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1996 Domaine Pichot Vouvray "Moelleux," Vouvray (Loire), France

The Pichot family is one of the oldest in Vouvray and can trace its members (mostly restauranteurs and viticulturists) back as far as 1739. The family estate is located inside the city limits of the town of Vouvray, and both the cellars as well as part of the family home are located in caves hewn from the rocky hillsides.

The domaine combines two sets of properties "Coteau de la Biche," owned and managed at one time by the family patriarch Jean-Claude, and "Peu de la Moriette" owned and operated by his son, Christophe, who has recently taken over management of his father's parcel as well. Most of the domaine's wines are actually bottled under two separate labels, bearing each of these names, as well as a joint label.

On its steep hillside vineyards, the family grows only the Chenin Blanc for which the appellation is famous, and they are one of the few individual family producers in the region which is increasingly dominated by negociant bottlers who purchase grapes from various properties. The age of the vines on the property vary from 20 to 55 years, and they apparently keep yields down to a ridiculously low level.

The family produces several classic dry Vouvrays, as well as this demi-sec wine known as Moelleux, which literally translates to "mellow." This term is often used to refer to describe wines that are semi-sweet, but don't reach the sugar levels normally associated with full dessert wines.

To make their Moelleux, they allow some of their grapes to become botrytized, or infected with Noble Rot, a process which concentrates the sugar in the grapes (most famously used to produce Sauternes).

Tasting Notes:
This wine is a light yellow gold in the glass and has a wonderfully different bouquet of aromas, which include old parchment, banana, flint, and some tropical fruits that are hard to pin down. In the mouth it is sweet yet balanced nicely with some acidity, and shows primary flavors of pineapple, quince, and fresh rainwater that fade into a nice finish.

Food Pairing:
While technically this wine could make an excellent aperitif wine or something to sip on its own, I chose to serve it at a wine dinner with a dessert of caramelized pineapple cake, and panna cotta topped with pineapple granita.

Overall Score: 9

How much?: $22

This wine can be purchased easily online.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.