From US$12.99 (available in 43 states, according to their US distributor), £11.65, 134 Swedish krona, HK$208
It's the last morning of a visit to the Loire Valley, as a guest of generic body InterLoire. After three long days of tasting top-quality Chenin Blanc, gorging on extravagant cuisine and visiting spectacular châteaux, you long for less stressful work like brain surgery or bomb disposal. But no, it's yet another 9 am start and there's barely time to have a second freshly squeezed orange juice while you browse the papers at the buffet breakfast before you are plonked before a line of wine glasses, each an inch deep with wine, awaiting your jaded tastebuds.
Sigh. I try to bear it with fortitude, really I do. And you will be relieved to hear that it is all worthwhile when you find wines that really hit the spot. And on that Friday morning in the Loire earlier this month, they were the Vouvrays of Château Moncontour.
Located in the heart of Vouvray itself, Moncontour is the classic fairytale castle, all clipped lawns and cylindrical turrets. They produce a range of wines under different names according to their origin and destined market, from the Touraine, Vouvray and Chinon appellations. The parent brand of Moncontour produces solely Vouvray, 85% of which is sparkling.
Their flagship fizz is Cuvée Prédilection 2010, and this was the first of their wines to really impress me. It manages to offer the classic characteristics of bottle-fermented sparkling wine while retaining the distinctive signature of Chenin Blanc. Three years of lees ageing has generated a soft, creamy autolytic character and the dosage of 8 g/l makes it savoury but not austere, while shimmering acidity and waxy texture betray the variety, giving that vinous quality that distinguishes the best sparkling wines.
Faithfully expressing the character of Chenin Blanc is something they clearly embrace throughout. I mention this because all too often the aromatic character of white varieties is neutralised by cool-fermentation winemaking - especially at lower prices, and even more so when the flavours can be somewhat esoteric and unconventional, as good Chenin Blanc should be.
It was therefore especially pleasing to find that their still Vouvrays have plenty of personality, and the demi-secs especially so. I liked two equally: Ch Moncontour, Demi-Sec 2013 Vouvray (sold by Marks & Spencer in the UK) and Ch de Montfort Demi-Sec 2013 Vouvray (a sister estate, which I happened to review recently as part of the Waitrose tasting).
Differences between the two are negligible - both have around 23 grams per litre of residual sugar, both are around 11.5% alcohol and both are delicious. Both are also marked by particularly high acidity, which is a feature of the 2013 vintage - though it is not at all unbalanced. I thought the latter was marginally more developed on the nose, with more overt honey and dried grass and gentle spice aroma.
They are not the grandest or most complex Vouvrays on the market (see, for example, this most recent of reviews of Huet Vouvrays on this site), but they are perfect candidates for wines of the week, because they are great examples of a classic style at a good price. With so much indifferent Vouvray on the market (and the same could be said of virtually any European appellation, from champagne to Chianti to Rioja), it is heartening to find a producer doing such a great job, and reassuring to discover that good standard persisting throughout their range.
Furthermore, Vouvray is one of those styles that offers something quite different from most other white wines, especially when off-dry, which makes it worth being reminded of, I think. Especially when one is valiantly struggling through a press trip.