13 July, 2022
Noémie and me use a pipette and a measuring cup to take samples from the barrels previously determined by Thomas, always the same amount of liquid. The barrels contain ›finished‹ wine from the year 2021. From that year’s harvest Thomas wants to produce at least three different wines. (In France, unlike in Germany, you say ›cuvée‹ when referring to a wine – it doesn’t mean that it’s a mixture of two different grape varieties, I can’t stress that enough.) Thomas’s wines are solely made from Chenin Blanc, the only variety that he grows. The aforementioned three wines were also available in 2019, and are called
1. »Les Doyennes« – old vines, around 80 years old
2. »Le Rayon Blanc« – younger vines, 20-30 years old, and
3. »Les Turbulents« – a sparkling wine, a so-called pét nat, pétillant naturell, meaning it ferments and ages in the bottle, on its own lees
The 2020 vintage, which consists of just one wine, »Le Rayon Blanc«, is on sale right now, by the way. If you’re lucky you might also still find some bottles of the 2019 vintage.
For »Le Rayon Blanc« in its 2021 incarnation we mix casks 1-6, 10, 11, 19 and 20, for »Les Doyennes« casks 7, 12, 13, 14, 16 and 17. The casks contain either 225 or 400 litres. Thomas asks us outside to taste it, he would rather taste the wine here than in the cellar, where it was a bit gloomy and damp and the smell of mushrooms that lived everywhere irritated him. Noémie currently works in the wine shop La Cave de Belleville in Paris and has also completed a sommelière course. It’s amazing how good she is at tasting, analyzing and explaining wine!
We start with »Les Doyennes 2021«. I recognize the wine immediately by its nose, and Thomas points out that I already knew which wine it would be anyway. He is right. I find the whole action incredibly exciting, possibly Noémie and Thomas too, but their expressions are rather serious, I almost wrote ›sinister‹. ›Focused‹, that probably sums it up best. I realize once again that this profession, ›making‹ wine (there are winegrowers who refuse to use the word ›making‹), is a serious matter. What a winemaker of Thomas’ stature brings to the bottle is a unique, final statement, the end of a process that started in winter with the pruning of the vines; once the decision has been made on how to assemble, there is no going back. As soon as the wine is bottled, reception is in the hands of the drinkers.
I think »Les Doyennes 2021« is great, although I notice it all the more in the presence of two experienced wine people that I still don’t have a properly developed sense of taste. Thomas is not satisfied with the balance. He also always attaches great importance to the nose, i.e. how the wine smells. He makes out a slight alcohol note that he doesn’t like. The body is too slim for him, which may be due to the lack of sweetness. Noémie agrees with him on all points and explains to me what exactly constitutes ›balance‹. A good balance is an isosceles triangle, meaning an evenly distributed combination of sugar, alcohol, and acid. So it’s that simple! With red wine one speaks of a square, the fourth point being tannins (which are extracted from the grape’s skin, stems and seeds). Thomas disappears into the cellar and quickly composes a new blend of »Les Doyennes« by adding a small portion of his sweet 2020 wine. This wine, which he calls »liquoreux« (sweet), was also made from the old vines but the fermentation wasn’t completed, which explains the enormous residual sweetness and high alcohol content. Oh yes, we all like this version (even) better! Thomas nods, makes a note in his head and decides to let the wines that will make »Les Doyennes 2021« continue to mature in the barrel for the time being.
On to »Le Rayon Blanc 2021«! Noémie spots a brioche nose, she can feel a salty element too. On the palate I find the wine to be very lean, which for Thomas is a marker for the 2021 vintage. The wine ends with a big flourish, a lemony pop, which for me is a distinctive sign of any of Thomas’s wines. This wine is gorgeous and… ready to be released! Thomas smiles, Noémie nods appreciatively. It’s 6.30 p.m. and we need to get ready to go out for a barbecue. Closing time!