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Château Pierre-Bise Crémant de Loire 2018

Château Pierre-Bise Crémant de Loire 2018

This week and next I will be publishing four reports on the Loire 2018 vintage, beginning with a recap on the vintage, followed by three tasting reports, for the dry whites, the reds, and then in the final instalment everything else, which means sparkling wines, sec tendre, demi-sec and moelleux styles. So I am kicking off here with a sparkling wine from this same vintage, from a surely familiar name.

Château Pierre-Bise is, of course, no stranger to these pages. This iconic Anjou domaine has established a fine reputation, and its success can be laid at the feet of its proprietor for much of the past four decades, Claude Papin. A doyen of Loire Valley viticulture, Claude has done much for the region during his career. The current standing of the Quarts de Chaume appellation, with its Grand Cru status now assured, was in a large part down to his efforts. That is not to say that feathers were not ruffled along the way (this is perhaps putting it mildly), but his aim, which was for Quarts de Chaume to be a wine made exclusively from fruit concentrated through botrytis, and not through artificial concentration techniques in the cellar, was a noble one.

Along the way, Claude Papin also developed define reputation for his other cuvées of Chaume and Coteaux du Layon, his Savennières from Clos de Coulaine and Clos le Grand Beaupréau, his dry Anjou Blancs, and if you got to know the domaine well you would soon find yourself falling for the charms of his various cuvées of Anjou-Villages and Anjou Gamay. One style which has long stayed out of the limelight, however, are the sparkling wines.

Château Pierre-Bise Crémant de Loire 2018

In recent years the running of the domaine passed to Claude’s sons, René and Christophe, and Claude has now settled into a well earned retirement. Subsequently, Christophe left for pastures new, taking up a post in Muscadet, and today it is René Papin who runs the domaine. Claude’s sparkling wine experiments made use of a broad array of varieties, blending Chenin Blanc with Chardonnay (which, perhaps unsurprisingly given its role in Champagne, is a variety behind some of the best examples of Crémant de Loire I have tasted), Cabernet Franc and Grolleau Noir. Building on these experience, René settled on 100% Chenin Blanc for this cuvée.

René Papin builds his base wine in two stages, the fruit for both coming from Savennières. The first part is sourced from sites with sandy rather than schistose soils, as René believes this brings minerality and elegance without the bitterness he associates with more schist-driven cuvées. He picks the fruit early when it is still green rather than golden, with a potential alcohol between 12.5% and 13.5%. This gives him a pied de cuve ‘starter’ which is put to use when he picks the rest of the fruit, which comes later, but still sticking to sandy rather than schistose soils.

When the primary fermentation has reduced the concentration of sugar to just 25 g/l René brings the activity of the yeast to a halt by reducing the temperature of the must. He leaves the wine on the lees for a short period of time before bottling it for a second fermentation, using only the remaining natural grape sugars. It is then aged sur lattes before disgorgement; the appellation demands at least nine months, but as you would imagine René favours a longer period.

In the glass the 2018 Crémant de Loire from Château Pierre-Bise displays a straw-tinged hue, with a very reserved bead. There follows a fragrant nose, expressive with strong floral veins reminiscent of freesia and honeysuckle, over a bed of white peach and tangerine fruit. This fresh and floral style comes across on the palate, with fragrant vanilla flower and tangerine fruit echoing the aromatics, along with some quite beautiful lees-aged characteristics, suggestive of preserved lemon and face cream, as well as an attractive powdered-chalk minerality. It has great energy, a feeling reinforced by a stronger mineral component showing through the midpalate, as well as a youthful mousse. Through the finish it remains fragrant, with a vanilla-citrus combination which reminds me of some vintages of Vincent Carême’s Ancestrale cuvée – and that can’t be at all bad. A great example of the Crémant de Loire appellation here, and of the 2018 vintage too. The alcohol on the label is 13%. 92/100 (8/8/22)

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