Saturday, November 2, 2013

2011 Vouvray Sec Coteau de la Biche Domaine Pichot – Touraine, Loire Valley, France

Unless you are accustomed to reading French wine labels, this one can be a bit difficult to decipher. The vintage is 2011, the appellation indicated is Vouvray, the producer is Domaine Pichot and the vineyard is Domaine le Peu de la Moriette. Although not stated on the front label the country of origin is obviously France but the region is not stated, the sub-region is not stated, and the grape varietal is also not stated on the label. The reader of the wine label would need to know that Vouvray is in the Touraine AOC (one of the 4 sub-regions of the Loire Valley) and what grape(s) are grown there. They would also need to know that “Sec” indicates that the wine is dry to off-dry.

The Wine Grapes and Styles of Touraine

Touraine is an Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the Loire Valley wine region in France that produces dry, off-dry and sweet white wines and dry red wines rich in tannins. The AOC status was awarded by a decree of December 24, 1939 (modified by the decree of August 29, 2002). The wine-growing area extends over 13,000 acres.

The white wines are made from Chenin Blanc grapes (known locally as Pineau Blanc de la Loire), and from Sauvignon Blanc and Arbois grapes.

The sparkling wines are allowed to use the designation “Touraine mousseux” (sparkling Touraine wine) in the traditional méthode champenoise that became popular in the 18th and 19th century in Champagne. Sparkling wines can either be pétillant (semi-sparkling) or mousseux (fully sparkling) and up to 20% of Chardonnay grapes may be included in the mixture of varieties used.

Dry rosé and red wines are made from Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon, Malbec (known locally as “Côt”), Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Gris, Pineau d'Aunis, Gamay and Grolleau grape varieties.


Vouvray is a commune located in the Touraine district just east and along the right bank of the Loire river east of the city of Tours. It is situated on top a plateau that is dissected by small streams and tributaries of the Loire such as the Cisse and Brenne. The Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) is dedicated almost exclusively to Chenin Blanc though the obscure and minor grape Arbois is permitted but rarely used and I have never come across one in the USA. So, if you are looking at a label for a white wine in Vouvray you can safely assume that it is Chenin Blanc. In Vouvray Chenin Blanc is naturally high in acidity which enables it to benefit from extensive ageing.

The climate and weather in this region varies year to year which greatly influences the style of wines produced. In cooler years dry (sec) and sparkling Vouvray dominate the vintage. Its close proximity to the river lends itself to the development of the Botrytis cinerea fungus that causes the noble rot.  So, in warmer and more favorable vintages the climate becomes suitable for producing sweet moelleux or liquourex styles in a manner similar to the sweet dessert wines of Sauternes.

Vouvray produces more than a million cases of wine a year. The traditional style of winemaking in Vouvray is a minimalist approach using neutral fermentation vessels such as neutral oak or stainless steel and not submitting the wine to secondary malolactic fermentation. Vouvrays are usually bottled early and expected to age in the wine bottle.

The History of Domaine Pichot 

Domaine Pichot is a family of the properties owned by Jean-Claude (the father) who labels his wines ‘Coteau de la Biche’ and Christophe (the son) who labels his wines ‘Peu de la Moriette’. The Pichot family is one of the oldest in Vouvray, with origins as viticulturists and restaurateurs dating back to 1739. The family cellars are located in caverns hewn from the rolling hills which were quarried to provide stone to construct the grand Châteaux of the Loire.

Jean-Claude was the only one of six sons to continue the family tradition of vigneron (winemaker). Domaine ‘le Peu de la Moriette’ was built from three main vineyards by Jean-Claude and his son, Christophe. The name originates from the old French, ‘Puits du petit Maure’, or ‘Well of the little moor’, which dates back to when the Moors had settled in this region of France. ‘Coteau de la Biche’ was founded by Jean-Claude’s maternal great grandfather. “Biche” is the French word for a female deer and legend has it that that a doe once took refuge in the cellars of this domaine.

The Vineyards and Winemaking of Domaine Pichot 

Domaine le Peu de la Moriette has expanded over the years from thirty to nearly fifty-two acres of hillside vineyard, cultivated without chemical pesticides. The soils consists of
Clayey limestone with flint in the Coteau de la Biche vineyard and Clayey limestone in the Marigny and Peu de la Moriette vineyards The vineyards are planted entirely with 6,600 vines per hectare (2.47 acres) of Chenin Blanc that are pruned back to form short spurs, with no more than 12 buds per vine. The vines vary in age from 20 to 55 years old. Harvesting is done by hand and machine.

Once brought into the winery, the grapes are processed with a pneumatic press and then allowed to cold settle for 48 hours at 5° C (41° F). Fermentation of the wine is made in 90% stainless steel tanks and 10% in 400-litre wooden vats at temperatures ranging between 16° (60° F) and 18°C (64° F).[1]

The Wine

On the second day of the Intensive Sommelier Training at ICC we tasted 6 wines - 3 domestic and 3 imported. I reviewed the first imported wine in my previous post. 

The second imported wine we tasted was the 2011 Vouvray Sec Coteau de la Biche Domaine Pichot. It is a clear, straw-yellow wine with subtle aromas of bruised apple, lime, pineapple, wet wool, summer squash, lanolin and just a hint of floral soap. On the palate it is off-dry with medium+ acidity which is somewhat hidden by the sweetness but it noticeable in the lingering finish as the mouth continues to salivate. It is well balanced between acidity and sweetness. A pleasing wine that sells for about $19 - $22 retail.


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