Sunday, April 6, 2008

Clos Puy Arnaud

“Influenced by the spirit of Burgundy—looking for minerality, for fruit; looking for barrels, for fruit that balances the wine.” So explains Thierry Valette his vision for the wines of Clos Puy Arnaud as we walked through his vineyards on the morning of Easter Monday.

Thierry Valette holding a piece of calcaire from his vineyard

Clos Puy Arnaud (eagle’s view) is perched high on the plateau of Belves de Castillon in Côtes de Castillon. This is a small and magnificent estate. I can easily see why Thierry Valette, the proprietor, was excited to purchase the property upon discovering it soon after his family sold Château Pavie. Even on a cloudy day it was very bright here, as well as airy, with plenty of open skies looking down on the vineyards. The 7-hectare vineyard surrounding the winery and residence (another 2 hectares are located in another area of Belves) is on the plateau, with topsoils so shallow that the calcaire bedrock protrudes to the surface on some portions.

The special terroir is farmed following organic and biodynamic principles. A team of just five persons work in the estate year-round, including Thierry and Anne Caldéroni, who is the oenologist. Stephane Derenoncourt, the top consulting winemaker in Côtes de Castillon, was Thierry’s mentor between 2001 and 2004.

The vineyards are planted mostly to Merlot, with Cabernet Franc making up most of the difference and both Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere accounting for a tiny portion. I find it interesting that Carmenere, a varietal that has almost disappeared in Bordeaux, is given expression here. The average age of the vines is 35-years-old, almost entirely accounted for by the Merlot which are planted on the best site, on the plateau, as it makes the most interesting wine in this terroir. Replanting is going on, mostly Cabernet Franc and some Merlot.

In the cellar, a sorting table could be found next to the destemmer, but I’m not entirely sure how useful it is. Thierry says they purposely leave 1%-2% green grapes to the mix that go in the vats, and that there is a measure of overripe and underripe grapes that account for part of the blend. Yields are by no means high, but not very low either, 32-35 hl/ha.

Thierry on pigeage.jpg
Thierry Valette showing pigeage

I was starting to have a clearer understanding of Thierry Valette’s vision for this estate. Great terroir, organic and biodynamic farming, and a conscious effort to maintain a sense of balance in the winemaker’s inevitable intervention. My curiosity rose at how all these translate into the wine.

Thierry opened the valve of the cement vat that stores the 2006 vintage to draw a sample. The blend is 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 70% Merlot aged in one-third new oak. 2006 was a brutal harvest in Côtes de Castillon because of the rains, and Clos Puy Arnaud lost 35% of its crops. It smelled of oak and fresh blueberry aromas. Dark and flavorful, the wine is well-structured with good acidity and rich tannins. How it would integrate over the next several months until it is bottled and released I have no idea, but it will be very interesting. 2006 is not a vintage I find very promising in the right bank, yet I’m always on the lookout for exceptions.

Cement vats in Clos Puy Arnaud's cellar

We went into the chai where the 2007s are resting in barrels. Thierry has an instructive and enlightening approach to tasting young wines from barrel based on barrel elevage, rather on blocks, varietals, or clones. You see the influence of the barrels on the development of the wines. From the winemaker’s standpoint, I can see how this approach makes sense.

So, first a 2007 Merlot in Tronçais oak: dark, ripe, fruity but a bit green;
Next, 20007 Merlot in Taransaud oak: more open, rounded, fruity, good midpalate, good fullness in the mouth, one gets the sense that this is a complete wine;
2007 Merlot in Taransaud oak with more toast: spicy, Grenache-like nose, more vanilla, rough finish;
2007 Merlot without oak from stainless steel barrel: fresh, fruity, pure Merlot taste;
2007 Merlot in Berthomieu barrel: sweet, fruity aromas, powerful, rich, good tannins, toasty;
Finally, 2007 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere in Taransaud oak: fruity, spicy, licorice, minty flavors, rich tannins.

My clear favorite was the second barrel.

Thierry got increasingly absorbed with the wines as we tasted, as he has to decide soon the representative blend for next week’s en primeur. I thought he has some very good raw material to work with. Having tasted the components, I’m surprised at how promising this 2007 vintage is for Clos Puy Arnaud and, perhaps, for the right bank as well.

I had a fantastic time with Thierry, and I’m thankful for him for the experience and the opportunity to learn something about this special but little-known estate. As I was leaving, I grew excited about dinner later that night at L’Envers du Décor in St.-Emilion, where Thierry will bring the 2001 and 2005 Clos Puy Arnaud. All these tastings simply teased me, and I’m dying to drink and savor his wines!



  1. Nice piece Alex. How long is the elevage in barrel?

  2. Eric. Not too long. About 14-15 months in barrel.


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