Château Pierre-Bise: Quarts de Chaume, 2014

Quarts de Chaume is hardly the Loire Valley’s most famous appellation – that accolade surely falls to Sancerre, or perhaps Muscadet – and yet I think it is one of the most remarkable. It’s vineyards are contiguous with those of Chaume, one of the seven villages of the Coteau du Layon, and indeed the vineyards of Quarts de Chaume encircle this tiny hamlet. It is the source of some of the Loire Valley’s finest sweet wines, the peculiarities of this site elevating the quality of the wines above those of the other Layon vineyards. Of all the wines to come from this most prized of lieux-dits, recently declared a grand cru (a little more detail on this below), one of the most remarkable is that of Claude Papin, of Château Pierre-Bise. Here I report on five recent vintages, pulled from my cellar, but first a little more background on the appellation.

The Quarts de Chaume appellation was officially recognised in 1954, and there are currently 54 hectares eligible, although only a part of this (perhaps about 40 hectares) is planted up. It is worked by 17 viticulteurs, including some high-flying and renowned Anjou domaines, not only the aforementioned Château Pierre-Bise but also Domaine de la Bergerie, Pithon-Paillé (who have a tiny but very worthwhile slice of the action) and of course Domaine des Baumard, perhaps one of the most famous and widely distributed exponents of the appellation.

Château Pierre-Bise Quarts de Chaume, 2014

The vineyards border the Layon on a bend in the river, just downstream of Pithon-Paillé’s Coteau des Treilles vineyard and north-west of Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. The topography was once described to me as being somewhat like that of a hand, and I will attempt (this might be futile, but work with me) to explain how. With the thumb tucked out of sight underneath the palm, gently splay the four fingers. Now place the four fingertips on a tabletop; these four fingers are the four slopes of Quarts de Chaume. At their foot, curving around your fingertips, is the Layon (only draw on the table if you have the owner’s permission, by the way). In each of the three gaps between your fingers runs a small stream, all of which empty into the Layon below; the flow of these three streams have eroded the land, creating the four ridges of vineyards represented by your fingers. About halfway up, between your middle finger and ring finger, nestled in the little nook that has been carved by the stream here, sits the village of Chaume.

In all honesty I forget who first made this handy (feel free to groan) analogy, but it must have been someone I met early on in my exploration of the appellation, so I suspect it was either Claude Papin or Florent Baumard. All I remember was that it was much easier to explain face-to-face with a splayed hand than it is with the written word. If you followed what I wrote above, well done!

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