Château Pierre Bise – Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières vertical & latest releases

The Loire region has become an exciting hotbed of activity for the natural wine movement, whose aim is to produce wines with minimal intervention which have an authentic sense of place or goût de terroir (soil, climate etc). The weekend before the Salon, members of Renaissance des Appellations, the group spearheaded by Coulée de Serrant’s Nicolas Joly, showcase their terroir-focused talents.  I’ve reported on the wines of members Domaines de Bellivière and le Briseau already (see here) and there’s lots more to follow.  In this report, I want to focus on the wines of Château Pierre Bise in Beaulieu-sur-Layon in the heart of AC Coteaux du Layon.

Though not a member of Renaissance des Appellations, Claude Papin of Château Pierre Bise is as tenacious a terroirist as they come and he’s immensely articulate on the subject as I discovered in 2004 when I first visited.  Papin introduced me to the concept of UTBs – Unités de Terroir de Base (Terroir Base Units). It’s a form of viticultural zoning aimed at identifying homogenous areas of land within a vineyard whose specific qualities will influence, for example, the ripening process and, it follows, the wine style.

Using this concept, Papin has divided his 54ha estate into 25 different climats (mini parcels) by reference to different factors (UTBs).  These include soil type and aspect – no surprises there – but apparently most importantly, distance to the horizon (because this impacts on the angle of the sun and light interception) and soil depth.  Papin pointed out that the plateau above his slopes looks homogenous but, below the surface, the geology is folded and soil depth can range from 10cm to 1.5m.  As for relationship with the horizon, lower parcels may be only 1km from the horizon while more elevated sites are up to 15km distance from the horizon.

These climats inform his portfolio of climat-specific wines.  As Papin put it to me back in 2004, “if I blend from different climats, even 1%, there’s no harmony, no breeding.”   Last month his son, René, was in London to present a mini-vertical of the exceptionally ageworthy and complex Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières.  It hails from an elevated, windy site with very shallow rocky soils – the volcanic rock spilite to be precise.  You’ll find my tasting notes below, together with notes on recent releases tasted with René and with his parents at the Salon.

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières vertical

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 2008 – only a fair vintage for sweet wines, this has a lifted nose and palate with camomile, juicy quite tight pineapple citrus and a mineral undertow. Quite forward; good.

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 2007 – a glorious vintage*, this wine concentrated by passerillage (drying on the vine, not botrytis) and sports a beautiful, complex nose and fabulous concentration of fruit on the palate.  Floral/camomile notes provide lift and ripe, honeyed, baked apple with sultanas gives bottom.  Rich, round but long and persistent too, with the signature balancing freshness of a passerillage vintage.  Excellent.  (*Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 2007 won the Sweet Loire over £10 Trophy at the 2009 Decanter World Wine Awards and Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon-Beaulieu L’Anclaie 2007 picked up a Decanter Award at a tasting reported in January’s Decanter – see Jim Budd’s report of the tasting here).

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 2005 – a concentrated botrytis vintage, this is deep gold, licorous with lots of sucrosity and dried honey.  Though rounder than the 2007, it still retains poise and balance, finishing long and toothsome.  Very good.

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 2003 – a deep colour and a brulee nose reflect the exceptional heat of this vintage.  I was in the Loire that August and can recall the corks pushing out of a couple of bottles of Bonnezeaux during a 40 minute car journey!  In the mouth it’s rich, that singed honey/brulee character persisting, but there’s a minerality beneath and the finish is long.  Good/very good.

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 1997 – quite Calvados-like on the nose and palate with bruised baked apple, tarte tatin caramelised apple and dried apricot fruit, well balanced by acidity which carries a long finish.  Very good.

Coteaux du Layon Les Rouannières 1996 – this amber nectar is very pretty on the nose  – it’s like walking through a summery meadow, with heady floral/camomile notes.  The palate is complex and long with floral notes (camomile and saffron) mingling with savoury porcini/tufa and biscuit.  Excellent.

Other new release Coteaux du Layon (tasted at the Salon and in London)

Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu L’Anclaie 2008 – (schist soils) – quite buttery/buttercuppy, with singed apricot, camomile, with quite good intensity.  It’s rounder the the Quarts de Chaume (see below).  Good +

Quarts de Chaume 2008 – (volcanic/spilite soils) – lower in sugar than usual, this lacks a little intensity and is quite forward, especially compared with the 2007 vintage which I awarded Gold at last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards (it went on to get a trophy).  It shows honeyed apricot, yellow plums and camomile; decent persistence.  Good.

Dry wine new releases (tasted at the Salon)

Anjou Blanc Sec Le Haut de la Garde 2008
– a big, ripe wine (Papin does full or partial malo on dry whites), with white chocolate edged apricot fruit; enjoyable enough but lacks a bit of finesse.  Good.

Savennières Clos de Coulaine 2008
– (sand and schist) a well-filled out, modern Savennières that malo showing again, with rich apricot fruit, here buffered by a balancing minerality.  Good/very good.

Savennières Clos du Grand Beaupréau 2008 – from a higher, windier site with more sand this is finer, more citric, with racy acidity. Very good.

Anjou-Gamay Sur Spilite 2009 – impressive in this great red wine vintage, this is a serious Gamay, very mineral and dry with attractive black fruits trimly fleshing its bones.

Anjou-Villages Sur Schiste 2009 – dry, with quite exacting tannins, but there’s great freshness and minerality to this blend of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon.  Impressively structured but needs to hunker down for several years to notch up the pleasure as opposed to impressed dial.

UK stockists of Pierre Bise include Bibendum and RSJ

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