Easily some of the best wines I have ever tasted passed my lips last week at Carloine’s Fine Wine Cellar. We enjoyed a vertical tasting of Moulin Tochais from the vintages ‘98, ‘95, ‘91, ‘90, ‘82, ‘80, ‘77, and ‘75. The tasting was presided over by the jovial and quotable Ken Forrester of Ken Forrester Wines.
Moulin Touchais is situated in the Coteaux du Layon region of the Loire Valley, and their sweet wines come from that grape of many guises, Chenin Blanc. It is no secret that I am rather partial to Chenin; I am continually amazed at how many different expressions this grape is capable of, and last Thursday I was introduced to some supremely good examples.
Ken Forrester is one of South Africa’s biggest Chenin advocates, and he claims that Chenin is the world’s finest white grape. I think he might have a point, although I know a few people who would shake their heads tut tutting and and say that Riesling is the finest white grape in the world. As for me? I’ll take a bottle of each thanks.
The tasting kicked off with the Ken Forrester Chenin 2009 which was a typical example, pear drops on the nose with a whisper of toasty oak; the palate was quite tight and the acidity had great lines. A pretty good bargain at R72 from Caroline’s.
One the big boys of South Africa Chin is The FMC which is made from a single vineyard of 42 year old bush vines that are meticulously cared for, for example each bunch can only have 17 leaves which means that in terms of maintenance these bush vines are better manicured and cared for than me.
We tasted the 2008 whose nose was large and rich with hints of botrytis coming though in the form of dried apricots that followed on to the palate accompanied by a minerally edge. This wine is wide, quite creamy and voluptuous rather than fat, sticky and flabby. The sturdy acidity keeps the 12.5 grams of residual sugar under control. Although I prefer a little more elegance in my Chenins this is undoubtedly still one of SA’s Chenin flag bearers.
Then came the wines that made me feel like a house built by fool-hardy pigs, and these wines hardly had to huff or puff. We started with the ‘98 and immediately the length struck me, one of my notes reads “this is what length is about”. The time all their flavours spent on the palate was almost never ending; seriously, after leaving the tasting, driving to a restaurant and ordering a bottle of wine I could still feel those wines hanging about. That’s longer than Ron Jeremy my friends.
The way these wines are harvested seems to be the secret to their longevity (in bottle not palate, but I’m sure it helps the latter as well). Some of the grapes are picked quite early ensuring lots of acidity, while thew rest are picked at later and later stages allowing for high sugar levels and concentration. Although I have read that these wines are unaffected by noble rot, I found that some Botrytis came through on the ‘95 which was elegant, rich and so so fresh . I began to understand what I had read about these wines only starting to show their quality after a decade. This one made some of our more recent Noble Late Harvests seem geriatric.
The ‘90 was dainty and restrained, and Ken waxed lyrical comparing it to a light-footed ballerina (what is with men and their wine and women comparisons?). I picked up a sort of latex note which made me tell crude jokes about Ken and ballerinas. They were not very funny. There was a leaness to this wine which I guess is where Ken was going with daintiness; not my favourite but that’s like saying I prefer Shakespeare to Milton, it is a stylistic thing, not a qualitative thing.
The ‘82 was my favourite, it was more complex than the mind of a woman and just as beautiful (me too, I know). The flavours ranged from onion skins to tropical fruit, with a shrubby character somewhere as well, but also lemon, honey and spice. The acidity was taught and gave the wine a linear feel. I have not tasted a better sweet wine. Possibly the best wine I have ever tasted; I could have had the whole bottle to myself, in the corner, giggling all the while. The sugar – as in each and every wine – was handled deftly by the acidity, and not once did I get any cloying, flabby or sticky vibes.
The ‘77 was richer than the previous wines and was more oxidative in character, with a brandy like nose that I enjoyed while some at the table didn’t. It was slithery and squishy at the same time; also very complex with dried pineapple and apricots, and a spicy nutty element. Like chewing on some roasted almonds while walking past a spice shop. Understand that these flavours and smells were fleeting and mingled amongst each other, hard to pin down, but making the experience of drinking all the more enjoyable.
What amazed me most about these wines was their freshness, especially as two of them were over thirty years old. I would love to taste them again in another thirty years time or more as these wines can age for 100 years (reread that: 100 years, wow, I’ll never make it that far), but unfortunately for me the few bottles that were left for sale (at silly prices, they were only around R300-R400) were snapped up before I could get to the shelf. When I reached the shelf some old crones were hugging the bottles to their bosoms cackling at me; I wanted to tell them they’d be dead before these wines peaked. Instead I just smiled and said, “ooooh lucky you” before scouring the tables for any left-overs of the ‘82.
An interesting point was made by Ken before the tasting began, he said “Chenin has the ability to remember its flavour and return it twenty to forty years later,” which was absolutely true here. You could taste the Chenin in these wines, the fruit still expressing itself 30 years later. Amazing.