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Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1990

After last week's Bonnezeaux-fest, featuring most prominently a tasting of Château de Fesles back to the 1924 vintage in the company of the Boivin family, who once owned the property, and the inevitable update of my Château de Fesles profile (I did also think about putting a Bonnezeaux as my Weekend Wine - but decided that might be overkill) I feel inclined to look this week to the other cru of the Coteaux du Layon, Quarts de Chaume. The Fesles tasting began with the 1990 vintage (the youngest wine on the night!) and as it happens I have an ever-dwindling supply of bottles of the 1990 Quarts de Chaume from Château Bellerive, one of the few châteaux sited on the slopes of the Quarts de Chaume vineyard itself.

The Quarts de Chaume appellation has seen more than its fair share of controversy in recent years, and there have been some very recent developments. There are two main issues, and the first relates to the Chaume debacle, described in previous updates here and here. The need to find something that distinguished Chaume from the other Coteaux du Layon communes, without needling those working vines in Quarts de Chaume, was ultimately settled by denoting the first a premier cru, and the second a grand cru, and for Quarts de Chaume this change has now been ratified in a decree dated November 22nd, 2011 (decree number 2011-1614, should French bureaucracy interest you). There were some other changes also made, mainly technical issues such as minimum planting density (increased from 4000 to 5000 vines per hectare) but also, more interestingly, a reduction in yield, both in terms of fruit weight (down from 7500 to 7000 kg/ha) and volume (from 25 to 20 hl/ha) although in the case of the latter the effect of annual adjustments, combined with no concurrent change in the total annual yield, means this is not really much of a change I think.

Chateau Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1990

Perhaps more significant though is the section on vinification, or as the decree describes it "[t]ransformation, élaboration, élevage". Previously (looking back to the regulations as there were in 2008) this stipulated very little, whereas now there is clause after clause specifying new requirements for the must and wine, and outlawing certain practises. Some seem obvious and should not provide any challenge to the dedicated vigneron, such as the interdiction against the use of certain mechanical and electrical pumps in the reception area, and the new minimum residual sugar requirement of 85 g/l in the finished wine. Other developments, though, are more significant, in particular the section on oenological practises and physical treatments which not only outlaws the use of "morceaux de bois" (which would include oak chips and similar, I suppose) and all other "technique d'enrichissement" but which also singles out and forbids refrigeration of the fruit to a temperature below -5ºC. This has a particular importance because of the cryo-extraction affair, which centres around the refrigeration of the fruit prior to pressing at Domaine des Baumard. Florent Baumard is an ardent supporter and utiliser of this method, which he specifically refers to as cryo-selection, but it now seems this is banned. This may well have a huge knock-on effect for Florent, as it seems to me the whole vignes hautes et larges method of vine training he employs depends on the ultimate cryo-selection process to produce the wine. It will be fascinating to see how Florent deals with this development.

Anyway, onto this week's wine, not one from Florent but from Château Bellerive, one of the first estates located on the Quarts de Chaume vineyard I ever visited, and one that is reasonably well represented in my cellar. This vintage, the 1990, isn't quite the oldest vintage of theirs that I own, as I have a few bottles from vintages of the 1980s as well, but it comes close. I've always enjoyed it, even though the wine has often showed a funky, savoury seam alongside the sweeter elements which would not be to everybody's taste. It also takes some time to open up, a couple of hours at least, and I often find it much better on the second day than on the first. This exposure to the air allows those funky, earthy aromas to blow off, allowing more typical and frankly desirable characteristics to shine through. It has a lovely colour in the glass, a bright but richly coloured golden hue. The aromas are multilayered, with sweet yet bitter orange fruits presented alongside rich and yet savoury pastry notes. Earlier on there are drier notes of spiced sandalwood, but this fades leaving more convincing, richer, more nuanced character. It has lovely freshness and purity, with hints of cinnamon. A really convincing depth and sweetness on the palate, with a lovely substance to it as well, not just fat but well-honed, grainy, and savoury too, with gingerbread spice. A very complete and detached character, supple and with fine definition in the middle, meaty and grainy in the finish. Long, savoury, bitter as well as sweet. This is not one to pop and pour, this being a wine that needs more careful 'consultation' than that, but the rewards are there for your efforts. 18/20 (5/12/11)

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