Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières 2011
Readers who are blessed with a memory capacity equal to that of an elephant might scratch their heads (with their trunk perhaps?) at the appearance of this wine here. Didn’t I already feature this wine earlier this year? Well, you’re almost right. It was actually last October, a little over a year ago (but to me anything that has happened since about 2012 feels like ‘earlier this year’), and it was not the 2011 but the 2006. The 2006 vintage was a rather lacklustre year for lovers of the sweet wines made along the banks of the Layon. There was heavy rain in many parts of the Loire Valley, starting in mid-August and continuing through the harvest. Warmer temperatures and high humidity encouraged the development of rot on the fruit, their thinning skins as the grapes ripened contributing to their susceptibility. Making a sweet wine in such conditions is very challenging, as it requires the pickers select that fruit which shows botrytis rot from grey rot, where instead of showing dehydration and clean desiccation the rot has simply degraded into mould.
The 2006 was still a lovely wine, because even in such dreary conditions a fastidious winemaker such as Claude Papin, of Château Pierre-Bise, is still determined on succeeding. My point at the time was just that; it is easy to select a wine to drink in a great vintage, because a rising tide lifts all boats, but in ‘middling’ or downright dreadful vintages you need to know which domaines you can turn too. Whether the problem was poor weather during flowering, a spring frost, summertime mildew or harvest rain and rot, the most dedicated vignerons can win through in the end. Having made that point, I suppose it is only fair to cast the spotlight on the same wine to see what can be done in a truly great vintage. I bought this bottle (several bottles as it happens – no surprises there) quite some time ago with this intention; I’m only sorry that it has taken me so long to get around to pulling the cork.
Continuing the vintage theme, a few words on 2011 in the Loire Valley. At first glance, this isn’t a vintage that should set hearts aflutter. In Muscadet there was dreadful rot, sparing no-one, and this problem crops up in a handful of wines from Anjou as well. A lot of the dry whites feel clunky, the result (keeping it very brief) of a cool summer (which I think retarded physiological ripeness) followed by a very warm autumn (which sent sugar levels soaring), so that growers picking on the alcoholic potential for dry whites often ended up with clunky wines, technically ripe but green and angular. If that’s all you tasted from the region, you would probably write the vintage off. But that long autumn, with week after week of warm weather, meant that the later-ripening Cabernet Franc (and other reds) and the Chenin Blanc left out in Anjou and Touraine for moelleux cuvées ripened magnificently, and the latter then dutifully succumbed to the necessary botrytis rot. The 2011 vintage is brilliant for sweet wines along the Layon and the Aubance, in Vouvray and Montlouis, and it is seriously over-looked for the reds as well. Some of the Cabernet Sauvignon cuvées, largely grown on schistous terroirs in Anjou, are delicious.
The wine in question here the 2011 Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu Les Rouannières, comes from the Rouannières vineyard, which is planted with Chenin Blanc for this cuvée as well as for the Anjou Blanc Les Rouannières, and there is Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay here as well. The terroir is spilite, or pierre bise, so to my mind it is a wine that should be regarded as emblematic of the domaine. Enough waffle, on with the wine, which in the glass shows a bright mid-gold hue. It has beautifully pure and very primary aromas, a textbook Coteaux du Layon, with notes of honeyed apricot, blood orange freshness, and grey-smoke mineral edges. It suggests a fine concentration of fruit and botrytis, imposing but also fresh, bright and complex. On the palate it has a full and yet very poised texture. It is rich in pithy citrus-fruit character, with a slightly creamed, polished sweetness cut with a wonderful minerally bite. This is tense, and it shows superb acidity as per the vintage, with a long, clean finish. Super energy here. A stunning result, and one that I will enjoy revisiting with future bottles. That is, with my non-elephant memory, if I remember I even have them, I suppose. 18/20 (23/11/15)