Domaine Belargus Anjou Ronceray 2020
A fresh, complex Anjou white that has rectitude and precision with remarkable vibrancy
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Top Rated, Organic & Biodynamic
|Critics Top Rating
Belargus is essentially a wine lover’s dream come true. Domaine Belargus is an organic operation and has recently begun implementing biodynamic practices. These principles are being applied at Belargus by two pioneers of the region: Jo Pithon, who has advocated for organic farming for more than 30 years, and Guy Bossard (Domaine de l’Ecu in Muscadet), who has pioneered Biodynamic practices in the region for decades. This dream team is putting in every effort to rejuvenate some of France’s greatest vineyards.
At the origin of the project: the vision of a wine enthusiast, determined to restore the prestige of a thousand-year-old vineyard, in the heart of Anjou. Built stone by stone by Ivan Massonnat, the Estate is 100% dedicated to Chenin Blanc and explores the micro-terroirs of Anjou Noir in a single-plot approach inspired by the climats of Burgundy.
From the 11th century the hillsides of Anjou, stemming from a geological chaos from the primary era, were planted in vines by religious orders. Chenin reigned supreme there and, until the 19th century, Anjou wines were served on royal tables across Europe. Then came modern times. These brought so-called technical “innovations” and their share of historic vicissitudes, which impressed a profound change on this wine region, like many others in France. But this mosaic of millenary terroirs does remain, and Domaine Belargus has chosen to reveal all its facets through an unprecedented selection of grands crus, single-plots and monopoles.
On twenty-four hectares dedicated to the noble Chenin grape, the Estate cultivates some of the most renown terroirs in Anjou, in biodynamics. Its mission is to express their quintessence through a single-plot approach. Among its most remarkable plots:
- The Quarts-de-Chaume (grand cru), centre of gravity of the Estate with ten hectares in one piece, centred around the three plots historically composing the appellation
- The “Coteau des Treilles” (monopole), a wild and steep hillside, located in the heart of a classified “Regional Natural Reserve”
- The “Clos des Ruchères” (monopole) in Savennières, planted on a rare hillside of purple schists
Respecting the vintage’s personality, Domaine Belargus produces each year a collection of dry white wines and, in exceptional years only, uses the magic of botrytis to create some sweet wines.
Ivan Massonnat fundamentally believes in the virtues of a collective approach: since inception the Belargus project has been designed as a team adventure, brining together young talents (notably winemaker Adrien Moreau and vineyard manager Amaury Chartier) and some iconic Loire pioneers (namely Jo Pithon and Guy Bossard).
A collective energy that also serves several regional projects, with him presiding the Paulée d’Anjou (an international event aimed at promoting the excellence of Anjou), or contributing to the efforts to get “Ronceray” (dry Chenin produced in the Quarts-de-Chaume area) officially recognised as a Cru.
Coming from a terroir producing world-renowned sweet wines, the Quarts-de-Chaume Grand Cru and Chaume 1er cru appellations can also give birth to great dry wines. The RONCERAY cuvée is a blend of these terroirs. It refers to the Ronceray Abbey, which used to own the Chaume vineyard from the 11th century. The complex geology of this terroir creates a mineral and powerful cuvée, with long ageing potential.
Grape Variety – 100% Chenin Blanc
Vineyard planted from 1979 to 2008 with Chenin Blanc (on RGM, 1103 P. and Gravesac). Guyot poussard and cordon, Biodynamic (conversion)
Soil – Loamy clays on schists and sandstones («pudding» rocks) at 10-20% South incline
Winemaking – With Indigeneous yeasts for 13 months (on total lees). Stainless steel tanks, demi-muids (600l) and barrels (228l), 5 years old on average. No fining, slight filtration. 0.7g RS / L.
Vintage – The 2018 vintage was historic, in Anjou as in many French regions, with good yields and exceptional grape quality. The winter had started early and was quite cold, with severe frosts. The land was thus opened, allowing nitrogen fertilisation as well as soil oxygenation. Generous rains helped building a comfortable water reserve. The hot and humid spring allowed the vines to grow well, but also brought strong mildew pressure, especially in June. The summer was particularly hot and dry, but the vines did not suffer thanks to the sufficient accumulated reserves. The dry wines harvest began on September 10th and went on for twenty days without a single drop of rain, perfect conditions which allowed optimal management of the ripeness.
RONCERAY is a complex wine, resulting from the blend of our plots on the rump of Quarts-de-Chaume. A terroir with complex geology, the marriage of shales and pudding sandstones gives this cuvée a sharp minerality and a floral and fruity richness. A fine bitterness, signature of this terroir, brings complexity and length on the palate.
Food pairing – RONCERAY pairs very well with fatty fish, and is particularly suitable for pink meats such as veal.
Best served at 10-12ºC
Wine Advocate – 94 points
The 2018 Anjou Ronceray assembles all the plots of the Domaine on the Quarts-de-Chaume rump. Its name refers to the abbey of the same name, owner of the Chaume vineyards since the 11th century, reports Ivan Massonat, who stresses the complex geology of the terroir that combines schists and pudding sandstone. The bouquet of the golden-yellow 2018 is noble, perfectly ripe and concentrated in its elegant stone fruit aromas that intermingle with precise and refreshing slate as well as lemony notes. Filigreed, finessed and perfectly round and intense on the palate, this is a gorgeous Chenin with intense fruit, lush fruit concentration, lots of extract, fine tannins but also finesse and balance. Grapefruit bitters on the finish. To me, this is a picture-book Anjou from Rochefort-sur-Loire, and it is characterized by richness, finesse and elegance. Irresistible. 13.5% alcohol. Tasted in June 2021.
This is one of the most spectacular new entries in the history of The Wine Advocate, and it makes the Loire, especially its tributary, Layon, one of the most fascinating terroirs in the Anjou region. Domaine Belargus is the name that should soon populate the world’s finest wine lists, especially since the prices are—still?—affordable. After I asked Jo Pithon for samples for Pithon-Paillé, somewhere before Christmas last year, I instead received a letter from Ivan Massonnat. Jo had retired and forwarded my letter to Ivan, who took over the Pithon-Paillé estate in 2018 after years of looking for exceptional Chenin terroirs in the Loire Valley. In February 2018, Ivan, born in the Savoie region and working as an investor in Paris, fell in love with Coteau des Treilles, Jo’s life’s work, which was introduced to me far back in the early 2000s. “Then, to make the long story short,” Massonnat wrote, “the stars aligned and I was able to acquire some great terroirs in the area, notably 10 hectares in the Quarts-de-Chaume appellation, including the three plots listed in the original decree, and nearly three hectares in Savennières, including a small clos at the bottom of Roche-aux-Moines.” And thus, the Domaine Belargus was born. The new estate is 100% dedicated to Chenin Blanc and celebrates the grape’s versatility regarding terroirs and wine style. Ivan has installed a young team, and together they are currently converting to biodynamics, with a single-plot approach inspired by Ivan’s “beloved Burgundy.” “Our first vintage is 2018, and we like prolonged aging, from one to three years.” In fact, some of the Belargus’s 2018s are still not bottled. For a minimum of 13 months in barrels of different sizes, the wines are aged on total lees, without stirring or racking. I didn’t taste the whole range for this report, and I am already regretting it. At least there is a first 2019, a vintage that I generally like even better than 2018, but then, where would we land if the 2019s topped the 2018s, of which I have scored several wines with 96 RP and more, even up to 99 and 100. Let’s have a closer look at Ivan Massonnat and his new domaine. Ivan is a wine aficionado who said he learned everything he needed to know from countless on and off tastings as well as in close relations to inspiring winemakers, sommeliers, retailers, importers and journalists. Burgundy was his Holy Grail due to a history of a thousand years and a hierarchized mosaic of terroirs. But since his family has a history in Chinon, the Loire came into his focus soon, and why not demonstrate to the world that Chenin Blanc can at least play the role of Chardonnay, since the terroirs in the Loire Valley are at least as manifold as those in Burgundy. Then came a snowy day in February and a meeting with Jo Pithon at the bottom of Les Treilles, where Jo once patiently gathered 70 plots, cleared, regrouped and planted. “It will be my fight to make this terroir shine, it being as extraordinary as the Coulée de Serrant, but in a peasant version.” However, Les Treilles should not remain alone, and so an impressive collection of grands crus, single plots and monopoles on the schistous soils of the Anjou Noir was created and including the 10 hectares of vines in Les Quarts, one of the four parts in the historic heart of the Quarts-de- Chaume AOC, the only grand cru in the Loire Valley, of which Belargus now owns one quarter of the total 40 hectares. On the other side of the Loire River, in Savennières, the Clos des Ruchères at the bottom of Roche aux Moines was also bought, so that Domaine Belargus now cultivates 24 hectares of vines entirely dedicated to Chenin Blanc, and the grapes express their terroir, representing dry wines as well as incredibly finessed and balanced sweet wines that I find simply breathtaking. The winemaking is slow and as natural as possible. The grapes are picked at an optimal ripening point, and the fermentations take place in barrels, thanks to indigenous yeasts, and can last from a few weeks to more than a year, depending on each plot and the vintage characteristics. The name Belargus, by the way, goes back to the eponymous blue butterfly, historic inhabitant of the Coteau des Treilles.
Decanter – 92 points
Ronceray is the most important cuvée of the estate and extends over more than 4ha on clay, schist, sandstone and pudding-stone soils. Pear, spices, flowers, menthol, a mouthfeel of roundness but with remarkable vibrancy on the mid-palate and then a light-footed finish. A fresh, complex Anjou white that has rectitude and precision. Drinking Window 2021 – 2028