Monday, November 18, 2013

Papin-Chevalier Clos du Coulaine Savennieres, 1996: Premox in the Loire?

I have been drinking and enjoying Savennieres since the early 1980s and consider it one of the greatest dry white wines of the world. I bought mostly what was available--Chateau d'Epire and Domaine Baumard; in the early 1980s; some excellent bottles could be had for $6 to $8 from Village Corner in Ann Arbor. I went through about two cases of the 1982 d'Epire as a delightful every day white when it was young and as a far more serious wine when it was 15 to 20 years of age. I still have several bottles, but it has matured past the point that I can truly enjoy it or put it on the family table. Within the last five years, though, I have had amazing bottles of the 1979, 1982 and 1985 Clos du Papillon of Baumard--fresh, lively and incredibly complex. A bottle of the 1997 Chateau Plaisance was less complex but very, very good.

With that said, I know that Savennieres is capable of long aging, and I am leery of opening bottles too soon for fear of losing the wonderful experience of mature Savennieres. So what is wrong with this bottle?????

The color is a deep copper--a bad sign. And, yes, the oxidized smells hit you smack in the face. True, there are some decent flavors--ripe quince and melon. But I find nothing to compare with the much older bottles of Clos du Papillon. And within a short time the flavors become too pungent to really enjoy.

Clos de Coulaine is recognized by nearly everybody as one of the best vineyards in Savennieres. Claude Papin is known as an excellent winemaker. My own experience with this wine is limited to bottles from 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 that I bought and put away. All have had varying degrees of oxidation and overly pungent flavors. I know that it sounds silly to call a 17-year-old white wine "prematurely oxidized," but the reputation of Savennieres and my own experience told me that this is the time to start opening these Chenin Blanc wines.

Two of the Loire experts I respect the most--Chris Kissick and Richard Kelly--have online reviews of these vintages of Clos de Coulaine that give no indication of premature oxidation. And Papin's Anjou Blanc from the same era that I bought at the same time for about $4 a bottle have aged beautifully. These are made from the same grape (Chenin Blanc) from vines just across the river belonging to Papin. (He rents the more prestigious Clos de Coulaine vineyard).

I can find no signs of poor storage or transportation of these wines (corks are sound, no ullage, no staining of capsules). But that is the best explanation I can come up with at this time--maybe a low level of heat or cold that did not cause the wine to leak from the bottle. It's sad; I had been looking forward to enjoying these bottles of Clos de Coulaine.

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