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Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières 1997

Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières 1997

If you look back over all my Weekend Wines (warning – if you really intend to this, set aside a decent amount of time – the archives go all the way back to 2006) you will see on more than one or two occasions the wines of Château Pierre-Bise crop up. Examples include Claude Papin’s iconic Anjou Blanc, Haute de la Garde, in the 2006 vintage, a real curiosity that taught me something about botrytis in Anjou, and the delightful 2005 Clos de la Coulaine Savennières. And there have been sweeter wines too, such as the 2003 Chaume, from a time when nobody was quite sure what the appellation was called; was it just Chaume, or Coteaux du Layon Chaume? Or Chaume Premier Cru? Or Chaume Premier Cru des Coteaux du Layon? These days there is a new alternative, Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru Chaume. Confused? Me too.

And then there have been the other Coteaux du Layon cuvées, although here is where I seem to have been a little narrow-minded in my drinking. Fans of the estate will know that there are four cuvées, represented four individual lieux-dits. These are, in the commune of Rochefort-sur-Loire, Les Rayelles (from the top of a north-facing slope of schist, sandstone and rhyolite), and in the commune of Beaulieu-sur-Layon, Les Rouannières (volcanic spilite, a rock known locally as pierre bise), L’Anclaie (a high and exposed slope of schist and phthanite) and Clos de la Soucherie (a carboniferous terroir peppered with igneous rocks). Look back over my previous Weekend Wines, however, and you will see only the first of the Beaulieu-trio, in the excellent 2011 vintage, and the rather more trying 2006 vintage. The others have never had their moment in the spotlight.

Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières 1997

I am not biased in favour of Les Rouannières, neither the vineyard nor the wine. Truth be told, when tasting and assessing these wines, any wedge that I can drive between them is usually a slim one. The Chaume (I will stick with this very simple name for now) and certainly the Quarts de Chaume are usually superior in quality, but drawing distinctions between the four Coteaux du Layon cuvées can feel at times a little like splitting hairs. In my cellar I have various vintages of each of the four cuvées, and it is nothing more than chance that has resulted in me featuring Les Rouannières so much more frequently than its peers.

And so, with a slight feeling of guilt, I turn now to yet another vintage of this wine. If you had to choose a favourite vintage from the 1990s in the Loire Valley, then 1997 would surely be in the running. While 1997 was a disappointment in Bordeaux, here in the Loire Valley the 1997 vintage was a considerably more interesting proposition. After a difficult start to the growing season, good weather in August, September and October saved the vintage, and some exceptional wines – especially sweet wines, rich in botrytis – were made. The 1997 Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières from Château Pierre-Bise is a very good example of how the vintage is looking today. In the glass it displays a fabulously mature, burnished orange-bronze hue, one that speaks of the botrytis influence on the vintage as well as the wine’s age. The aromatic profile is incredibly rich and it shows complexity too, leading with crème caramel, pecan and crème brûlée, spiked with the enticing aromas of smoke, black tea, liquorice root and coffee grounds. It has amazing texture on the palate, great breadth and substance, sweetness and freshness combined. Like the nose it displays nuances of dark and complex character, especially black bean and black tea leaves, the latter (and I know I have said this before) attributed by Philippe Foreau to particularly deep botrytis infection and associated, in my opinion, with the greatest vintages. It has such great harmony, polished, with roasted nut character, but it also shows great energy, bitterness and length. Only an intriguing little note of oyster shell, running through the finish of the wine, tells you of its age. Excellent. 95/100

Next time, a Coteaux du Layon originating from somewhere other than Les Rouannières. I promise. (26/11/18)

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