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Pierre Ménard Coteaux du Layon Cosmos 2014

Pierre Ménard Coteaux du Layon Cosmos 2014

After the publication yesterday of my guide to making sweet wine in the Loire Valley, looking at everything from the science of botrytis rot to the differences between the sweet wines of Coteaux du Layon and Vouvray, it seemed only right that I also check out one of the wines. But to which of these two wonderful appellations should I look? To me the choice was an easy one; next week I am off to spend some time in Vouvray and Chinon, so I can check out the 2014 and 2015 vintages at some of my favourite domaines, but I am not so sure I will have much time to head down to Anjou. So, the Coteaux du Layon it is then.

Pierre Ménard comes from a winemaking family, but probably not one you will have heard of. His parents own 25 hectares of vines in Faye d’Anjou, a stone’s thrown from the waters of the Layon. They managed their vineyards using conventional means, making use of the usual array of chemical treatments, before selling their harvest to the local cooperative. This came to an end in 2013, following Pierre’s return home after travelling in New Zealand, Hungary and Bordeaux. The family withdrew some of the vines from the cooperative contracts, and Pierre began to tend the vines the way he wanted. This meant calling a halt to the use of herbicides and pesticides that his parents favoured, Pierre instead choosing to employ both organic and biodynamic methods. Today he still has only a tiny fraction of his parents’ domaine in hand, all managed in this manner.

Pierre Ménard Coteaux du Layon Cosmos 2014

The soils Pierre works are clay, limestone and of course schist (you can’t come to this part of the Loire Valley without expecting a little – or even a lot – of schist). He has both Sauvignon Blanc in the Clos de la Roche and Chenin Blanc planted, the former for an IGP Val de Loire cuvée named Laïka, the latter utilised for Le Quart des Noëls, a dry Anjou Blanc named for the lieu-dit of origin which seems to have captured the attention of the Loire-interested wine world. In 2014, however, a Coteaux du Layon named Cosmos also appeared. The work in the vineyards and the harvest is all by hand, and the fruit is vinified in the basement garage that lies hidden beneath his parents house. This is a true micro-vineyard garage operation, the harvest for the 2015 vintage amounting to just six barrels, three for Laïka and three for Le Quart des Noëls. There will be no Cosmos in 2015.

The Pierre Ménard Coteaux du Layon Cosmos 2014 comes from young Chenin Blanc vines planted on a schistous slope which in this vintage developed noble rot. After a slow pressing the sugar was fermented by indigenous yeasts in stainless steel. The fermentation came to a halt naturally when the alcohol hit 11%, leaving 135 g/l residual sugar providing plenty of sweetness. The colour in the glass is a pale polished gold, and the nose is quite explosive and full of fruits, in particular mango, pineapple, quince and yellow peach, spiced with minerally freshness and seams of white pepper and electric lemon sherbet. The palate is similarly rich in fruit mirroring the nose, with that same sherbet exuberance, wonderfully fresh acidity, and a fine sweetness and texture. It has a really long finish, deliciously succulent, tinged with honeyed praline and a peach-juice freshness. A super effort from a young, up-and-coming vigneron. I will be looking out for Pierre’s other wines. Maybe I will have to make time to visit after all. 17/20 (27/6/16)

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