Summer of Chenin: Château Pierre-Bise

|

Claude and Joelle Papin-Chevalier started Chateau Pierre Bise thirty years ago. Claude Papin (a former President of the Technical Institute of the Vine and of Wine) and his wife are the most polemic defenders of the Anjou terroir, being perhaps unsurprisingly very good friends with Marcel Deiss from Alsace. They control over 32 hectares of vines, producing a vast array of single parcel whites, reds and sweet wines. However, it is his sweet wines for which he is most famous, and in particular those from the Côteaux du Layon.

At the core of the Papin philosophy for sweet wines lies three concepts: terroir, polyphenols and botrytis. It is his belief that a wine will only truly become a “vin de terroir” rather than a “vin de cepage” through the interplay of these three aspects; ie. in order for a wine to be able to express its terroir, it must be allowed to retain its polyphenols, which requires a rapid rate of infection by botrytis, thus, in his opinion, avoiding the cleavage of the polyphenol molecules.

The South-West orientation of the vines in the Coteaux du Layon, combined with the natural morning mists that come off the Layon leads to a natural onset of botrytis. Papin harvests continually over two months, taking only the grapes that are at their peak of botrytisation on each of several passes that he makes for each row of vines. He then naturally ferments as slowly as possible, without the addition of sugar, in order to keep as much purity of expression as he can. This gives wines that have a great balance of sweetness and acidity without any of the bad Chenin odours that can be seen in other less carefully cared for wines.

From the most prized appellation for late harvest Chenin, this 2010 Quarts des Chaume has it all. Rich and aromatic in the nose showing apricots, figs and nuts. Great acidity in the mouth backs up a wine with over 15% residual sugar. The result is a truly world class wine that doesn’t come off too sweet, but is incredibly long with great tension and minerality.