This summer I visited Vignobles Touchais in the village of Doué-la-Fontaine in the central part of the Loire wine region. Their wine Moulin Touchais is a sweet wine from the Coteaux du Layon appellation, produced from Chenin Blanc grapes.
The residual sugar level of Moulin Touchais is typically 80-90 grams per liter so while it is sweet, it is not extremely sweet. The wine is never sold young, only at a minimum of 10 years of age. Moulin Touchais is produced from grapes harvested at two different times. About 20 per cent of the grapes are harvested slightly underripe, at an extra high acidity level (and Chenin Blanc is fairly high in acidity to start with) and about 80 per cent is harvested late, at high ripeness. This combination gives a wine with a bit extra acidity, and a long lifespan. The grapes harvested late tends to be only very ripe or overripe, rather than affected by botrytis/noble rot to any greater extent. Moulin Touchais therefore doesn’t really show too much of the notes of dried apricots or the extreme sweetness that some of the heaviest sweet Loire wines can do. The “pre-aging” provides the wine with a good concentration of aromas and pleasant notes of e.g. honey and marzipan, together with the spice notes typical of Chenin. Moulin Touchais pairs well with many sweet desserts that aren’t too sweet, and particularly well if there are some spices or baked notes in them. Apple cake is an excellent pairing, but don’t smother it in some sweet sauce. With fresh fruit or berries I’d rather recommend a young sweet wine that is more on its primary fruit. Moulin Touchais also work well with a range of cheeses.
I’ve tasted these wines at a number of occasions, so far going back to the 1949 vintage, and they’ve been to my liking. Last year I attended two vertical tastings of Moulin Touchais in our wine tasting club AuZone (blog posts on vertical number one plus some additional words about this wine, and on vertical number two). I therefore thought it would be a good idea to visit them on location, when I and a Brussels-based friend made a two-day visit to the central part of the Loire region – “Chenin land” – this summer.
Vignobles Touchais definitely keeps a low profile. As an example, they don’t have a website, but they welcomed a visit provided that we showed up during office hours. I remember reading somewhere that they were somewhat difficult to find, but we had their address – 25 Avenue du Général Leclerc – and a GPS navigator. When we arrived at our supposed destination, we still scratched our heads and weren’t sure that we really were in the right place. There were no signs of a winery or any signs of any similar commercial activity. We weren’t looking for a really small place, we thought, since they’re known for a huge stock of bottles – remember the ten years before release! We actually didn’t even find a sign indicating which house was number 25 on the street, but the house after number 23 and before number 27 seemed like the logical assumption. However, this looked like a small and more-or-less abandoned house, that wasn’t nearly big enough to be the location of a large winery. I therefore pulled out the email with the address, which checked, and then stepped out of the car to check if there possibly was something more promising on the other side of the street – but no.
At this point we noticed that there was a gravel track next to the small house that we thought were number 25, and it looked like there was another building behind it. So we drove in and found some sort of courtyard and parking lot and a much larger building, that definitely looked big enough to house a winery. But still no signs or any other indication what it was. My friend opened the door and called inside to see if anyone was around, but got no immediate response. After a little while, though, a lady emerged from the upper floor via a small staircase, and could confirm that we indeed had found Vignobles Touchais and were welcome to step inside. On the upper floor we also found the owner, Jean-Marie Touchais, who was the one who showed us around.
At the end of the pleasant visit we metioned that they weren’t too easy to find and that they were quite anonymous as seen from the street. He just shrugged and said that he wasn’t too interested in selling to random bypassers, and that those that knew about Moulin Touchais and really were looking usually found them, as we had done. In the year of our lord 2013, it’s somewhat refreshing to encounter wine producers with that attitude to marketing, in particular combined with no less than 23 vintages for sale and modest prices. 🙂
Vignobles Touchais owns 145 hectares (some 360 acres) of vineyards, primarily in the Saumur appellation, as I understood it. Their total production is some 9000 hectoliters per year per år, with most of this sold in bulk, as base wine for the production of sparkling wine (a significant product from this part of Loire) and possibly for supermarket bottlings of Saumur blanc. That’s not really wines that are likely to sell at very elevated prices, but it is what pays for the operation of Vignobles Touchais. The production of Moulin Touchais was said to average some 300 hectoliters, which should correspond to some 40 000 bottles annually. The rather modest proportion of this wine explains why they can afford to cellar it for 10 years before putting it on the market. After all, it is only some 3% of their production. They also produce a small amount of a red wine called La Cuvée Alexis, from the Anjou rouge appellation.
My impression is that Moulin Touchais is well known in those markets – not too many – where it is dold, and fairly unknown elsewhere. My native Sweden is one of those markets, and the Netherlands is another. Canada is apparently a major market. Jean-Marie Touchais said that he actually got more Canadian than Swedish visitors, which is a bit surprising given the sizable body of water that separates France from North America.
If a producer cellars a wine for 10 years before starting to sell it, and on top of that has a sizeable stock of many older vintages, this adds up to quite a number of bottles in the cellar, and this was quite visible during our visit. There’s a story about a sizable part of the cellar of Vignobles Touchais being walled-up during World War II and only opened up a long time later, but I know that they have moved location since then, so I didn’t look for any remnants of that wall. I find it fascinating that so many old vintages of Moulin Touchais are still available to be bought directly from the producer! The older vintages are of course more expensive, but not very much more. Prices for the youngest vintages vary somewhat, with the better vintages sold at a slightly higher price. The oldest vintage on the price list was 1971, and the price list included 23 vintages with 2003 being the youngest. So not all vintages from 1971-2003 are still available, as some top vintages from the 1970s and 1980s have been sold out, including the 1976, 1983, 1988, and 1989. I’ve heard that vintages from the 1950s were still available not too many years ago! The 2004 vintage will be available in 2014.
Looking ahead a number of years, the vintages 2010 and 2011 are apparently slightly sweeter than previous vintages, since they are above 100 g/l in residual sugar (2003 apparently kept below 100 g/l, so it’s not that much sweeter than the 80-90 g/l of the average vintage), and in 2012 no Moulin Touchais was produced at all. The produced amount can vary a lot, but it is extremely rare for them to produce none at all. At least all the vintages from 1979 to 2003 have been produced.
A pecuilar issue with the cellar of Vignobles Touchais is that they are plagued by cork worms, small works that eat the cork. Monsieur Touchais simply called them mouches (“flies”). I didn’t see any of these insects but I did see their evil deeds in the shape of bottles that had had their corks attacked, which left “cork crumbles” around the cork and signs of seepage in some cases. Apparently, the topmost bottles in each stack are attacked first, so to a random bypasser such as us, the issue looks worse than it really is.
On at least one occasion, I have seen a cork of a Moulin Touchais bottle that showed some signs of this type of attack on top, and a wine tasting friend claims to have actually once found a worm in a bottle of Moulin Touchais! Perhaps this is the sweeter and less strong Loire version of Mezcal? Those who fear to find a worm in their Moulin Touchais only needs to restrict themselves to the 1988 vintage and younger, because starting from that vintage the cork is covered by a thin foil (looks like an aluminium foil) already when resting in the cellar. Apparently the worms are unable to get through this foil. Apparently, it has not been considered worth the trouble to add a foil to all older bottles that were already in the cellar at this time.
Monsieur Touchais claimed that the same worms can attack bottles in private wine cellars as well. I’ve never heard about this happening, but on the other hand, it’s not too common to find exposed corks on wines that have been sold to consumers. I did find this claim a little frightening, though. Wine collectors already need to worry about cork taint, theft from their cellar, when wines really hit their drinking windows, and forged bottles if they buy at auctions. Having to stay sleepless worrying about invasions from cork-eating worms on top of this just doesn’t seem fair to us! What’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers to worry about, when you consider Invasion of the Cork Eating Wine Snatchers?
After the visit to the cellar, we tasted two very good vintages of Moulin Touchais: 2003 and 1997.
1997 Moulin Touchais
Nose with honey, dried fruit, yellow apple, some tropical fruit, spice, and some developed notes. The palate is rather sweet, with good acidity, pronounced spice notes, some citrus, honey, good balance, good concentration of fruit. Approachable now, could develop more, 91(+) p.
2003 Moulin Touchais
Nose with smoke and some hazelnuts (but not any oxidation notes), yellow apple, some spice. Sweet on the palate, with balancing medium acidity, spice, yellow apple, some dried fruit, some honey, slightly oily, good mint notes. 90+ p.
By Moulin Touchais standards, the 2003 doesn’t seem quite “ready” yet, but it is balanced and will be very long-lived. The heat of the vintage can be somewhat felt in the character of the wine. It comes across as a little sweeter and less acid-dominated than a representative vintage, but the acidity is definitely high enough for balance, so I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the difference. The hot vintage also gives a concentrated wine, and it is based on this character and how the hot vintages 1976 and 1959 have behaved that I expect the wine to be long-lived. (Sweet 2003s are likely to be good much longer than many red 2003s, I think.)
It seemed that Jean-Marie Touchais was very pleased with the 2003. He priced it higher than the 2002 (which I haven’t tasted), which is supposed to be an excellent Loire vintage. I tend to prefer the vintages that have a little extra acidity without sacrificing the ripeness, such as the 1996.
Definitely an interesting visit!
Swedish version here.