Pithon-Paillé Anjou Blanc Pierrebise 2012
Walking across the top of the Coteau des Treilles vineyard just a few weeks ago, in the company of Jo Paillé of Pithon-Paillé, I was reminded of the unique diversity in flora and fauna this site possesses. The ground here is carpeted in a mat of pink-purple flowers, each one capped by a splash of orange; nestled between these mounds of colour there are other shapes and forms, spiking skywards with dry and fibrous leaves. This is Anjou, l'Anjou noir to be precise, but the feel of the landscape - the loose scree underfoot, the beating warmth of the sun overhead, and the raw beauty of the scrubby flora, garrigue-like in many ways - is much more Mediterranean than you would expect. Indeed, some of these plants are Mediterranean, which says something about the mesoclimate here.
Careering down the slope below us, the incline of which reaches up to 70% in places, are the vines of the aforementioned Coteau des Treilles vineyard. These are vines that I have seen and walked among before, although naturally they are a little older now, and there are more of them too; the Pithon-Paillé family have been busy, restoring and regenerating this hallowed site, replacing dying vines - many of which were planted on their own roots, and gave in to phylloxera - with new pieds. From the very top, however, I could look out over the vines of the plateau; just within sight were the rooftops of Pierre Bise, a little hamlet to the north, including Château Pierre-Bise itself of course. And before me was an expanse of vines, including those belonging to Eric Morgat from which he makes his Litus cuvée, as well as some which belong to Pithon-Paillé; these are the source of the latest addition to their Anjou portfolio, Pierrebise.
Pithon-Paillé is one of those domaines you have to run to keep up with; a few years ago I'm sure there were only a couple of cuvées of Anjou Blanc, these being La Fresnaye, from the galets and gravel soils around Château La Fresnaye, and from the Coteau des Treilles of course. But in the past couple of years the Bonnes Blanches cuvée appeared; this comes from the vineyard of the same name which, sitting almost directly on the bank of the Layon opposite Les Treilles, is rich in schist and quartz. There is also L'Ecart, a dry cuvée made from one of their two plots on the Quarts de Chaume vineyard which Jo, Wendy and I also visited on our tour of the Pithon-Paillé vineyards. And now, seemingly from out of the blue, comes Pierrebise. These vines are planted on spilite, a metasomatic rock that can be found scattered throughout l'Anjou noir.
I should point out (because the question certainly popped into my head, and it may well have popped into yours) that Claude Papin (of Château Pierre-Bise) has no issue with their use of the name Pierrebise; naturally they ran it past him first. I have long regarded pierre bise as an alternative name for spilite, and assumed the name of the stone, the nearby hamlet and of course Château Pierre-Bise itself were all inter-related (presumably the stone is named for the hamlet and château, but I could be wrong), so to me the name seems a natural choice. Having said that the Pithon-Paillé gang chose the name for slightly different reasons, bringing together pierre (meaning stone) and bise (meaning wind, specifically a north wind) to try and encapsulate what they consider to be the site's defining features. Being on the edge of the plateau above the Layon the site does have a fine exposure to cold drying winds, just like the Quarts de Chaume vineyards a short distance downriver. It may be autosuggestion, but I sense this feature of the vineyard in the wine, the 2012 Anjou Blanc Pierrebise, as it shows a very appealing touch of desiccation to the fruit. On the nose I get mainly yellow plum-skins, scented and stony rather than plump or sweet, giving the suggestion of a very fresh and firm fruit character. I find the same firm but scented fruit on the palate, which has an admirable concentration, pithy edges and plenty of good phenolic substance. Wrapped around this though there is a supple texture, as well as a little grip that perhaps comes from the oak rather than the fruit, although the flavour profile is unaffected by wood. This speaks very clearly of the purity of the fruit, and it finishes long too. This is a very good wine, and it could well become my favourite dry wine in the Pithon-Paillé portfolio.....behind the Coteau des Treilles, of course. 16.5/20 (11/8/14)