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Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume Quintessence 1997

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume Quintessence 1997

This report comes with a free serving of despondency and disbelief. Disbelief because, looking back over the last twenty years of Winedoctor, I see I have never before featured the 1997 Quarts de Chaume Quintessence from Château Bellerive on my Weekend Wine pages, despite having worked my way through half a dozen bottles during that time (not to mention the same number of the domaine’s straight 1997 cuvée). The despondency comes for two reasons; first, because this is my last bottle. Secondly, because this property was recently broken up, the château and cellars sold to one owner, the vineyards to another.

It could be the end of the road for Château Belle-Rive, a historic name within the Quarts de Chaume appellation.

To describe Château Bellerive as historic is not an over-statement. It was once the property of Louis Mignot, who was instrumental in promoting the wines of the Quarts de Chaume vineyards through the 19th and early-20th centuries. He was also responsible for the design of the iconic straight-sided Anjou glass (well, it is iconic if you are into Loire Valley wine history).

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume Quintessence 1997

When the appellation limits were defined during the 1950s Château Bellerive, by this time in the hands of the Lalanne family, was one of four principal estates around which the appellation was built. The other three were Château L’Écharderie (much of which today belongs to Domaine Belargus, the fruit used for dry as well as sweet wine), Château de Suronde and another estate belonging to the Lalanne family. By the time I first visited Château Bellerive, about twenty years ago, there were 12 hectares of vines here, more than one-quarter of the appellation, so this estate remained a major player.

In 2004 Château Bellerive was purchased by Alain Château, an industrialist who had made his money in printing, paper and packaging. He went on to buy a number of properties from the Germain family, two others in the Loire Valley and Château Yon-Figeac in Bordeaux. During the Château era quality was good, and the wines were under-rated, perhaps cast into the shadows by more famous names working in the appellation, not least Claude Papin at Château Pierre-Bise and Jo Pithon and family at Pithon-Paillé.

The wines never really seemed to find their market; I rarely saw them offered by respected wine merchants and cavistes, yet it was always easy to pick up a bottle or two from the shelves of la grande distribution in the region. Good for me, as the wines brightened up many of my trips to and through the Loire Valley, but perhaps not good for the long-term prosperity of the domaine. And in 2018 it was sold; the vineyards went to Loire Propriétés, who also own Moulin Touchais and Les Vignerons du Pallet. This large firm already owns a number of production facilities and so had no need of the cellars, which went to Kathleen Mareels-Van den Berghe of neighbouring Château de Suronde; she needed more cellar space as she has converted much of her equally historic vineyard over to producing dry wine (which means higher yields so you need more space to vinify and age the wines).

Much of the Quarts de Chaume appellation, specifically the Suronde and Belargus parcels, is thus turning dry, the volumes of sweet wines produced now tiny (because they are hard to sell), the volume of dry wines considerable (Chenin from Brioverian schist, dry and very à la mode, and consequently easier to sell) and there is no reason to expect the new owners of Château Belle-Rive to follow anything but the same system. Together, the three properties account for close to three-quarters of the appellation. As a consequence not only is the future of Château Bellerive property in jeopardy, the whole appellation is under threat.

Perhaps that is what prompted me to pull the cork on this 1997.

In the glass the 1997 Quarts de Chaume Quintessence from Château Bellerive, poured from a 500 ml format, shows a bronze-gold hue, all honey and toast, a rich hue befitting this special selection of the best lots from the vintage. This is followed by an exceptionally complex nose, still suggesting sweetness with threads of caramel and quince, also with some lighter oxidised suggestions, of Brazil nut and antique furniture, giving the wine an aged, high-toned twist. Other complex notes soon shine through, with suggestions of salty green olives, green tobacco leaf and touches of celery seed. The palate starts off cool and vigorous, then textured and sweet through the middle, so in terms of substance this is far from fading. It has beautiful vigour and a great sense of precision, supported by fine grip and fresh acidity. And although the oxidative traits seen on the nose also show through here, they take third place behind the structure and the sweet complexity of the palate. Long and finely grained in the finish, this is simply excellent, although with that encroaching oxidation it may be best to get pulling those corks if you have any. Even though, sad to say, I don’t think we will see too many more wines like this one coming from these cellars. 96/100 (26/7/21)

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