Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jo Pithon's 2005 Savennières "La Croix Picot"

Though I didn’t realize it at the time I purchased it, Jo Pithon’s 2005 Savennières represents a near end-point in the modern viticultural history of the Anjou. It’s the penultimate vintage ever to be bottled under Pithon’s own label and under his own autonomic control.

In 2005, a 95% stake in Domaine Jo Pithon was purchased from its financially strapped owner by Philip Fournier, founder of the telecommunications concern, Afone, which is based in Angers. Subsequently, Monsieur Fournier also purchased the Château de Chamboreau from its previous owner, Pierre Soulez, in 1996. The two estates have now been combined to form an aggregate of 27 hectares of vineyards situated throughout Angevin wine country. The wines are now being marketed under a new label, Domaine FL, after the family names of the new owner’s parents, Fournier and Longchamps. More complete details of the transaction and merger can be found at Jim’s Loire.

Though I hope I’m wrong, I fear that combining the two estates may lead to a loss of the individualistic characteristics and expressions of terroir of the old wines. It’s just a hunch, as “FL” seems to have positioned itself more as a brand name than a Domaine. If anyone out there has tasted the new wines, let me know; I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Savennières "La Croix Picot," Domaine Jo Pithon 2005
$25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA.

“La Croix Picot” is produced from young vines of organically farmed Chenin, planted in 2000 on a 1.1 hectare plot situated on a hillside overlooking the Loire and composed primarily of decomposed schist, with small amounts of clay, quartz, sand and red volcanic subsoil. As with all of Pithon’s wines, it’s aged in barriques (about 15% new, in this case) and produced with minimal application of sulfur and no enzymes, commercial yeasts or chaptalization.

I’ve heard some complaints about Pithon’s Savennières being dominated by its oak treatment but I didn’t find that to be the case. Perhaps it’s had enough time in the bottle now for the oak to integrate (not something that always happens) with the fruit. What I did find was a wine bursting with intensely ripe fruit, full of varietal Chenin characteristics, but not yet speaking clearly of its geographical origins.

Right out of the bottle, the wine bursts with scents and flavors of green pear – skins and all – and quince paste. It’s a very ripe yet totally controlled style, very textural and powerful but not out of balance. With air and a slight rise in service temperature, overtones of orange and vanilla cream emerged, even riper that at first glance, pushing towards over-ripeness but still contained enough to be quite enjoyable. On its second day, those orange tones were even more pronounced, joined by ripe, fleshy yellow peach. The wine’s power had subsided a bit, bringing the ripe textures and forward fruit more gently to the fore. Day three brought a loss of focus, all apple sauce on the nose and going loose on the palate.

I wouldn’t normally expect age worthiness given the extremely young age of the vines in “La Croix Picot,” but this is still very much in its infancy. It faded on day three, yes, but to be fair, there were only a few ounces left in the bottle…. I’d be very curious to see how the 2005 develops over the next three to five years, and equally curious to find where subsequent vintages lead under the Domaine FL masthead.

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