I'm not talking about Pineau de la Loire (aka, Chenin Blanc). That’s more classical, across the range. Not Menu Pineau, either. I haven’t drunk enough wines based on it to slot it into a genre – acid jazz perhaps. Pineau d’Aunis? Now you’ve got it. Punk rock all the way. Pineau d’Aunis is energetic, nervy, sometimes clumsy, usually direct and almost always a little edgy. It’s loud but not without subtlety. It wears its heart on its sleeve.
It’s also the darling of both natural winemakers and natural wine afficionados. While there are approximately 500 hectares planted to Pineau d’Aunis (aka, Chenin Noir) throughout the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, most of it ends up blended into regional reds and rosés. Nearly all of the handful of producers who make varietal Pineau d’Aunis, though, can be counted among the top ranks of the Loire’s independent, adventurous, natural wine growers. I think it’s not too much of a stretch, too, to call it the poster child for fans of small farm, idiosyncratic Loire wines. It’s an ancient vine championed by those that strive to make the voices on the fringe be heard. Here are a couple of recent cuts from two of its more renowned producers.
Touraine Pineau d’Aunis “La Tesnière,” Thierry Puzelat 2007
$20. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
Another piece in the Puzelat…. “La Tesnière” is varietal Pineau d’Aunis, farmed organically and biodymically on clay and flint soils, aged in 600-800 liter oak demi-muids and bottled without filtration. It pours the exact color of the strawberry jam that comes in those little plasti-sealed containers served at diners and greasy spoons across America. It’s a portentous hue, as sweet strawberry jam is the first scent registered by the olfactory nerves – spiked, as so typical with Pineau d’Aunis, with an assertive streak of ground white pepper. Bright acidity dances in the far reaches of the mouth. This is uncomplicated and delicious, a wine I could drink all day. It’s quite similar in style to the Pd’A from Clos Roche Blance, just a touch gentler and simpler. Says my wife, “It smells like when you’re in France and tasting in the cellars.”
As it opened a bit in the glass, rhubarb and clove emerged, the sweet fruited aspects of the wine hit right up front but quickly shifted to drier, leaner flavors. Something about its crunchy, fresh but slightly two-dimensional character makes me wonder if this might see partial carbonic fermentation. Anyone out there know for sure? In any event, the wine lost a bit of its nerve on day two but kept every bit of its ripe, strawberry driven fruit and kicked up a notch on the peppery scale. Chilling the wine down a few degrees muted the spicier side of the wine’s aromatic profile but brought out a much more refreshing texture. Very mutable, easily enjoyable juice.
Coteaux du Loir “Rouge-Gorge,” Domaine de Bellivière (Eric Nicolas) 2006
$25. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY.
It might be fair to call Domaine de Bellivière the standard bearer for Pineau d’Aunis… makes sense to me at any rate. Their cuvée “Rouge-Gorge” is what got Cory started down the path of natural wine enjoyment, and it’s what kick started my own minor infatuation with Pineau d’Aunis a mere vintage back. The 2006 “Rouge-Gorge,” however, is not nearly as intense and provocative as that 2005, not is it as bright and immediate as Puzelat’s “La Tesnière” (though it should be noted that I’m comparing two different wines in three different vintages).
Muted aromas; muted on the palate, too. But this still has that signature prickly texture I associate with Pineau d’Aunis, like rolling a firm and particularly hairy strawberry around in your mouth. With coaxing, the nose did deliver some overripe strawberry, charcoal and light peppery character. 48 hours later, it actually showed much finer focus, along with more interesting scents and flavors of lime peel, dried cherries and thyme, though its fruit had begun to fade. Pleasant enough wine but really not all that compelling in the ’06 vintage, especially given the higher than average tariff on the d’Aunis scale.
The Bellivière back label talker (printed in a font so tiny and cramped that I had a damn hard time reading it) is colorful enough that I though it worthwhile to transcribe:
“Sheltered in the clay soil around the river Sarthe is the very natural red local varietal: the Pineau d’Aunis. It was introduced in the days when monasteries were common. Thanks to its uncanny similarity to its cousin the Chenin grape, it creates multi-faceted wines, showing off its richly varied aromatic palette, and its subtlety.
This is our red grape, therefore, which needs careful looking after. It produces age worthy wines in the best years, which hint at all the characteristics of the terroir. In doing this, it is a worthy addition to the list of great local gastronomic products. It makes for unexpected marriages with food, some of which can be quite exotic.”
And just in case the titular pun wasn't obvious enough....