Domaine de Bellivière
It never does to be complacent; when it comes to wine, there are always new discoveries to be made, sometimes right on our doorstep. Before I tasted the wines of Eric Nicolas of Domaine de Bellivière for the first time, I thought I understood Chenin Blanc pretty well, and that I was familiar with the aromas, flavours and textures that a typical glassful would yield. But Eric’s wines were different, not like the minerally, floral, orchard fruit of Vouvray, not like the generous, more pastoral approachability of Anjou Blanc, and nor did they seem to have the stony solidity that can be found in the white wines of Saumur. Instead they had razor-sharp structures, crystalline floral fruits and a dry (or sometimes not-so-dry) savoury purity, some of which I would now – with a little more tasting experience under my belt – I would ascribe to the cool climate of Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir, the Loire Valley’s most northerly appellations. Some, however, I would also ascribe to Eric’s fastidious attention to detail, and his adherence to organic philosophies, because I see traces and nuances here that sometimes remind me of the wines of Mark Angeli, and to a lesser extent (because of differing styles, not an issue with quality) the wines of Richard Leroy.
Occasionally, wines wow and thrill on first contact, the vinous equivalent of love at first sight. If drinking rather than tasting, the bottle is usually soon finished. This happened most memorably with a vintage of Rosé d’un Jour from Mark Angeli, and with a variety of cuvées and vintages from Richard Leroy. My relationship with the wines made by Eric Nicolas (pictured below), however, developed in a more complex fashion; the wines and I struck up something more akin to a friendship based on curiosity and a desire to understand, more than the passionate and torrid affairs that the wines of the aforementioned Anjou vignerons brought about. With time, this understanding duly came, as I slowly grasped the true meaning of the cool, unforced purity of the wines. In short, Eric Nicolas – when his wines are on form, at least – is one of the leading lights of the Loire Valley. Sure, climate and location sometimes conspire to thwart his efforts, but when it all comes together these are some of the most spine-tingling wines to be found in the entire region. Indeed, in all of France. It just took me a couple of tastings to realise it, that’s all.
Before I explore the domaine’s vineyards and the complex array of cuvées to be found here (actually, a little less complex than it really looks), I first present some words on Eric and how he came to be making wine in this Loire Valley backwater which, to some extent (because there are certainly other hard-working vignerons to be discovered here), he has put on the map.