Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux 2000
Château de Fesles surely needs no introduction. It is perhaps the only domaine in Bonnezeaux of which this is true, this being a curiously obscure appellation capable of producing some of the greatest sweet wines in the entire Loire Valley and yet which remains interminably under the radar. All the greats of Anjou, influential and inspirational vignerons such as Claude Papin, Vincent Ogereau, Yves Guégniard, Jo Pithon and many others have been only too ready (finances permitting) to take a slice of the Quarts de Chaume vineyard, raising its profile immeasurably. By contrast, here in Bonnezeaux, the story seems to work in the opposite direction. Leading vignerons with vines in the area – I am thinking principally of Mark Angeli, but there are others, such as the recently arrived Guyonne Saclier de la Bâtie, admittedly an Angeli protégé, at Château de Bonnezeaux – who instead eschew the production of sweet wine, turning their vines over to the production of dry Anjou instead.
The reasons for such a decision are usually partly commercial, and partly philosophical. From a commercial point of view, Mark Angeli probably soon discovered that his Coteau du Houet cuvée, or his Cuvée Mathilde, both made within the Bonnezeaux appellation, were just as difficult to sell as they were to produce. Indeed, this was Jo Pithon’s mantra when it came to top sweet wines; he used to say, before he retired, that his Quarts de Chaume was “difficult to produce, difficult to sell, and difficult to drink”. By which he meant it was difficult to drink more than a glass, his wines typically rich in residual sugar and concentrated botrytis character. And from a philosophical point of view, if you are trying to make wines with minimal intervention and as low a dose of sulphites as possible (or even none at all), this is simply more feasible with a dry wine than it is with a sweet wine, as residual sugar provides sustenance for circling microbes, raising the risk of refermentation and other spoilage.
Whether the driving forces behind the shift from sweet to dry are commercial or philosophical, I hope not every local vigneron chooses to step back from the production of sweet wines on this noble terroir. Of course, dry wines can be a useful source of revenue; even Château de Fesles makes a dry Anjou these days, just as many châteaux in Sauternes and Barsac such as Château Suduiraut produce a dry wine alongside the sweeter grand vin, but I would eat my beret if I learnt either estate had any plans to go completely dry. And happily there other vignerons alongside Château de Fesles, perhaps not as famous as those mentioned above, who are doing great things in the Bonnezeaux appellation; I tasted some brilliant examples from a small family domaine earlier this year, and if the wines are just as good when I return to retaste in 2019 I am sure I will be adding a new profile to this site.
Until then, my go-to domaine in Bonnezeaux remains Château de Fesles, and I recently pulled the 2000 from the cellar. This was not a brilliant vintage in many corners of the Loire Valley; while it seems to have been a success in Bordeaux, for the red wines at least, here in the Loire Valley it was rather less successful. The summer was wet, and the harvest time was dogged by rain, and ultimately it was a year which favoured dry white styles. Good on the team at Château de Fesles for having a go though, as the result is certainly of interest. In the glass the 2000 Bonnezeaux from Château de Fesles, now 18 years old, displays a richly evolved, burnished orange-gold hue. The aromatics match this confident appearance, with scents of caramel, toasted nuts and marmalade, and a curious twist of coconut. It certainly has an attractive texture on the palate, balancing some sweet and bitter elements within a tense, rather challenging, acid-fresh frame. There are certainly some interesting and evolved botrytis elements here, with flavours of black liquorice and black tea leaves alongside the sweeter notes of toffee and praline, all countered by savoury notes of bitter almonds. A good character, certainly with some interesting amaroidal elements, sweet, but with a bitter, acid-washed finish. Ultimately, what it really lacks is depth or concentration through the middle of the palate, I suspect a consequence of the rather wet end to the season. But, bearing that in mind, this is still an impressive result. 91/100 (24/12/18)
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