Stéphane Bernaudeau Les Onglés 2014
Stéphane Bernaudeau is based in Martigné-Briand, a town the name of which will almost certainly be unfamiliar to most, unless you are a true Loire Valley anorak. It sits close to the course of the Layon, upstream of the slightly smaller but more renowned villages of the Coteaux du Layon appellation, as well as Bonnezeaux and Thouarcé, a larger town (with a decent supermarket where I confess to having shopped innumerable times). Martigné-Briand is home to a decent number of vignerons, many of whom I must confess fly comfortably under my radar. One or two in this locale, however, do not. One is Mark Angeli, who is located on the road between Martigné-Briand and Thouarcé, while another is Stéphane Bernaudeau.
That Stéphane ended up here, so close to Mark Angeli, is not purely by chance, as he is one of many who started out with working with or at least inspired by him. The same could be said of Laurent Herbel and Mai et Kenji Hodgson, and no doubt a few others. Laurent, Mai and Kenji are more recent additions to the Anjou pantheon though, whereas with Stéphane the story starts a little earlier, in the mid-1990s. At this time he was working with Mark, and the experience he gained led to him branching out on his own, acquiring a few tiny parcels of vines. In the late 1990s and during the first few years of the new millennium the Anjou wine scene began to erupt with new names, or with old names following new paths, including the likes of Jo Pithon, Richard Leroy, Patrick Baudouin, Philippe Delesvaux, René Mosse and many others. Riding along with them was Stéphane Bernaudeau, but despite (or perhaps because of) this rather illustrious company Stéphane’s profile has always remained rather lower.
In small circles though, Stéphane Bernaudeau has long held cult status. His domaine has never been large, for many years just a couple of hectares, divided between several small parcels. He prefers to manage his vineyards without the use of wires, the vines pruned as bush vines; those familiar with the work of Mark Angeli will recognise his influence here. For many years Nourissons was his top cuvée, a parcel he acquired from Eric Calcutt, a vigneron who long left the Loire wine scene fifteen or more years ago, but who was once renowned for his oxidised sweet wines. But then Eric departed, choosing instead to study dance with an Israeli ballet company (I never lie, by the way) and Nourissons was sold, Stéphane Bernaudeau the lucky buyer.
In more recent years Stéphane, who last I heard was still working with Mark Angeli one or two days a week as well as tending his own vines, has acquired a new parcel. He and his wife Isabelle have added Les Onglés, a parcel of 30-year old vines, to their little portfolio. This is a relatively large parcel for Stéphane, between 1 and 2 hectares in size, of Chenin Blanc planted on a south-west facing slope of schist. All the vineyards are tended using biodynamics, the vines worked and the fruit picked by hand, the grapes pressed and the juice vinified in older barrels, between four and ten years of age, with élevage on the lees for 12 months, with malolactic fermentation no doubt encouraged by Stéphane’s reserved use of sulphur dioxide. The resulting wine, the 2014 Les Onglés, has a pure straw-lemon hue in the glass, quite bright and pure. The nose is simply enchanting, hugely expressive and rich, the glass brimming with crushed pear, lychee and tropical fruit salad, along with which there comes notes of bay leaf, thyme and white pepper, all couched in a cushion of polished apple-and-pear softness. This character is echoed on the palate, which maintains the clean, crushed-orchard-fruit style exhibited on the nose, with a quite voluptuous feel to it, textural, fruit purée, with a spicy energy and a gentle, rather muted acid backbone underneath it all. It feels full, broad, with a really grippy substance, the textural confidence not letting up even through the finish. A super wine, probably for drinking over the next three to five years rather than committing it to the cellar. 17/20 (17/10/16)