In writing about the generation of young Anjou vignerons I've come to call the Angevin Clan, my chronology has inadvertently worked against central figures Nicolas Bertin and Geneviève Delatte of Domaine Bertin-Delatte. They're the last of the clan to be discussed, when in fact it was Delatte who introduced my friends and me to Cédric Garreau, and it was at Bertin and Delatte's unfinished house that we all gathered for lunch after tasting with Garreau and Kenji and Mai Hodgson.
Having founded their 3ha estate in 2008, Bertin and Delatte have a few years more experience than the other vignerons at the lunch table that day. But Bertin only gave up his part-time job tending vines for nearby estate Domaine Pierre Chauvin the week before we visited. (Cedric Garreau, for his part, still does vineyard work for other estates to make ends meet.) Bertin may have encapsulated the challenges facing a young vigneron in the Coteaux de Layon when we asked him whether he'd ever tried his hand at making the region's eponymous sweet wine: No, he said, because he doesn't like drinking it, it's hard to make, and it's hard to sell.
Bertin and Delatte make just one wine in any appreciable quantity: L'Echalier, a mostly young-vine dry Chenin that, I was to realise over lunch that day, I had always been drinking too young. Can I be blamed ? It's what one usually does with young-vine Chenin in that price point. How was I to know, before meeting and tasting with the winemakers, that "L'Echalier" positively blooms in the bottle after two years?
Before lunch we various parcels from barrel in the winemakers' newly constructed cellars. Most interesting was a parcel called "Clos des Noels," whose 84yr old Chenin vines are interplanted with Grolleau Noir and bits of Bacco. The red component in the white wine seemed to manifest itself in a savoury tannicity atop the wine's bedrock minerality.
Interesting in a more euphemistic way was Bertin's first experiment with Sauvignon, which he says he harvested too late. Additionally fermentation stuck before completion, yielding a lozenge-y wine with 30-40g residual sugar. (Ironically, something suggesting the sort of wine he says he can't drink, can't make, can't sell...)
It honestly wasn't until we tasted a vertical of L'Echalier at lunch that I grew excited about Bertin-Delatte's wines. With an estate this young, of course, the vertical was only four years / wines long. 2011 and 2010 tasted quite a bit as I remembered them tasting from bottles I'd consumed in Paris: tight, clean, lean Chenin, citrus-pithy and concentrated. I remember liking the wine well enough, but mainly as an alternative to what even then was beginning to seem like a tidal wave of sloppy oxidative natural Chenins in Paris bistrots and wine shops.
2009, at 14.8º, showed the hallmark of its warm vintage. But throughout the ripe peach fruit ran a Jasnières-like skein of acid keeping everything taut and in balance.
The nose of 2008, meanwhile, was markedly more expressive than the other vintages. It was like something had internally snapped into focus, and voilà, stone fruits and rainfall and lemon zest. The wine was neon-bright and urgent, having apparently aged the way Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes once said he'd like to : just going faster and faster with ever greater enthusiasm and energy.
In the grand scheme of things, waiting four years for a wine to show tremendous secondary improvement is kind of an eyeblink. And that Bertin and Delatte achieved such a wine in their first vintage deserves major applause. It would, unfortunately, surprise me if anyone besides the vignerons themselves had been cellaring their first vintage of Vin de France Chenin. The grape, belying the magnificent ageless heights it routinely reaches, is prone to oxidation, and my impression is that in the realm of natural wine Chenin is often produced with more enthusiasm than skill.
|Bertin-Delatte also make hands-down the best cheap Chenin pétillant naturel I've ever had, the pristine, green-pear, razor fine "Pop Sec."|
Whereas what struck me about tasting the "L'Echalier" Chenins together was their sense of purpose and of planning - the sense that Bertin and Delatte have thought hard about how to do something subtly ambitious with an undervalued terroir known mainly for unsellable sweet wines. In the same way that Ghostface Killah, later widely acknowledged to be the Wu's most consistently original member, initially waited several years to drop his debut solo effort, instead guesting on almost all of the Raekwon classic Only Built For Cuban Linx first, Bertin-Delatte's "L'Echalier" is a quiet-storm of a Chenin, a minor groundbreaker waiting to reveal itself.
Nicolas Bertin et Geneviève Delatte
Allée des sablonettes
Tel: 06 87 26 03 00 / 06 74 53 09 09
An offer of Domaine Bertin-Delatte's wines at my friend Josh Adler's site, ParisWineCompany. (Free registration required.)
Angevin Clan Pt. 1: Mai & Kenji Hodgson, Rablay-sur-Layon
Angevin Clan Pt. 2: Cedric Garreau / Gar'O'Vins, Chanzeaux
In researching this piece I was amused to note that among the first search results on the subject of oxidative Chenin is my friend Thor Iverson complaining in great detail about various bottles at OenoLogic.