I’ve had my notes for this wine sitting around for a few weeks, and I wasn’t sure I was going to find the time to write up an actual post because I’ve been a bit busy with this or that. However, I’ve been inspired to finally put this up because of an article today in the New York Times about a dispute in the Loire Valley that mentions this producer.
The wine is Château Pierre-Bise Anjou Villages Sur Schistes 2009. Working from general to specific, this is French, from the Loire Valley, and in particular the Appellation Anjou Villages contrôlée. That AOC is exclusively for red wines, made up of 46 communes, and makes light to medium-bodied wines from Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.
But first context, starting with why I write what I write. I’m pretty ombibulous with regard to what wine I enjoy, and so looking my notes could be a Drunkard’s Walk through the cellar of a wine merchant. However, I am influenced by a number of outside inputs, and the New York Times is one of them. They have an excellent wine writer, Eric Asimov, and often I run out to grab a bottle after having read one of his articles, such as was the case recently with his article on Douro reds which prompted me to write about the Niepoort Douro Vertente 2006. I try to keep up with the industry whenever I can, but there are so many people writing so much, that it’s quite the task.
So the article in question is broadly about the Loire Valley trying to implement a ranking system for their vast collection of vineyards. Within many some other French wine regions, there are various official methods of determining the quality level of vineyards and wines made from their grapes, in particular in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, and to a lesser respect Alsace. Within the Loire however, all vineyards are considered equal. In particular this article is about a small appellation called Quarts-de-Chaume which produces a sweet wine, and how the introduction of a ranking system, and along with it some regulations as to how grapes are grown and processed, will impact some producers which is causing them to oppose it. My summary does not do it justice, so please have a look for yourself if such things are of interest.
How this article about a sweet wine appellation has brought me to write about a dry red wine is Claude Papin. He is the producer of this Anjou Villages, but also produces a Quarts-de-Chaume (among others) and is the head of their local vignerons’ association. As such, he is closely involved in the dispute, and is quoted in the article. Seeing a news article that relates to the producers of a wine I recently tried was enough to get me moving on this post.
So, Anjou as I mentioned is within the Loire Valley in France. If the Loire Valley, going from the west to the east, is divided into four sub-regions, they would be Nantais (home of Muscadet), Anjou and Saumur, Touraine, and finally the Central Vineyards (central France that is, but the easternmost Loire Valley). Anjou itself is the area around the city of Angers, and the region as a whole produces red, white and rosé wines, still and sparkling, which range from dry to very sweet. Grapes commonly associated with Anjou are Chenin Blanc, Grolleau, and Cabernet Franc, though Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir and Pineau d’Aunis (Chenin Noir) can also be found. Anjou-Villages AOC is one of many appellations in the region, and the AOC rules only allow Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and they’re commonly found blended together as is the case with this wine. The climate is continental, though they are not so far from the coast as to avoid maritime influences. The main soil type for grape growing is based on schist, a metamorphic rock, from which this wine takes its name.
Another Anjou fact – if your wine is from Anjou, you can emboss your bottles with the region’s crest. As a fan of regionally-embossed bottles, I approve.
Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are such familiar grapes (found in four other wines each that I’ve covered so far) that they hardly need to be described. However, this is the first instance where Cabernet Franc is the dominant player in a blend (and the first time Cabernet Sauvignon provides only a supporting role) so it may be worth describing them a bit in this context.
Cabernet Franc is one of the classic Bordeaux red grapes, and as my previous tastings can attest, it often plays only a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon. It buds and matures earlier than Cabernet Sauvignon, and is less vulnerable to poor conditions at harvest. It produces a lighter wine in terms of colour and tannins, and generally matures earlier. It’s also lighter in body, with more fruit than Cabernet Sauvignon, and often a green note that I associate not so much with under-ripeness but rather with stems or leaves. What Cabernet Franc gets in this blend from Cabernet Sauvignon is structure, as well as colour and tannins. It brings a bit of backbone to the blend, though without dominating the lighter fruit notes of the Cabernet Franc.
Finally, Château Pierre-Bise, bringing me finally back to what prompted me to write this. The name means stone and wind, and refers to the château (or castle) itself, which is on a ridge overlooking the Layon (both the town and the river), roughly 17km south by southwest of Angers. The château and some nearby vines were bought in 1959 by Pierre Papin, who passed them on to his son Claude Papin who has expanded the holdings significantly with different parcels across different nearby appellations. There is a hugely comprehensive article about Château Pierre-Bise and Claude Papin at thewinedoctor.com from which I’ve pulled a few facts. He holds 60 hectares of vineyards, with 40 being Chenin Blanc and the remaining 20 being largely a mix of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gamay. His produces wines that hail from appellations within Anjou, Savennières, Coteaux du Layon, Chaume, and Quarts de Chaume in white and red, dry to sweet. For more details, please check out thewinedoctor.com.
Finally, this wine in front of me. Very dark in colour, and on the cusp between garnet and ruby. The nose doesn’t give up much – there is some perfume and dark red berries, but it’s not particularly intense. In the mouth, it’s medium bodied, but with vibrant acidity. Here lies the fruit, with intense tart, sour cherries and blackcurrant. There’s also fine but very noticeable tannins, though not as green as I would have expected from Cabernet Franc. Apparently the fermentation is done without pumping over to avoid extraction, which could explain it. It’s a well balanced wine, though it would likely be better still in a few years. I should have bought a second bottle to put in the cellar.