I was lucky enough to visit Domaine Huet back in May. Glorious sunshine had bathed the Loire valley and visiting their three single vineyards sites, as well as the winery, was a real privilege. They all share a sense of importance. Something intangible draws you to them and holds you there. With stunning views, micro-climate, soil and a palpable sense of rustic grandeur it is clear these are very special sites. The almost reverential presence of the ninth century wall that surrounds Clos du Bourg reminds one of the long and illustrious history of the estate. It also makes you question whether the inscrutable extra layer of intrigue and excellence which all the wines possess derives from this special sense present in the vineyard sites themselves. Though rather romantic and hard to pin down I think it is likely a combination of this, and the fastidious attention to detail and passion of everyone at the estate. For me, these are the finest Vouvrays there are and as such they are candidates for being considered the finest expression of Chenin Blanc anywhere in the world.
The three vineyard sites are capable of producing a multitude of styles spanning varying levels of sweetness. I implore you not to be put off by that word – sweetness – such is their shimmering freshness that these are not wines for the end of a meal alone. Delicious in isolation certainly but it is quite amazing to see how well they pair with seafood, lightly spiced dishes and much, much more. To give you some inspiration I have dreamt up my ideal dish to pair with each style. The possibilities are endless. Experiment have fun and don’t take it too seriously. This is the magic of wine!
Huet’s sparkling wine, or Pétillant as it is labelled, is a charming drop that is just as versatile as the rest of its siblings. Its soft, caressing mousse is gentle leading you into lemony, crunchy green apple flavours which give the wine lift and verve. All the while subtle blonde nutty notes lie just beneath the surface. The combination of freshness and fizz mean this would be perfect with proper diamond cut and coiled calamari in a crunchy, creamy batter. A hefty dollop of garlic and tarragon rich aioli on the side, naturally, with a generous squeeze of lemon for good measure. The continuity of the citrus across both wine and food begins the partnership perfectly. The freshness of flavour and gentle bubbles will contrast and cleanse the palate of the unctuously rich aioli.
The Sec wines are the driest in the line-up radiating pretty white florals and delicate stone fruit accented by a moreish texture. My dream pairing would be a mini mound of homemade ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, fennel seeds and sage. These would be topped with asparagus tips, toasted pine nuts and an obligatory avalanche of Parmesan. If you really have to press me this lunch would be enjoyed in a sun swathed corner of Tropea in Southern Italy.
Demi-Sec offers a deft balance between richness and crispness in thrilling tension. A versatile wine which responds and reacts to whatever is put in front of it. Find a Bresse chicken – or your favourite golden skinned fowl – and separate the skin carefully. Smear seasoned butter between the skin and the meat and leave to infuse in the fridge for a few hours, or even better overnight. You could add chopped chilli, smoked paprika, soy sauce, honey, mustard and fresh herbs all mixed together to create a sweet, tangy and aromatic glaze in with the butter. Or, if one wanted to be truly indulgent simply add diced black truffle to the butter mix! With the bird appropriately roasted the skin will be perfectly crisp and the meat tender and steeped in the flavoursome coating of your choice. Serve with seasonal roasted vegetables with a light sprinkling of feta cheese. The fatty cheese, crisp skin and intensity of the glaze will complement the nuanced sweetness and silken texture of the wine.
The magical and occasionally misunderstood Moelleux are what Huet are most famous for. Many people are put off by the idea of sweet wines. We have all had an experience of that cloying, gloopy wine at the end of an evening of many wines and rich food that makes you feel a bit unwell. That this adverse association might cause you to miss out on this style altogether is a tremendous, albeit understandable, shame. The tropical flavours of this lustrous gold liquid meld and mingle harmoniously with lofty citrus and floral blossoms. Myriad flavours merge and shimmer. Each flavour is in itself delicious but the sum total is far greater than these individual parts. The possibilities for these wines is endless. Enjoy in glorious isolation (a bit of a cheat in the context of this ‘pairing’ piece!). Pair with a proper blue cheese but stray away from the mainstream and go for the indulgent Stichelton or Barkham Blue. If you have a set of sweet teeth (as opposed to just one), like me, you may want to opt for a mango tart with a shortcrust base and a hearty quenelle of lime sorbet. The hedonists amongst you could even sprinkle come crushed, caramel coated macadamias on top for good measure.
These are vinous gems that combine the highest quality with incredibly attractive pricing and an almost endless lifespan meaning the wines are almost always accessible! Enjoy and above all be adventurous. I really must dash now as I have quite a task ahead to assemble all the above ingredients and catch a flight to Calabria in time for that lunch.