2018 Aris Chardonnay:
5 month in cuve from a limestone terroir, great tension, fresh citrus and limestone
Domaine des Pothiers, which takes its name from the lieu-dit in which it is situated, is one of the oldest, but also one of the most dynamic and exciting domains within the appellation. The Paires have been in Villemontais for over 300 years. The current incumbent, Georges, joined his father in 1974 and took control of the family domaine in 1978. Georges and Denise’s son, Romain, joined his parents in 2004 after completing his studies. In addition to making wine, they also raise Limousin cattle.
They work a total of nine hectares of vines, and all but 30 ares is owned by the family themselves. Whilst the majority of the vineyards are planted to Gamay Saint-Romain, they do also have just less than one hectare of Chardonnay and half a hectare of Pinot Gris will come into production in 2009. Everything here is hand harvested, with all the vineyards organic, in conversion.
In 2005 the Paires purchased what is probably the highest (with the potential to be the most distinguished, or at the very least aesthetic pleasing) vineyard in the entire appellation. Le Clos du Puy sits high up on the hillside with amazing views down towards the plain and the Lac de Loire, with the mountains of Beaujolais in the distance. It is a true closof 1.7 hectares enclosed, completely, by a high wall. The previous owner started to re-establish vines here in 2000, but for the moment the rest of the plot remains dormant. Le Puy itself is a hamlet of one or two houses, but it is dominated by an old priory, now a smallholding with its own chapel, that would have once claimed ownership of the clos. It is a special place that deserves to make special wine. Let’s hope that is the case in years to come.
Some 30 kilometres north of the Côtes Roannaise appellation in the village of Saint-Nazaire-sous-Charlieu, situated on the opposite side of the Loire, the Paire’s have taken on the challenge of re-establishing an old parcel of Gamay. Planted before the last war, it had long been abandoned. They have been producing this under the Vin de Pays d’Urfé appellation since 2004, and are the only grower to be active here. Unlike the Cote Roannaise, the soil on the right bank of the river is more limestone and clay and offers a completely different profile to the Gamay grown here.
The original cellar on the domaine was in an ancient domed farm building. This is still in use for the ageing of the wines in barrel, and also accommodates a number of cement tanks, however a purpose built cuverie was added in 1992.
The wines produced at Potherie are best described as traditional and inventive. Only indigenous yeasts are employed and there is no evidence of a thermovinification unit in the cellar. All the red wines undergo a classic fermentation (without recourse to carbonic maceration) and élévage; bunches are destemmed and with regular pump-overs, the length and regularity being determined by the specific cuvée. The wines are then aged either in tank or cement, or in the case of ‘Le Clos du Puy’, in barrel. The rosé has a brief ageing in fibre glass tanks before being bottled early.
There are five different reds produced in the cellar. ‘Référence’ is the starting point and generally receives a six day maceration followed by five to eight months ageing in tank. They start bottling this cuvée in the spring following the vintage and it is designed for immediate drinking. The 2007 showed the weakness of the year, with some reductive notes, but the 2008 in tank looked much better. ‘Cuvée Numero Six’ is a wine that is made as naturally as possible, with no de-stemming, using natural yeasts and without filtration at bottling. It comes from two parcels of younger vines in Villemontais and has a ten day cuvasion in tank. The resulting wine in 2008 is quite tannic and tight, but should soften up with a little patience. The ‘Domaine des Pothiers’ from old vines up to 80 years old, macerated for 12 days followed by an 11 months aging in tank. ‘Le Clos du Puy’ comes from a parcel in the hamlet with the same name and is aged for 11 months in two to five year old barrels acquired from a grower in Côte Rôtie. My view is that the wood only serves as a distraction, and I only hope that this lesson is learned sooner rather than later. The last red is the ‘Saint-Nizaire’, a Vin de Pays d’Urfé rouge, made from 70 year old Gamay, although the wine shows much greater potential than its humble status suggests.
In terms of other wines, the ‘Fou de Chêne’ is an apt name for their Vin de Pays Chardonnay that has plenty of oak, but is good and creamy in that overtly commercial style, but retains some balancing acidity which make it a worthy addition to their range. ‘Red Bulles’ (yes, the pun is intended) is a sparking Gamay from the 2007 vintage, although given it has to be sold as a Vin de Table, there is no year specified on the bottle. It has 25g/l residual sugar and a laudable 8% alcohol. It is one of four current releases within the region of wine produced in the style (the other growers being Simon Hawkins, Stéphane Sérol and the Vials), who are each trying to find a new angle in which to add value – and an alternative market for their produce. Finally, there is a little Liquoreux rosé produced under the ‘Emoi’ label, made from passerillage berries and sold as a Vin de Table.
All the wines are certified organic and biodynamic since 2010