Pithon-Paillé Coteaux du Layon Belargus des Treilles 2010
When I think of the Loire’s vineyards I think first of all of their endless variety, and it is this broad diversity thats keep pulling me back to the Loire, day after day, week after week. The smorgasbord of styles offered by the vignerons of Anjou and Touraine, red and white, dry, sparkling and sweet, are flanked by the minerally white wines of Muscadet and Sancerre (red and rosé as well, of course, in the latter). Add the wines of the Côte Roannaise and the Côtes de Forez to the mix and I am reminded that, despite my obsession, I have still only scratched the surface. I am certain there are delights as yet undiscovered hidden among this most wonderful, stretched-out ribbon of vineyards.
That’s my view of the Loire, but I appreciate that for many others the Loire Valley is about certain styles only. Sancerre on a summer’s afternoon, perhaps, or Muscadet with mussels. And, of course, some come to the Loire only for the sweet wines. This latter style is where the Loire punches on a truly international level. Many of the styles just mentioned are divine, true drinkers’ wines, but if you want to see the Loire perform on a the highest, truly international level, then it is to the sweet wines you should turn. The botrytised Semillon of Sauternes might get more attention, but those who seek true balance, the sweetness of the botrytised or passerillé fruit cut with its own vibrant acidity (rather than having to blend in some freshening Sauvignon Blanc) then Chenin Blanc is king. This week’s wine, the 2010 Coteaux du Layon Belargus des Treilles from Pithon-Paillé is an excellent example of this style.
The wine has everything going for it; Jo Pithon is a cult figure, and rightly so, although it seems clear to me that Jo Paillé now has much more responsibility for the vineyards and winemaking than I think many realise. The family work honestly, picking fruit from Les Treilles, overlooking the Layon, for the dry Coteau des Treilles, but leaving a proportion of fruit on the vine for a second tri later in the year, hopefully after some concentration (either through botrytis or passerillage). If the vintage delivers then the Pithon-Paillé make their Belargus des Treilles, all well and good. If the weather gods are against them, such as in 2012, then there is no sweet wine. There is no hocus-pocus with cryoextraction or other technologies. The end result in a favourable vintage such as 2010 is a beautiful and – although I think the term might be over-used, it feels appropriate here – artisanal wine.
This is a wine I have tasted several times this year, previous encounters having included a wonderful horizontal tasting of Coteau des Treilles and Belargus des Treilles which I have written up and which is due to be published here in the next few weeks. For the moment, this note relates to a more recently consumed bottle (or half bottle, to be precise). In the glass the wine shows a lightly burnished orange-gold, a colour that betrays the presence of some heady botrytis in this cuvée; inspection of colour is an easy way to distinguish between botrytised and passerillé wines in the Loire Valley (although drinking them is more fun, to be honest). The aromatics are wonderfully redolent of botrytis, led by macerated oranges, followed by a seam of light, golden caramel, slightly high-toned around the edges adding some lifted complexity, and there is just a little touch of coffee to it as well. Unsurprisingly it has a very broad palate, with convincing honeyed and caramel-drizzled botrytis, with flavours of baked peach on sweet pastry that absolutely delight. Despite the raisined concentration it feels fresh and poised, and in the finish it is long, sweet and concentrated. An excellent wine, overtly botrytised, and good for the cellar I think. 18/20 (8/9/14)