Monday, February 02, 2009

Domaine de Bellivière - Keeping it Real in the Northern Loire

The northern most vineyards in western France are in the Loire Valley appellations of Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir. The Chenin Blancs from these places have never been as sought after as those from Vouvray, Montlouis, or Savennières. Probably because this is a difficult region to grow wine grapes - it's cold and ripeness does not come easily. And there hasn't exactly been a plethora of inspired grower/producers either.

In the late 1990's inspired wine making came to Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir in the form of Eric and Christine Nicolas who own and operate Domaine de Bellivière. They are firmly in the healthy farming/natural winemaking camp. When they replant they use sélection massale or cuttings from old vines (as opposed to using clones), they plow all of their vineyard surface to aerate and to remove weeds (as opposed to spraying with herbicides), they harvest entirely by hand, and fermentation is achieved via naturally occurring yeasts. They have been fully organic since 2005 and as of 2008 farm their entire estate biodynamically.
All of this is meaningless, though, if the wines don't taste good. Well, they taste very good, sometimes great. There are sweet wines made in vintages that promote botrytisized grapes, but the workhorses of the Domaine in the white wine department are the four dry to off-dry Chenin Blancs, two from Coteaux du Loir and two from Jasnières. The Coteaux du Loir wines are L'Effraie (The Owl) from younger vines, and Vieilles Vignes Éparses (Scattered Old Vines) from vines of between 50-80 years old, scattered among several different plots. The Jasnières wines are Les Rosiers from younger vines and Caligramme, another old vines cuvée.

Of Bellivière's wines, the Jasnières are more accessible, more typical in their Chenin Blanc character, and more expensive. The single finest Bellivière wine I've had is the 2006 Rosiers (haven't tasted the other 06's yet though). I guess you might say that the Jasnières wines are "better." But in general I prefer Bellivière's Coteaux du Loir wines because of their unique terroir stamp.

L'Effraie and Vieille Vignes Éparses both show classic Chenin Blanc characteristics - aromas and flavors that include wool, wax, quince and other orchard fruit, herbs, honey, and minerals. But they show something else too, something that I have experienced in no other wine: distinct aromas of what I would call fir tree and wintergreen. Even in a hot and ripe vintage like 2005 when the wines were richer and sweeter than usual, these trademark aromas were still evident amidst all of the fruit.

If you're interested in Loire whites, all of these are definitely worth trying. Here are notes from bottles I drank in the past few months:

2004 Domaine de Bellivière Coteaux du Loir L'Effraie, $22. An incredibly strange wine, but I love it. This is all about fir trees and herbs - wintergreen, mint, bay leaves. The palate is fresh, not oxidized, and still kind of grippy. This has a long life ahead of it and I wish I had more. It reminds me of Oregon's Clear Creek Douglass Fir Eau de Vie.

2005 Domaine de Bellivière Vieille Vignes Éparses, $18 (because Chambers Street has it on closeout for some reason - it should be closer to $30). Like the 2004, this wine is bursting with fir notes. As per the vintage, this wine is fuller and thicker than the 2004, and I don't think that's a good thing in this case - the lithe intensity of the '04 made more sense to me. Decent acidity, a smoky herbal finish, this paired beautifully with my friend Adam's roast pork shoulder stuffed with lemon rind and capers.

2005 Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Les Rosiers, $18 (again, closeout at Chambers Street). This has a lot of residual sugar and not enough acidity to elevate the wine. It is good, but not memorable. I preferred 2004 of this wine, and prefer the Coteaux du Loir wines in 2005.

2006 Domaine de Bellivière Jasnières Les Rosiers, not yet released. A much more complete wine than the 2005, this one shows its beautiful honeyed fruit but also a thick layer of minerals. It is on day 3 when the wine really begins to open up, showing broad and expansive flavors of classic Chenin wool, lime, and gorgeous delicate bitter honey. Super fresh and with good acidity, this is delicious wine that will age gracefully.

Bellivière's wines are imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.


Anonymous said...

Really Fantastic stuff. I'm an even bigger fan of their reds than of their whites, and i olove the whites. they always manage to make wines that weave together nice complexity, rustic character, and that strangeness that raises eyebrows when you thought you knew what to expect. Given the price I doubt it would be possible to not get you're money's worth, even if you don't like the wines. (If that makes sense)

Brooklynguy said...

Hey Saignée - thanks for your comments, much appreciated. I like the reds too, but I find them to be more hit and miss than the whites. You know what I LOVE, but haven't seen in about two years? The rosé of Pinot D'Aunis. Giroflees, I think it is called. What happened to that gem of a wine?

And I know exactly what you mean, about getting money's worth even if I don't like the wine.

Anonymous said...

I didn't even realize they made a it looks i need to do some serious research.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Belliviere wines. Have loved these for a while. Unfortunately most of them are not easy to come by in the US, at least on the west coast.


Brooklynguy said...

hey josh - that's too bad, i didn't realize they were tough to find out there. last time i was in Portland i saw them sitting on the shelf, so i assumed it's as it is here in NYC - shops that carry wines of that nature will carry Bellivière. i hope you find a source soon. the 06's will be great, if the Rosiers is any indication.