Monique and Tessa Laroche, Domaine aux Moines (1981)

This maison bourgeoise sits in the middle of the Roche aux Moines vineyard at its highest point, dominating all around it. The origins of the house date back to 1768 when it replaced the former seigneurie of the Saint Nicolas abbey in Angers. At the rear of the property is a formal garden with an old alley of cypress trees that once led down to the monastery at the bottom of the Coulée de Serrant, from which the domaine takes its name. From the late 1920s the domaine was owned for a few years by the Benz family (of automobile fame), and subsequently by Roger Faure, an established architect who bought and restored the house for his wife; she, although less interested in the vines, went onto redesign the garden in an ornate Italian style. Faure died fighting for France in 1940, although his widow continued to live in the property until it was sold to the Laroche family in 1981.

The Laroches had relocated to Savennières with their three children in 1971. Born on the Brittany-Normandy border, Monique Laroche is a qualified pharmacist, but has also had the good fortune to have studied oenology at university, whilst Monsieur Laroche owned his own notaire practice in Angers. Initially they lived in a modest house called ‘Bellevue’ at the foot of Roche aux Moines, which came complete with a vineyard; however this was grubbed up and replanted in 1975 with Madame Laroche making her first experimental wine in 1978. The family moved up the hill, buying Domaine aux Moines three years later.

Although wine was being produced here by Eustache Poilasne for Madame Faure, it was on a relatively small scale with half of the production being from one hectare of Cabernet. With the change of ownership came an intensive replanting programme, started under the supervision of Poislane and Monique Laroche herself. Only one hectare of old Chenin dating from 1921 existed, but by 1984 a further six hectares had been planted and a parcel of Sauvignon Blanc had been removed. Today the estate has just over eight hectares planted on the plateau of La Roche aux Moines on either side of the house.

Tessa Laroche, who was born the same year as the family relocated to Savennières, joined her mother in 1990 after her elder brother Frank decided to enter the family notaire business. Together they tend the vines and work the cellar, although one can’t help feeling this is a relationship fraught with a degree of family tension.

Wine Overview:  
The wines are produced in what was formerly workers quarters constructed at the end of the 19th century adjacent to the main house. The density of the schist here means that a subterranean cellar here is practically impossible. During harvest, the Laroches would normally expect to make four or five passages through the vines to ensure the grapes are picked at optimum maturity, although there are exceptions. In 1992, they went through the vines a total of seven times due to the poor conditions, whilst in 2003 there was only need for a single passage. Generally yields average around 30hl/ha although the past three vintages have been well below this, culminating in the parsimonious 2007 vintage when only 17hl/ha was achieved. Along with the Anjou-Villages, there is one release of Savennières each vintage, although a moëlleux under the ‘Cuvée des Nonnes’ label can be found in 1997, 2002 and 2005, and certainly will be produced again in 2007. The wine is generally fermented in tank, although old bordelais barrels were used here until 2005; in 2007 some 400 litre casks were introduced simply to cope with the small harvest, whilst the 2006 vintage saw no wood at all. The wines are fermented using indigenous yeasts with the second fermentation being avoided. Bottling typically takes place at the end of July. A second label, used primarily for the grande surface in France can also be found under the name ‘Clos de la Chamillé’. Although this is the name of a specific parcel, the wine is effectively the same as the domaine bottled wine.

The Wines:  
Domaine aux Moines has access to some of the greatest terroir in the appellation, but as the tasting notes below suggest, the quality of the wines over the past twenty odd years has been pretty inconsistent. The style remains old fashioned, with production procedures changing little since Mme. Laroche took control in the early 1980s. The wines remain quite earthy and rustic. Occasionally, a stand out example emerges, often from the most unlikely of vintages. However, the wines are true to their origin and I believe there is serious intent from Tessa Laroche to build on the quality and she appears to have both the knowledge and understanding to do this. The vineyards, which are moving closer towards organic status, are both mature and in excellent health, so let’s hope that quality and consistency can be improved upon in the coming vintages.   

2009 Savennières – Roche aux Moines
Very attractive nose even if it is a little high-toned. Authentic and pretty with excellent focus and weight. Great balance with freshness, focus and elegance. It doesn't show it's (14.5%) alcohol. Approachable now but will undoubtably keep. Lovely. A contender for being the wine of the vintage. (02/11)

2008 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Bottled September 2009. Thirty percent was aged in 400 litre casks. 14.5% alcohol. Old fashioned floral nose of white flowers and quince. Forward, open and attractive. Very distinctive with creamy, orange blossom notes. Clean and linear on entry with excellent focus and definition. There is great freshness and minerality here. Powerful but balanced. Persistent finish with a linear thread of mineral acidity running through the wine. This is on another level and shows its distinguished origin. Tropical flavours with quince and orange. It's already approachable, but with excellent future potential. This is on another level and shows its distinguished origin. One of the stars of the vintage. (02/10)

2006 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Mid depth appearance. Quite an old fashioned and authentic nose. Well textured entry with an austere edge but good weight. Floral, with some white flowers. Good balance and length and a persistent finish. This has a promising future ahead. Drink over the next five years, although this may age and develop beyond this. (02/08)

2005 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Very pale appearance (a function of water stress, apparently). Forward and quite forward nose. Shows ripeness and weight on entry but lacks a little structure. This is more like the old, rustic style of Domaine aux Moines. Advanced, floral, white flower flavours and a touch phenolic on the finish. This is already showing maturity and I am unsure it will make old bones. (02/08)

2004 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Bright. Mid-pale yellow/gold. Slightly rustic, but mineral nose. Mid weight palate, but a touch hollow. Delicate style but falls a little short on the finish. This is unlikely to age for any great length of time. (02/08)

2003 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Soft, gentle, open and attractive nose. There is an impression of wood here. Mid weight entry. Obvious ripeness, but doesn’t show its (15%) alcohol. Excellent texture. This holds a good balance between a traditional and more modern style, but may also be just an expression of the vintage. Broad flavour profile. A bit low in acidity, but still balanced. A good effort in a hot year. Drinking now, but will develop further. (02/08)

2002 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Polished. Deep yellow/gold. Attractive nose, although showing some reduction. Flinty/gun smoke. Good palate weight and still youthful and unevolved. Dry and mineral on entry with very good weight and structure. Well balanced with great focus to the acidity with a pithy finish. This is still very youthful and needs to be allowed to throw off its reductive cloak. Should be very good. (04/08)

2002 Savennières – Roche aux Moines ‘Cuvée des Nonnes’ Moëlleux  
Polished. Mid-full yellow/gold. The nose is still quite restrained, but the palate is lovely. Explosive passillerage like flavours with tropical fruits, apples pears and quince. Rich and ripe, but excellent balance and not overtly sweet. Very good minerality behind. This is still youthful and should evolve further. (04/08)

2001 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
I have two conflicting notes for this wine - tasted within 14 months of each other. Possibly different bottlings or tanks? 

Deep, botrytised appearance. Orange/bronze. Mature, oxidised (or oxidative) character on both nose and palate with intensity derived from the botrytised berries. Very rustic and old fashioned. The acidity is little unknit on the finish. This is typical of the vintage. Drinking now, but should age, although the unusual flavour profile makes it a wine for purists only. (02/08)  

Polished. Relatively pale for the vintage with green hints. Restrained nose. Delicate, with an attractive stony edge. Opens nicely in the glass. Smoky with hints of coconut. Mineral with no real signs of oxidation or botrytis. Bone dry on entry. Taut, lean and very mineral. Very good focus. Pithy and persistent finish. Authentic. Drinking now, but the very firm acidity should help to conserve this for many more years. (04/09)

2000 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Mid-full, yellow. Open and attractive nose, showing proper authenticity of both variety and appellation. A touch waxy with yellow flowers and acacia. Distinctly rustic and displays the hallmarks of the domaine. Mid weight on entry. Structurally very good with a nice thread of minerality running through the wine. Flavours of lanolin and wax with some melon. Good balance and length. This is drinking well now and should continue to evolve for a few more years. Good. (07/08)

1999 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Deep appearance. Floral, white flower and smoky nose. A little dilute and old fashioned on the palate. Rustic. Drinking well now. Unlikely to improve much more. Drink now. (02/08)

1998 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Deep appearance. Orange/gold. Looks like a botrytis affected year. It is certainly mature in appearance. Broad nose. Floral nose with honey and acacia. Mature, but not tired. Very open and attractive. Rich but delicate. Ripe on entry with good texture. Mature flavours with some hazelnut. Well balanced, Reigned in acidity. Silky. Good weight and length. Drinking now. Should hold, but unlikely to improve. (02/08)

1997 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Bright. Mid-full, yellow with green hints. Some evolution to the nose, but very good minerality behind. Lean and smoky. Good texture to the palate. Very fresh and clean. Builds well. Intense to finish with very good length and focus. Good grip. A hint of gunflint (reduction?) with a distinctly ‘green’ flavour profile. Has a second layer and dimension. Good ripeness and focus and demonstrates a true sense of origin. Pithy finish. This is still youthful and should be good for another decade at least. (04/09)

1997 Savennières – Roche aux Moines ‘Cuvée des Nonnes’ Moëlleux  
Bright. Deep yellow-gold appearance. Very delicate and open. Some signs of evolution here. Quite smoky on the nose; earthy and mineral. Bruised apple and calvados. The palate displays obvious sweetness, but is well balanced and focused. Builds well. Good length. Some liquorish flavours to the finish. Mineral. Appears almost dry on the back of the palate. Drinking now, but could be expected to age further. (04/09)

1996 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Deep yellow gold. Botrytis? Delicate but advanced nose. Shows some sulphur. Autolytic flavours – hazelnuts. No sign of any botrytis on the nose; more toffee apple. Clumsy. The palate is less advanced, but shows some terpine elements and flavours of bruised oranges. Very juicy acidity with helps carry the wine. The wine is a bit shallow and dilute and lacks real class. Rustic. The alcohol shows on the finish. Drink up. (04/06)

1995 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Polished. Mid-depth yellow-bronze appearance. Mid depth and delicate nose. Broad and showing some ripeness. An authentic old fashioned example. Mineral on entry with some ripeness and tropical hints. Quite taut, but builds well to a very concentrated, powerful, mineral finish. Dry and austere, but offers a true sense of place. This is drinking well now and should hold a few more years, but I can’t see it improving. (04/08)

1994 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Broad, but muted nose. Very dry and mineral style and despite its age is still quite austere. Well textured, but finishes a little short. Pithy, bitter-Chenin finish. Drink now. Unlikely to improve. (02/08)

1993 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Polished. Yellow/bronze. Old fashioned, oxidative nose showing oranges and barley sugar. Smokey and savoury with the aroma of cloves. Very rustic. Bone dry on entry. Very lean, austere and bitter on the finish. Still drinkable but lacks any real pleasure. Not unlike the character of the 2001 vintage within the appellation as a whole. (04/08)

1992 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Mid depth. Yellow/gold. Full, open, smoky, oxidative nose. Complex and mature. Acacia, white flowers and terpines. Rich palate texture. Good balance and structure. Very good acidity which helps reinforce the acidity. Mineral, stony edge. Very old fashioned style, but true and honest. Very attractive for a difficult vintage. Good structure and length. This is drinking now, but will continue to hold. An interesting wine but for connoisseurs of Savennières only. (02/08)

1991 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Bright. Yellow-bronze. Light and delicate on the nose with some white flowers and dried fruit. Mature nose of terpine and marzipan. Falls short on the finish. Quite simple and monotone, although retains  a hint of quince and some minerality to the finish. This is just hanging on and won’t improve any further. Drink up. (04/08)

1990 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Bright. Mid depth, straw-yellow. Delicate nose with moving towards the 'greener' spectrum of aromas. Mineral, but also slightly grubby behind. Mid weight on entry but builds well, although the palate falls short with some dirty and earthy flavours. Nicely textured, if a little rustic. The wine is holding up and there is no real rush to drink, although it is unlikely to improve. (04/10)

1989 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
Very deep, mature orange-brown appearance. Sadly tired and oxidised nose with a savoury, vegetal, onion-like nose. Dried out and past its best. (04/08)

1969 Savennières – Roche aux Moines  
This obviously predates the Laroche era. Polished orange-bronze appearance. Quiet nose. Quite savoury – cheesy, like an inexpensive Madeira. Coconut shows through. Bone dry but rich on the palate. Intense, builds well. There is a salty/manzanilla tang here. Very firm acidity to finish. Drinking now, but probably will keep. (06/04)

2006 Anjou-Villages  
Destemmed by hand. Very firm, tannic, taut and mineral. There is good fruit behind but needs time to settle. Typical of Cabernets grown on high density schist. Pretty unforgiving. (02/08)

Monique Laroche  
Domaine aux Moines
T: +33 2 41 72 21 33  
F: +33 2 41 72 86 55

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