In the wonderful world of dessert wines, there are plenty of favorites including Vintage Port, Vintage Madeira, Sauternes (including those from the Barsac and Cadillac regions), German Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein, Vendange Tardives and Selection de Grains Nobles from Alsace, Icewines and fortified wines from North America and Australia, and others. Then there is also Moulin Touchais from the Loire Valley Anjou district, made from the chenin blanc grape. The wine lies somewhere between a Sauterne and an Alsace Selection de Grains Nobles in terms of style, and it is unique in many ways.
Eight generations of the Touchais family have produced Moulin Touchais wines since 1787. Jean Marie Touchais is the current wine producer of the family, having taken over full responsibility from his father Joseph Touchais in 1990. The Touchais family have 150 hectares of land producing wine, of which 35 are dedicated to the production of chenin blanc for their Moulin Touchais flagship wine.
There are several very unique features to the family’s production techniques that are worth mentioning. 20% of the chenin blanc crop is picked early (within 80 days of flowering) when the grapes are still unripe and very acidic, while the remaining 80% are picked late (within 120 days of flowering) when the grapes are fully mature, even overripe. The grapes are picked by hand and not by machine, and several different passes are made by pickers through the vineyard over several weeks before the entire crop is harvested. The acidity from the unripe early harvested grapes in the final wine balances out with the late harvested fully ripened grapes, producing a wine that has full, ripe fruit balanced with a strong enough acidity to keep the wine youthful for decades, often well over 100 years in top vintages.
The young wine is bottled early, usually the following Spring within 5-6 months of harvest. However, instead of being released for sale immediately, the wine is aged for 10 years by the Touchais family in their extensive underground cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, where the family have up to 2 million bottles stored in underground tunnel like cellars spanning 15 kilometers.
The Touchais family insist on not selling the latest vintage until the wine has reached an acceptable level of maturity (usually after 10 years). The bottles lying in their cellar are not labeled, and they are restored or reconditioned before sale by re corking the bottle, topping up the wine at the same time, applying the protective foil over the cork, and finally applying the label. As a result of that practice, it is not unusual to lose track of some portions of a particular year’s production in some obscure corner of the cellar.
Annual production of Moulin Touchais can vary considerably in size, ranging from 6,000 bottles to 200,000 bottles, depending on grape quality and quantity. A Moulin Touchais wine is not necessarily produced in every year. In modern times it was thought that no wine was made in 1983 and 2008. However, once again a small number of bottles (approximately 5,000) of the 1983 vintage were recently “found” and released for sale. The family has, within those extensive cellars, older vintages dating back up to 140 years to the 1875 era. In top vintages the wine can and does age effortlessly for upwards of 100 years. This makes the wine a collectible as a birthday wine with which to celebrate your 50th, your 65th, even your 100th birthday.
I first got introduced to Moulin Touchais wines in the early to mid 1980’s. Living in Montreal, I noticed one day the SAQ (Quebec Liquor Board) was having a sale on Moulin Touchais wines at their Maison de Vins specialty store downtown on President Kennedy Ave. I bought a bottle of the 1971 vintage and tasted it that weekend. It was wonderful and so I went back for more. In fact, over the following three months I think I bought up half the old stock that was on sale. The SAQ had reduced prices by 40%, maybe some uninformed store manager thought these older vintages needed to be cleaned out before any of them went bad. So I bought Moulin Touchais wine from the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1969, and 1971 vintages, all discounted by 40%. What an incredible find, and I could tell from the remaining stock on hand how few bottles were being bought, so I was able to buy the wine gradually over a 3 month period. Strangely enough, in 1985 I was paying about $40.00 CDN per bottle for the 1971 vintage, and today you can buy the very good 1996 vintage from the SAQ for $46.75. So here we are over 30 years later and you can buy a very good vintage of 20 year old Moulin Touchais for less than 17% more than it cost 30 years ago. Now that is good value for your money.
So there is huge value in the current price level of Moulin Touchais compared to other dessert wines. Sauternes and Ports have easily doubled and tripled in price over the last 30 years. If you do go to buy Moulin Touchais wines, my best advice is to shop carefully. There is considerable variation between vintages, and there is also considerable bottle variation within the same year, mostly because of seepage and loose corks. Shop carefully for the best vintages, these include 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1971, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2003, and 2005. Before you buy a bottle compare the available bottles for their fill levels, do not buy a bottled that shows a lower fill or any signs of seepage from the cork. You are buying a wine to possibly keep for 25 plus years, so you don’t want it all leaking out onto your cellar floor or oxidizing and spoiling prematurely.
Currently the SAQ is selling 2 vintages of Moulin Touchais as follows:
- The 1996 vintage at $46.75, product # 00708628, my first choice.
- The 1999 vintage at $49.50, product # 00739318, my second choice.
If you are new to this wine, buy a bottle of the 1996 and open it for dessert after a fine meal to try it. There is not much difference between the 1996 and 1999 vintage both in terms of age and quality. Although I have tasted neither one myself yet, the reviews I have read give the edge to the 1996.
I currently have Moulin Touchais wines from the 1959, 1985, 1988, and 1990 vintages in my cellar.
I also intend to add the 1996 and 1999 vintages currently available. I have also had the privilege to own and drink the 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1964, 1969, 1971, and 1975 vintages. We must have tasted and consumed at least 30 bottles of Moulin Touchais from these vintages over the last 30 years, and every bottle was superb, not one was bad. Even a lesser vintage like the 1955 was still great, more delicate and less robust, but still with that classic chenin blanc grape nicely balanced by acidity. The 1947 was bottled in hand blown glass wine bottles, being thicker and heavier, that made the bottle itself a collectible.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Joseph Touchais, Jean-Marie’s father, at the annual Salon des Vins wine show/tasting exhibition held in November in Montreal and sponsored by the SAQ. The year was 1987 or 1988, it was late in the day on the Saturday and the show had already been going Thursday, Friday and most of the day Saturday before I arrived. I happened upon the Moulin Touchais booth just as a couple of young women were trying the 1975 Moulin Tochais, poured for them by Joseph himself. The girls recoiled in horror after one taste, telling Joseph how awful the wine tasted, being too sweet, tasting something like Kool-Aid, and not at all to their liking. As they stormed off, the look on Joseph’s face told me he was tired, frustrated, and visibly upset with the multitude of uninformed and unsophisticated palates he had been serving throughout the show. I saddled up to the booth and asked Joseph to pour me a glass of the 1975.
Joseph glared at me, then he said to me in an angry and impatient tone “I will not serve you my wine if you know nothing about my wine. This is a dessert wine, a work of art to be treasured and appreciated, not some cheap, dry lifeless excuse for a wine.” With that he poured me a very tiny little shot, much less than the 3 ounce shot I was paying for. Tasting the wine, I paused for a moment to savour the wine, I looked carefully at the legs on the wine in my glass, the bright orange gold colour in the glass, the floral nose, and the fabulous array of fruits on the palate, with a long lasting aftertaste. Gathering my thoughts, I finally replied to Joseph with the following:
“Mr. Touchais, your wine is fabulous. I have tasted the 1975 before, it has yet to disappoint me. However, I must admit that my favorite is the 1959, followed by the 1971, the 1964, the 1975, and the 1969 in that order. I also like the 1955 and the 1953, especially with the smoothness provided by that extra 10-20 years of bottle age. And I also admit to having a soft spot for the 1949, and the 1947 in the hand blown glass bottles, something you just do not see any more.”
Well the look on his face was something I will never forget. He went from anger to elation within seconds of hearing my comments, I thought he was going to cry. At that moment we were alone at his booth and he told me he was so tired of serving his wine to people who had no appreciation of his product or the labor of love that goes into making it. On the other hand, he was so happy to finally meet someone at the show who actually knew his wines, and knew them well. From the mini fridge under the counter he got out a bottle of the 1971 and poured us each a healthy glass. I stayed with him for almost the entire length of the remaining hour of the show, trying three more vintages he had with him, including the 1964, and left with a mixed case of 1969, 1971, and 1975. I was thrilled to have met him, to have spent about an hour talking with him, and to have obviously made his day. There is no doubt he was very satisfied to have been able to engage in an intelligent conversation with a consumer who knew and appreciated his wine, in fact I think he was relieved. I am not sure how many times Joseph visited the Montreal wine show before or after. I looked for him again in following years, but he and his wines were not there, and based on what I witnessed and heard from him, I cannot blame him. His son Jean Marie has been doing the circuit since 1990, but not every year.
Jean Marie Touchais and Moulin Touchais wines do not have a website address to promote their business or communicate with their customers. If you go to visit them at the winery and cellars in the village of Doué-La-Fontaine, you will have a hard time finding them. There is no sign at the entrance to their facility, which is not on any main road but tucked away behind a smaller building that itself bears no civic address. It would appear the Touchais family like to be low profile.
You can buy wine at the winery itself, but I would be careful to research that carefully before buying. You will want to buy the oldest vintage you can because you cannot find the older vintages anywhere else other than at auction. The older vintages should be in pristine condition having never left the winery, but you will have to be sure the wine has been recently reconditioned (topped up, re corked and labeled) before you buy it. I am also not sure the winery will sell you their much older vintages. What a treat that would be to buy a mixed case of two bottles each of the 1945, 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955, and 1959!
The SAQ used to have the 1985 Moulin Touchais in stock at $67.25 per bottle under product number 12481171. According to their website it is sold out, if you ever happen to find one left somewhere, buy it. The last time I tasted the 1985 Moulin Touchais was two years ago, my tasting notes read as follows: “Tasted November 2013, another great showing for the 1985, rich, smooth, silky on the palate, great balance and a long pleasant aftertaste. Aromas, tastes and aftertastes of orange peel, peach and apricots, caramel and butterscotch. The acidity prevents the sweetness of the fruit from overpowering the wine, leaving a sense of harmony even though you can taste the power and longevity in this wine. Deep golden colour and great viscosity leaving long legs on the side of the glass. Easily good for another 20 years, and will continue to improve over the next 10 years.” I would rate the 1985 at 93 points.
As Moulin Touchais wines age the flavours and aromas they emit seem to change. Unlike many other dessert wines from Sauternes, Alsace or Germany where the fruit just dries up and your dessert wine begins to resemble an tired, old, unbalanced Chardonnay, an aging Moulin Touchais wine sees its fruit change from oranges, peaches and apricots to lemons, limes and a roasted nutty saltiness, all kept in perfect balance by the ever present acidity. I have watched this happen with interest to the 1959 vintage. I have tasted that wine at least 6 times over a 20 year period, and I have observed a very graceful and refined evolution where the full bodied orange, peach and apricot fruits are now slightly diminished and gradually the more subtle lemon and floral tones have become more pronounced.
If the 1959 vintage, now 57 years of age, is just now evolving ever so slowly and just beginning to show the changes in fruit, you can rest assured it will be around at least the next 25 years if stored properly.
This means if you buy Moulin Touchais wines you should first identify which years are the best, and plan to keep those the longest. The weaker years you should plan to drink first, there is nothing to be gained by cellaring a weaker year over a long term. As for the two Moulin Touchais vintages (the 1996 and the 1999) currently available at the SAQ, I would recommend buying both to cellar, they both appear to be rated at 90 points. Again, as recommended above, if you are new to this wine, buy and try a bottle of the 1996.
Moulin Touchais wine is widely available throughout Canada and the US and the UK, I see the 1996 vintage was selling recently at the LCBO in Ontario for $37.95 (a good price), I am not sure if it is still in stock. The best vintages to buy are the 2005, 2003, 1999, 1997, 1996, 1990, 1988, 1985, 1975, 1971, 1969, 1964, 1959, 1953, 1949, 1947, and 1945. The recent vintages will set you back about $45 CDN, the 1985 about $65, older wines at $85 to $100. This may seem like a lot of money to pay for a dessert wine, but on a relative basis compared to older Sauternes, Alsace, Germans, and Ports, the Moulin Touchais is a better buy at ½ to 1/3 the price, and will age better and longer.
But this is just my opinion, you be the judge. Go buy a bottle, try it yourself, and let me know what you think.