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Pithon-Paillé Anjou Blanc Coteau des Treilles 2009

Travel can be a joyful, wondrous experience. Ever since the days of the grand tour, the custom of cultural 'discovery' that was something of a rite of passage for the British upper classes from the late-17th through to the mid-19th centuries, millions of us have sucked up all the experiences that Europe has to offer. And not just the British of course; in the 19th-century, before the railways democratised travel in Europe, the upper classes from other northern European nations and North America would also make this pilgrimage through old Europe, searching for cultural enlightenment.

Looking back over my many travels in Europe I have had one or two of my own 'discoveries' over the years. They are no such thing of course, but they feel like discoveries, especially if - as I was wont to do on one or two occasions - you travelled rather aimlessly, without the aid of a guide book. I can still recall the wonder upon espying the Pont du Gard, the magnificent Roman aqueduct that spans the Gard in southern France, as well as the first time I set eyes on Château de Chenonceau on the Cher, the Colosseum in Rome or the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Well, the last one looked more like a building site than a new European wonder, but you have to be open-minded in these things.

In truth, though, I have experienced as many if not more moments of awe when visiting vineyards as I have viewing great European landmarks. Some, such as the grand vistas of vines found along the Mosel or the Côte d'Or, or grand châteaux as at Margaux or Pichon-Baron, are rather obvious choices. Others are less obvious; I have to admit by being smitten by the new vats (traditional wooden vats, but with glass inserts) at Mouton-Rothschild for instance. They are not quite as imposing as the Colosseum, but they have something in common, and that is you can only really get a feel for them by travelling, visiting and 'discovering' then for yourself.

Pithon-Paillé Anjou Blanc Coteau des Treilles 2009

One vineyard that made an impression on me when I visited it for the first time was the Coteau des Treilles. It is a less obvious choice compared with the likes of Margaux and Mouton-Rothschild, but this is the joy of discovering these vineyards for myself; it is not always the obvious choices that win out in the end. The Coteau des Treilles is a vertiginous slope, reaching an incline of up to 70% in places, which looks down onto the Layon near St-Lambert-du-Lattay. Just reflect on that number for a moment; a 70% incline is more like a cliff than a slope, and it is perhaps no surprise that although the slopes were planted up until the 1940s but were eventually abandoned as vignerons turned to less challenging sites (where they could drive their new tractor, perhaps). It was not until Jo Pithon, now of Pithon-Paillé, began buying a multitude of tiny plots more than half a century later that the site's fortunes were to be reversed. He planted Chenin Blanc, some of which were ungrafted but these did not fair well, and many have since been replaced. Of the 7-hectare site about 5 hectares are amenable to cultivation, and a little over half of this is planted up (this is still a work in progress - rather like the Sagrada Familia I suppose). The soils are a mix of spilite and carboniferous, nothing unusual for the region, in fact very typical for Anjou, and perfect for Chenin Blanc.

Standing at the foot of the vineyard the steep ascent is imposing; once at the top, however, the view is magnificent, with the Layon hiding among the trees at the foot of the slope, the vineyards of St-Lambert-du-Lattay beyond. Jo and his family deserve credit for breathing new life back into this vineyard. The wine that results is pretty smart too. In the glass, the 2009 Pithon-Paillé Anjou Coteau des Treilles shows an attractive, lemon-gold hue. Aromatically it is typical of young Chenin, with all is bright and golden fruit, although it comes wrapped in a solid carapace of oak at present; this isn't that unusual for this cuvée in its youth I have found. There follows a simply lovely palate, solid and broad, and piled from floor to ceiling with spice and grip. The finish is long and loaded with grip, with smoke, fennel, aniseed tinges from the oak, which really does need a few years to integrate yet; this wine certainly has fine potential, but it should be left well alone at present. 17.5/20 (11/11/13)

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