Thursday, March 12, 2009

Demi-Sec Faceoff #3: Richter vs. Aubuisières

It's been an eon since the last demi-sec faceoff — high time for bout number three! In this corner we have a 2005 Vouvray from Domaine des Aubuisières, and in that corner a 1990 Spätlese from VDP producer Max Ferd. Richter. Touch gloves, gentlemen!

Of course, this isn't actually a competition. These are of course very different wines, not least of all given the obvious age difference. Rather, I love to explore the virtues and distinctions of demi-secs — to see what makes them tick, to see how they differ and how they relate, and to test them with food.

In this pairing, the issue of acidity really came to the fore. Chenin blanc from Vouvray and riesling from the Mosel can be some of the most thrilling wine on earth, but if they don't have enough acidity, the wine will lack clarity and the ability to pair well with certain foods, or even end up simply and overly sweet.

Domaine des Aubuisières Vouvray Les Girardières 2005
Bernard Fouquet is a highly regarded winemaker who pursues a "less interventionist" approach: the vines receive minimal treatments, the grapes are harvested by hand, and sulfur is applied in small doses. The Les Girardières is grown in silex-based soils, rather than the limestone tuffeaux typical in Vouvray, and it's fermented in vat rather than oak.

Aubuisières should be applauded for posting good technical info to their web site. Many people have noted that 2005 Loire whites seem to lack acidity, and Aubuisières's numbers tell the story: while the 2007 Les Girardières has 8.1 grams per liter of acidity, the 2005 vintage has but 4.8 grams per liter — nearly half a more typical "classic" vintage. Despite this, the residual sugars in the two wines (which I really wish I could compare head-to-head) are quite similar: 26 g/l vs. 28 g/l in the 2005.

As with many other white Loire wines, the lack of acidity here is apparent. The aromas show apple, honeydew, and faint hints of beeswax and wool. I get sweet apple and canteloupe flavors upon entry, a soft round body, and the wine finishes with good minerality, tangy citrus and a pleasing hint of bitter herbs. But despite the tang, a lack of adequate acidity turns a potentially very good and complex wine into one that's a bit flabby and simple-sweet, and as it didn't improve over five days, I doubt this wine's aging potential. Despite the sweetness, this didn't work so well with a spicy Malaysian noodle dish, although that might be due to the bitter herb characteristics.

Max Ferd. Richter Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 1990
At 18+ years old this is remarkably fresh. This would surprise me in any case, but all the more so because the crusty, blackened cork demonstrated evidence of heat damage, as the wine had leaked up and over the top of the cork. When you look at the photo above right, you might just feel the alarm I felt. Yet appearances can deceive, and this wine was actually in very good shape. Whew!

I have no specific knowledge of how the acid-to-sugar ratios in this wine stack up, but the Richter web site does post numbers for more recent vintages, and their 2007 Spätlesen average roughly 70 g/l of residual sugar and 8 g/l of acidity. Of course, this Erdener Treppchen would have tasted much different 15 years ago — much sweeter by comparison — but I'm looking at that acidity number (again, not that I know the 1990's stats, but this is an instructive guideline).

Enough with numbers! I only mean to use them as signposts. They can't tell us anything about the grapes, the vintage, the vineyard, the winemaking, and the years that have passed. To the glass!

The nose on this Erdener Treppchen is rich with petrol, mango, and fig, but for all its aromatic voluputousness, it's trim and nicely proportioned on the palate. Apple and peach dominate, although the fruit is buttressed by lovely herb, lime, and spicy-sweet mango notes that show good length on the crunchy finish. That said, we come back to the acidity issue. While it is by no means bereft of acidity, it is slightly blurry on the palate, and I feel it could use a touch more acidity and more apparent mineral transparency. It's therefore not as precise as I would hope from a $40 wine — and I tasted this over five days to be sure.

Still, it's at its most complex and expressive on day 5, and in contrast to the Les Girardières Vouvray, this paired well with the Malaysian noodles. So if you have a bottle of this, why not hold it for a while and see what happens? It is very fresh, and it may yet go where it needs to be.

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