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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Domaine Didier Dagueneau Silex

France (Loire)

sauvignon blanc

[no website]

He was the iconoclast of the Loire Valley, the wild-haired winemaker who knew no equal when it came to sauvignon blanc.

Tragically he died in 2008 at age 52, while piloting an ultralight plane that stalled shortly after take-off, in the Dordogne area of southwest France.

This was his last vintage of his premium, benchmark Silex.

The Loire had not seen his like before – a motocross racer turned vigneron, with no formal training in viticulture. He set his wine wheels in motion in 1982 with less than two hectares of vines and a determination to make the best sauvignon blanc possible. He was a tireless experimenter and risk-taker (he also raced dog sleds in Slovenia), and the Pouilly-Fumé appellation hardly knew what to make of him. Over time the vineyards expanded to 12 hectares, and the quality of the wine shot up to a level that far outdistanced most of his competitors. He was not adverse to publicly explaining why, making few friends among his wine-producing neighbours.

Didier Dagueneau grew up in Burgundy, and came to reside in the town of Sainte-Andelain, on the opposite side of the Loire river from Sancerre. It was there that the wine world gathered for his generous tastings and his far-ranging opinions. He was never lost for words, though they could be tempered with an eye-twinkling mischievousness. An encounter with Dagueneau was never less than memorable.

His renowned cuvée, Silex, is made from the very low yields of 40-75 year-old vines, grown in dense clay soil on the upper part of the Sainte-Andelain hillside, soil very rich in flint (silica). Horses are known to plow between the vines. Harvest is by hand, with multiple passes through the vineyard to gather the fruit at its prime ripeness. Vineyard practices have been organic for decades, verging on biodynamic. Modern technology, however, is not discounted — wireless meteorological units monitor essential information about vineyard conditions, including temperature, wind speed, humidity levels. In the spotlessly clean chai, the wine comes under the oak influence of large (400-litre) cigar-shaped demi-muids, designed for maximum lees contact.

Since the death of their father, it has been Charlotte and Benjamin Dagueneau at the helm. And all indications are that the latest vintages have been as exceptional as in previous years. Says Benjamin, the aim is for “freshness and tension” in the wines, as well balance, the distinct mark of the terroir, and drinkability. “The sign of a good bottle is that you want to finish the whole thing.”

My wife and I agree totally. And it is a very significant anniversary, and it is Raymond’s restaurant. And we do want others to sample it, too. It doesn’t last long.

Domaine Didier Dagueneau Silex 2007

Light gold with a tinge of green, it sits in the glass with a stunning first course. There is equal anticipation for both.

The nose evolves in such wonderfully interesting ways throughout the meal, from notes of blue cheese and sauterne to something altogether softer, honeyed and radish-like. On the palate it is silken, remarkably complex, mineral-driven but fresh and pure. It takes the drinker to where the sun shines on a spring day, opening wine worlds never before explored. Splendid!  $$$

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