Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Henri Jammet

The story of my first meeting with Henri Jammet and his extraordinary wines will appear, I hope, in The Journal next Friday (and online).

There won’t be enough space there to fill out a few more technical details, or full tasting notes. So here goes …

Jammet has been making wine for over twenty years and as president of the St Sornin Co-operative was responsible for its expansion and  its  reputation for quality. St Sornin produces some of the best red table wines in the Charentes.

His own small vineyard high on the limestone hill to the east of St Sornin at La Fenetre is planted with Chardonnay (his favourite grape) and Chenin Blanc. He is also keen to try Pinot Gris. He uses a horse to plough and work between the vines, which are planted at high density: 10,000 vines per hectare. His yields are fairly low, around 50 hectolitres per hectare. His approach is sustainable rather than organic – he does not believe that organic viticulture would be easy to sustain in his situation, and he also points out that some standard organic practices are of questionable sustainability – like the use of copper sprays.

The 2009 crop was tiny. So far he has only released one wine from it, a moelleux Chenin Blanc. It was made from the tiny secondary bunches that developed after the initial buds were wiped out by a severe hail storm in May. The grapes are extremely scented (a product of the tiny secondary fruits?). They had a potential alcohol of around 16%. Fermentation was stopped (using sulphur) to leave around 50 g/l residual sugar. The wine shows lovely crunchy fruit, balanced by zingy acidity and finishes as it began, with an unusually musky, perfumed intensity. It is a very good wine, though slightly disconcerting.

His 2008 Chenin (his first) was vinified dry – to 14% alcohol. It has a reparkable depth of ripe, spicy, peachy fruit. It was vinified in oak (half in new barrels, the rest in year-old barrels), but the fruit dominates. Weekly batonnage (lees-strirring) during the ten-month stay in barrels certainly helps. It is, I think, the best wine he makes, and a superb bottle by any standard.

He made two cuvéés of Chardonnay in 2008. Both are barrel fermented – in true Burgundian fashion. One from fruit grafted on predominantly riparia stock which ripens first, has a slight musky character. It is otherwise fairly ripe and peachy, with just a little oak at the end. The other cuvée from older vines, planted in 1988 is both more tart and also more  pineapple-like. The oak is also pretty well integrated. Henri believes that it will age longer, though it is less immediately attractive now.

These last two wines have not yet fulfilled Henri’s dream of being the ‘best Chardonnay in the word’, but they are quite the best Charentais table wines I have ever tasted. Unfortunately to buy them you’ll have to visit – La Fenetre is about 20km east of Angouleme. Henri’s phone number is +33 5 45 70 40 06. If you visit the region, make the effort to go, see and taste for yourself. You’ll not be disappointed – unless Henri has sold all his stock!

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