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
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
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
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
also: Coulée de Serrant over six days
tasted November 2002
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