Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 2001
The neighbouring appellations of Quarts de Chaume and Coteaux du Layon-Chaume never really had any great potential to confuse. After all, the latter makes clear that it is a Coteaux du Layon 'derivative', Chaume being one of a number of villages that have long been permitted to append their names to the Layon appellation provided the appropriate requirements, namely the origin of the fruit and in the case of Chaume more severely restricted yields than for the other six villages, and higher must weights too. And any Loire-o-phile worth their salt knows of the elevated position of Quarts de Chaume (and its counterpart Bonnezeaux), and I suspect the same can be said of many non-Loire-o-philic wine drinkers too. So all was well with the world....until 2003, that was.
Perhaps some Layon-Chaume vignerons felt a little slighted that their wines were being lumped together with the other Coteaux du Layon wines? After all, they have to work almost as hard as those in the Bonnezeaux or the Quarts de Chaume vineyards, particularly as the INAO limit yields for Coteaux du Layon Chaume down to 25 hl/ha. This figure is not that far off those stipulated for Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux, and it is considerably lower than that for other Layon villages (30 hl/ha) and for generic Coteaux du Layon (35 hl/ha). You might just look at your wines, freshly bottled, and wonder why the appellation on the label isn't, well, just a touch grander?
And so it was that in 2003 a decree was issued elevating the Layon-Chaume appellation to the title, both verbose and grandiose, of Chaume, Premier Cru des Coteaux du Layon. This action was subsequently repealed in July 2005, and although I have written before that this must have put more than a few Layon noses put out of joint it seems the main source of objection came from the producers of Quarts de Chaume, led by Jean Baumard of Domaine des Baumard, who suspected that this new name might encroach on the exclusivity and of course the value of their wines. The appeal succeeded, returning the appellation name to its original, but this was a dog that wasn't prepared to lie down. The INAO tried again in 2006 with a new name, rather more understated this time, simply Chaume. Somewhat predictably the syndicat of the Quarts de Chaume objected once again. The Conseil d'Etat came down in their favour and in 2009 there was another return to Coteaux du Layon Chaume.
I have covered these events already in my guide to the Coteaux du Layon and its crus, so why write of it here you might ask? That question is very easy to answer, for we have now reached the next step in this debacle, one that might in fact bring an end to it all. The INAO have recently announced a new solution, a reclassification not only of Chaume but of Quarts de Chaume too, in an agreement resulting from negotiations led by Claude Papin of Château Pierre-Bise. Under this newly tabled resolution, Quarts de Chaume would see a new and elevated ranking as grand cru, and Chaume would regain its previously short-lived status as premier cru. It is a solution which I suspect will work for the two appellations in question, after all who would refuse an elevation in status of the vineyards in their possession? But what it will mean to those working the vineyards of Bonnezeaux, a cru usually seen as being on a level footing with Quarts de Chaume, remains to be seen. And downstream at Savennières, another Loire appellation with a good case for an equally grand elevation in status, there are perhaps likely to be rumblings of discontent.
Only time will tell which of these rumblings turn into complaint or otherwise. In the meantime we can do no better than look at what really matters, the wine in the bottle, and this I have done very recently in a tasting of sweet wines from Château Pierre-Bise, mainly Coteaux du Layon from the 2001 vintage, but capped off with examples of both Chaume and Quarts de Chaume, the former from a different vintage admittedly. My Weekend Wine is the latter, the Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume 2001. This is a bright and yet deeply golden wine, which shows good evolution on the nose, where there are aromas of light toffee and honey, orange blossom, minerals, quartz, botrytis, apricot and more. But there is also something less tangible too, a seam of savouriness, more like oatmeal; it is fine and appealing. A beautiful palate ensues, tangerine brightness and sweetness combined, bright and acid-rich marmalade, full and creamy too, and full of crusted minerals like the nose. Brilliant, fresh and yet sweet, complex, overall a brilliant wine. Although a delight now, a little more than the three Layons tasted alongside, this wine absolutely demands to be cellared for a good few years yet. 19+/20 (14/12/09)