines of striking clarity and mineral-driven precision. While the acidity levels are equal to those of 2008 (and thus higher than any vintage of the past several decades), the wines have a concentration approaching that of the 2015s, and this tension lends them notable electricity; Philippe succinctly summarized the vintage as “pure energy.” The Foreaus farm organically nearly every vintage, with chemical intervention used only to save a crop (the last time this was done was in 2012), and the fruit they harvested in 2016 was healthy and quite ripe, allowing them to make their infamous Moelleux Réserve in fairly generous quantities.
We encourage you highly to lay claim to a share of these 2016s—a thrilling and distinctive vintage from a family that continues to represent the apogee of classical Vouvray.
2016 Vouvray Sec
Philippe and Vincent’s 2016 Sec shows early promise as being one of the greatest dry wines of the past several decades. Philippe, ever the enlightened taster, characterizes it as a hypothetical blend of 1996 and 2002—two vintages which longtime Foreau lovers will surely recall with fondness. Like those years, the 2016 is driven by an acidity so noble and pure that it brings the supporting panoply of aromas and flavors into laser-focus, rendering its 7.8 grams per liter of residual sugar (on the high side for a typical Foreau Sec) all but invisible. While showing a similar concentration to the 2015, the ’16 is less earth-driven, more gleaming and crystalline—a wine of precision rather than weight. Its nose offers varietally pure white flowers and intense crushed chalk, channeling nakedly the fabled tuffeau which comprises the Clos Naudin’s soils, and a complicating note of white truffle contributes depth. The saline, humming finish amplifies the palate’s coiled intensity and promises years of positive development.
2016 Vouvray Demi-Sec
Like the Sec above, the 2016 Demi-Sec comes across with cut and is delicate despite its ample richness. At 20 grams per liter of residual sugar—again reading as drier than its measurements would predispose one to guess—it is a tangy, succulent Vouvray driven by notes of citrus blossom, mango, and lime zest. In contrast to the denser, more monolithic 2015, the flavors of this ‘16 seem to reverberate within a spacious chamber, playing off one another while remaining distinct. As one might expect from a Demi-Sec, the tension is slightly more massaged by the well-judged sweetness than with its rapier-like Sec vintage-mate, but there is still no trace of flab. Philippe states authoritatively that this deftly balanced, prismatic wine will still taste young 20 years after the vintage.
2016 Vouvray Moelleux Réserve
It is only in exceptionally gifted vintages that Foreau produces a Moelleux Réserve, but 2016 was downright munificent in its quality, and thus Philippe and Vincent were able to produce 4,000 bottles of a Réserve that will surely outlive us all. It is a testament to both the mystical versatility of Chenin Blanc in this zone as well as the Foreau family’s utter mastery that a wine clocking in at 130 grams per liter of residual sugar can taste so balletic and driving. At this stage of infancy, the dominant notes are those of pineapple and crunchy pear, along with a distinct element of acacia honey—that ethereal, delicately floral honey whose lacy character echoes the character of these 2016s across the board. Even at this elevated level of sucrosity, there is plenty of breathing room in the wine’s delicately rendered harmony of elements, and the overriding theme again is one of clarity and precision —a remarkable feat.