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.