Château Pierre-Bise Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu
Clos de la Soucherie 2001
Château Pierre-Bise was an early discovery for me. Whereas I only came to some of the Loire Valley’s leading and most cultish domaines much later in my drinking ‘career’ (and sometimes I have wondered quite what all the fuss is about), here I hit the nail on the head. This was one of the first domaines I visited in the Loire Valley, and I have been happily been filling my cellar with these wines for many years. In the early days that meant sweet wines from the Coteaux du Layon, Claude Papin’s first calling I think (or at least that was how it seemed to me at the time) although in more recent times I have also been hugely impressed by his wines from Savennières, in particular the Roche-aux-Moines cuvée.
Claude is based in the hamlet of Pierre-Bise, in the commune of Beaulieu-sur-Layon, one of the six Coteaux du Layon villages (seven if you still include Chaume, these days elevated to premier cru status). The others (with some selected domaines listed in brackets) include Faye-d’Anjou (Domaine de Juchepie), Rablay-sur-Layon (Domaine de la Bergerie), Rochefort-sur-Loire (Domaine FL, Domaine des Baumard), Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné (Philippe Delesvaux) and Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay (Pithon-Paillé, Domaine Ogereau). Despite this apparently broad distribution of talent within the Coteaux du Layon appellation, Beaulieu-sur-Layon still seems to have a special place in the heart of many fans of the style.
Writing in Les Vins d’Anjou et de Saumur (Imprimerie SETIG, 1967), Henri Raimbault proclaimed the appellation as having the “most widespread reputation”, thanks he says to the exceptional energy of the late mayor, one Monsieur Ribière. The appellation’s reputation does not flow solely from the 1960s though, as there has been viticulture here for many more centuries than that. Indeed, Michel Renou makes special mention of the commune in Les Pressoirs de la République (Cheminements, 2003), an exploration of winemaking in Anjou during the 18th century. Beaulieu-sur-Layon was particularly blessed in 1707, a vintage both abundant and high quality. I wager some of the Loire Valley’s would like to see a few more vintages like that, especially after the devastating frost of April 27th this year.
During a visit to Château Pierre-Bise in 2003 I tasted through all the wines of the 2001 vintage, and then bought some. Well, to be honest, I bought everything, including every Coteaux du Layon cuvée going as well as Chaume and Quarts de Chaume. Although it is not the greatest vintage for Coteaux du Layon, I recently I topped up my stocks with some more from the Clos de la Soucherie, tasted here. The cru Soucherie (which I would think pertains not only to this clos, but also Château Soucherie) has long held an exalted reputation in the commune, and it was listed as one of the principal sites by the aforementioned Henri Raimbault, along with Les Mulonnières, Le Breuil, Pierre Bise of course, and one or two others. Today the 2001 Clos de la Soucherie has a rich golden-bronze hue, lightly burnished, with a dainty green tinge at the edges. The nose is very impressive, with caramelised and desiccated orange peel notes, toasty but with a citrus freshness, rich with nuances of praline and grilled apricots. It has a remarkable palate, much more textural and plush than the nose at first suggests. It broadens out in the middle, showing caramel sweetness over apricot, yellow peach and orange fruit, with some honeyed praline mirroring the nose. It has a very bright and cool acid edge, with rather a light touch when it comes to minerality. Imposing and increasingly complex with advancing age, long and very poised, this is delicious. 17.5/20 (23/5/16)