Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Wine Journey: 2004 Didier Dagueneau Pouilly Fume Silex

The journey to taste the wines identified by Master Sommelier Andrew McNamara as Wines of the Decade continues with our first foray into the world of white wines, in this case the 2004 Pouilly Fume Silex by Domaine Didier Dagueneau.  This is an especially poignant step on the journey as Dagueneau, whose diamond-like wines, and penchant for criticism of neighboring winemakers, rocked the sleepy hamlet of St. Andelain to its core, died in a small-plane accident in September, 2008.  His death shocked the world of wines but was in character to the way he led his life: a life of adventure and risk-taking.

Didier Dagueneau, the mountain man, both visually and and as it relates to his winemaking accomplishments, was a fourth-generation winemaker who returned to St. Andelain to launch his winemaking career after spending four years pursuing fame and fortune in the arenas of motor cycle side-car racing and international dog-sled racing.  Referred to variously as "non-conformist," "independent,"and "maverick," and nicknamed "the madman of Saint-Andelain," Dageneau's "... fusion of modern winemaking and ultra-traditional techniques of vineyard management ..." allowed his Sauvignon Blanc wines to "... achieve the ultimate expressions of terroir, climate and technique."

Dagueneau began his climb to the pinnacle of Sauvignon Blanc-dom by purchasing 1.2 hectares of land in his native St. Andelain -- a village in the Pouilly-Fume appellation -- in 1982 and producing his first wine under the En Chaillone label.  This entry-level label was followed by the higher-end Silex and Pur Sang labels in 1985 and 1988, respectively.

Dagueneau's vineyard acreage lies predominantly on clay and flint (silex in French) soils and his vineyard techniques -- severe pruning, de-budding, de-leafing, cluster-thinning -- are focused on yield reduction.  A practitioner of biodynamic farming beginning in 1993, his very public denigration of the pursuit of greater yields by his colleagues had made him a very controversial figure on the French winemaking scene.  The press loved him. Fellow winemakers, not so much. 

Silex, the "Grand Cru" of Dagueneau Sauvignon Blanc labels, was produced from high-elevation, high-silex-content ST. Andelain plots.  The vines on these plots are between 15 and 50 years old and have been subjected to the full range of Dagueneau vineyard-management practices.  The wine is barrel-fermented and aged in 450 and 600 liter barrels as well as the 350-liter cigar barrels that are a Dagueneau design.

I had not tasted any vintage of the Silex before nor did I have it in my cellar.  I purchased it online and had it delivered to my place of employment.

The tasting of the 2004 Silex was a solo venture. No large tasting team.  I was home alone and decided to make the best of the opportunity.  The bottle is unprepossessing, with limited contrivances to hide the contents from the supplicant's view.  Poured into the glass, the wine gave off an aroma of freshly cut green grass, evoking a sense of a midwestern spring day (the kind that would be enjoyed by that milk-swilling daughter of the midwestern farmer).  There is a hint of a floral note (green flowers?) and sharper, more pungent notes of citrus and lemon/lime.  In the mouth, there is a lip-puckering, almost eye-watering blast of acid on the initial attack along with bitter lemon rind and a steely gunmetal-ness.  A good round mouthfeel with a very long finish and a slight pepperyness on the aftertaste.  There is a hint of apricot and green honeydew melon.  As the wine matured in the glass, the acid became less primary and the enjoyment intensified.

Thank you Andrew for having this wine on your list.  This is a robust, powerful wine that is still relatively young.  I was so enamored of it that I have since purchased a case of the '07 which Dagueneau himself has referred to as his best Silex vintage ever.


  1. Would have loved to partake in this bottle. I love me some Dagueneau wines

  2. Yes, next time call the crew!! JK

    I saw Montoya had some of these.

  3. Glad you got to have some... I hear the estate is in exceptional hands despite his tragic death. Truly one of the greats!