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Clos de la Coulée de Serrant: a vertical tasting 

Clos de la Coulée de Serrant is unusual. It’s a single property in Savennières (in France’s Loire Valley), yet it has its own appellation. Exclusively white wines are made here, from the Chenin Blanc grape, but perhaps the main reason Coulée de Serrant is so talked about is because its owner is Nicolas Joly, one of the leading proponents of biodynamic viticulture.

I’ve written widely about biodynamics and Monsieur Joly elsewhere on this site; here I will focus on the wines. As you’d expect from such an enthusiast for biodynamie, the wines are quite striking. This vertical tasting, which was arranged by Joly’s UK agents Corney & Barrow and tutored by Joly himself, demonstrated that while there is a common theme running through the different vintages, the variation is quite marked.

This raises several interesting questions. If terroir is such a powerful imprint on a wine when it is allowed to express itself (and this is Joly’s stated goal), how come the wines differ so much vintage to vintage? Is the weather pattern of each growing season part of terroir? And how much of the character of these wines is contributed by the winemaking?

My take is that the terroir of Coulée de Serrant is like a particular language: you can use this language to say different things. So terroir is not overpowering, but a subtle thread that runs from vintage to vintage. For this reason I wouldn’t count the unique weather characteristics of each year as part of the terroir. And with regard to the winemaking, the microbiology of fermentation – encouraged by wild yeast ferments and a non-interventionist approach – has a significant influence on these wines.

Joly insists that his wines improve for several days after they are opened, and that bottles should be drunk over this sort of timescale. We were therefore just sampling a snapshot of the expression of each of these vintages. I thought they were all fascinating wines, full of personality and with real intellectual appeal. Part of this appeal lies in their intrinsic oddness. In a world of standardized wine, we need more wines like these.

The only problem with them is the price, which is hovering at around £40 per bottle. It’s not Joly’s fault: obviously these are the prices that the market will bear, and the wines are pretty serious. But it does mean that relatively few will be able to appreciate them.

Coulée de Serrant 1999
Nicolas Joly is very keen on his 1999, which he considers to be archetypal, representing his favoured style. Quite a deep yellow/gold colour. Sweet, intense, apricotty nose with some savoury complexity. The palate is intense, firm and assertive. Very rich, spicy and savoury with supercharged apricotty fruit. High acidity. Remarkable stuff that reminds me of a bone dry Sauternes. Excellent

Coulée de Serrant 1997
Joly describes this as a ‘masculine year of intense heat’, which led him to use nettle tea treatments. There is 5 g/l of residual sugar, which he describes as ‘cosmetic’. Striking lifted acidity on the nose, with intense fino sherry-like notes. Quite a soft, rich, rounded palate with a slightly cheesy edge and rounded, waxy fruit. Nice intensity to this wine, which is unusual and striking. Very good/excellent

Coulée de Serrant 1996
Along with 1999, 1996 is one of his two favourite vintages. It was a hot year, but a little cooler than 1997. Lovely rich, rounded nutty nose with bready, creamy notes. Nice complexity. Lovely balance on the palate with great breadth of nutty, savoury fruit. The acidity is seamlessly integrated. Very classy. Excellent

Coulée de Serrant 1995
Over 15% alcohol with 5g/l of residual sugar. Deep gold colour. Touch of lifted acidity on the nose with some mature caramel and fino sherry notes. The sherry notes disappear after a while. The palate has a fino sherry edge with some broad, savoury fruit and well integrated acidity. Tastes quite mature. Very good+

Coulée de Serrant 1989
Joly says that he knows more know, and if he did this vintage again he’d do it differently. Still, it’s an impressive wine. Lovely but unusual nose: waxy and cheesy with slightly petrolly notes. The palate is savoury, intense and slightly cheesy, with some almost animal-like notes. Good acidity keeps things in balance. Rich and full flavoured with some complexity. Very good/excellent

Coulée de Serrant 1988
Elegant yet intense nose of creamy, spicy, nutty fruit with some savoury, slightly cheesy complexity. Vivid, intense palate is concentrated and complex with assertive acidity and a good depth of spicy fruit. The high acid keeps things fresh, although for some this may be veering towards austerity. Very good/excellen

see also: Coulée de Serrant over six days

wines tasted November 2002
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