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Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Calligramme 2004

Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Calligramme 2004

Following on from my recent forays into the world of Romorantin with the Thierry Puzelat Romorantin 2008, and Fié Gris, with the Domaine de l’Aujardière Fié Gris 2012, I thought I should come back onto more familiar, well-trodden ground with my final weekend wine of 2014. This week my journey through the grape varieties of the Loire Valley continues with Chenin Blanc; with so many options to choose from, I thought I would go with an unsung appellation, Jasnières, one of three viticultural zones that run parallel to the Loir, a tributary of the Sarthe. Well, it makes a welcome change from Vouvray and Montlouis, I would suggest. And what better domaine than the world-class and woefully under-appreciated Domaine de Bellivière, home to Eric Nicolas, who I would probably rank in my top five vignerons from the Loire Valley, if I was prone to making such lists, that is.

So, back to Chenin Blanc. Genetically the origins of this variety are uncertain, which to my mind always suggest that the variety is an ancient one; the more recent the variety’s ‘birth’, the more likely it is that the parents, the two varieties that were crossed to create the offspring, will eventually be identified. With ancient varieties, where the crossing occurred many centuries ago, it is a sad fact that the parents are more likely to have disappeared, becoming extinct over time. With specific regard to Chenin Blanc, studies have indicated that a relationship exists with Savagnin, but without identifying another parent it is not possible to say which of these two varieties is the parent, and which the offspring. Having said that, José Vouillamoz, writing in Wine Grapes (Penguin, 2012) postulates following probabilistic DNA analysis that Chenin Blanc is the offspring of Savagnin and an unknown variety, and that Sauvignon Blanc and Trousseau have the same origins (and are thus siblings of Chenin Blanc).

Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Calligramme 2004

This ancient origin seems to be supported by early references to the variety, which occurred many centuries ago (compare this to Cabernet Sauvignon, which first crops up under the pseudonym Petit Cabernet in Livre de Raison d’Antoine Feuilhade, published as recently as 1777). Just how early Chenin Blanc crops up depends on what name you look for; Chenin Blanc first crops up as Plant d’Anjou. Putting aside legends concerning Saint Martin of Tours, who may (or may not) have given Chenin Blanc to the Loire Valley only a few centuries after Christ, an early reference purported to refer to Chenin Blanc concerns deeds, signed by Charles le Chauve, a grandson of Charlemagne and King of France, which describe the donation of vineyards to the Abbaye de Saint-Maur. Whether or not these vineyards were planted with Chenin Blanc/Plant d’Anjou remains contentious though. Definitive references do appear during the late-15th and 16th centuries though, and of course Gargantua by François Rabelais references the variety explicitly.

Five centuries after Rabelais was singing its praises, how does Chenin Blanc fare today? As I have suggested above, Eric Nicolas is on of the leading vignerons of the Loire Valley, and his examples of Chenin Blanc have an unrivalled floral purity and crystalline fruit definition in their youth. A few years ago I started putting a few bottles away to see how they do with age, and this is one of those bottles. Calligramme is one of Eric’s top cuvées, from vines aged at least fifty years, fermented and aged in old oak barrels. The 2004 wasn’t an easy one for the Loire, as I noted in my recent 2004 Ten Years On tasting, nevertheless Eric can be trusted to pull the very best from his vines, and does not shy away from the severest selection (as we have seen in the 2011 vintage). The wine has a deeply coloured lemon-gold hue, rich but fresh, bright, with no suggestion of oxidation or advanced age. The nose takes half an hour to really open up, with soft, lightly macerated pear and puréed apple fruit, fresh and leafy, with a lightly crystalline edge, the Nicolas trademark. There is fine purity here, very clean, gentle and yet vigorous. There follows a gently textured palate, soft, mellifluous, with a little honeyed edge to the texture, and there may be a trace of residual sugar here also. It certainly isn’t bone dry, although it certainly isn’t sweet either – I feel it lies somewhere between sec- tendre and demi-sec right now. I see the lightly peppered fruit found on the nose here, but there is also a continually fleeting hint of funkiness in the background, although after an hour or so this seemed to disappear. Overall this is an attractive wine, certainly fascinating to drink, and a fine example of Chenin Blanc from an oft-overlooked appellation. 17/20 (29/12/14)

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