Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Blanc Le Haut de la Garde 2006
I hovered nervously outside the railway station, trying to look nonchalant, as if I belonged there. The station in question was not the one in Angers that I know so well (I just thought I should exclude that straight away, as it might be your expectation, in view of the wine identified above) but was in fact Kings Cross, in London. A scene of longstanding restoration and development works, it has been surrounded by brightly painted hoardings for as long as I can remember. It was against one of these hoardings that I leaned, a free copy of the London Evening Standard in hand, helping me to blend in. I hoped. On occasion I scanned the busy crowd that swarmed before me, looking for my contact, but there was no sign. Where could she be? I hypothesised as to her fate; perhaps she had been assassinated by the INAO and their double agent, Olivier Cousin, whose forthcoming court case is nothing more than a cover story, to deflect attention from his true leanings? Or maybe she had been kidnapped by a crack squad of MWs, and taken blindfolded to be sat before Benjamin Lewin MW, and questioned on why her recently submitted thesis wasn't more than 75% biochemistry, in accordance with new MW regulations? Or worse, had she been ambushed by the maverick Natural Wine Defence League, to be held down while Alice Feiring stuck it to her with her Rosa Klebb shoes? These were dangerous times; anything was possible.
But then there she was, breathless, alone, twitchy. Had she been followed? No, she had not. Did she have the package? Yes, she did. It was in a bag, slung casually over her right shoulder. It came out quickly, wrapped in a copy of the Evening Standard, the same edition that I had just been pretending to read. I was caught unawares; my bag was crammed full, and there was nowhere for the package to be rapidly secreted. With no other option I thrust it under my left arm and held it tight against my torso. After a few minutes of conversation, purely to make our clandestine meeting look more like an innocent encounter, and less like the pre-arranged drop off that it was, we moved to part company. What would happen now? I will email you, was my reply. We shook hands and went our separate ways. The package was securely in my possession. I would inspect it after arriving home, and not before. The time came this weekend, the newspaper unwrapped, the package revealed. My investigation began.
The package was none other than a bottle of the Anjou Blanc Le Haut de la Garde, of the 2006 vintage, as pictured above. The purpose it had been passed to me was simple, and not really the subject of some Bogart-esque exchange. The owner had purchased several bottles at the cellar door, and had at first enjoyed them greatly. But recently opened bottles seemed to be evolving in a very unusual way. Were they oxidised? Was it something else? I had willingly agreed to take a look. Although I have tasted a lot of wines from Château Pierre-Bise over the years, the 2006 vintage is something of a hole in my knowledge. It is not a vintage with a great reputation, the latter months of the growing season having been dogged by rain. The downpours began mid-August, and proceeded through September almost unabated. The greatest quantity of precipitation recorded in any one day was 36.8mm on September 1st, and the month saw 136mm in total, the norm being 55mm. Rainfall in October was also above the norm, at 85mm. There were problems with downy mildew and oidium in the vineyard, and the risk of rot was high.
There was also some botrytis, and that is what I find in this wine from Claude Papin, and it is certainly responsible for the wine's striking appearance and character. Claude has done well, I think, to separate out and retain the botrytised fruit when there may well have been other types of rot in the vineyard too. The result is a wine now showing a very rich colour, much darker than expected bearing in mind the appellation. In a carafe this deep, orange-gold hue, much more in keeping with the appearance of a botrytised sweet wine rather than a dry Anjou, is plain to see. And indeed there is some dry botrytis character on the nose, reminiscent of dense apricot marmalade, but without any of the suggestions of sweetness that you might expect. There are also very little subtle hints of toffee, and faint whisps of almond, and I can't help thinking that there is a very thin vein of oxidation also complicating the picture here. Returning to it later, I also noted hints of apples, ginger cake and frangipane, which I think comes from the combination of almonds and apricot jam. In the mouth it is rich, very bold, full in the start and though the midpalate, big and grippy, with lots of tangible, botrytis-influenced substance. It has a great, broad texture, and it has acidity too, but it takes something of a back seat against all the other components. There is an interesting, long, rather grippy finish. This is a wine with the dense extract of botrytis, and also the depth, but not the sweetening cushion you expect to find with so much noble rot flying around. Overall, I liked it, although I think I prefer botrytis-free dry wines, if I'm allowed to generalise. 15/20 (27/5/13)