How do you proceed when the first wine of the year is already as good as the one last week? My idea was to pick up right where we left off. Stéphane Bernaudeau’s wines would have been perfect candidates for the typical Christmas or New Year’s Eve wine. Not many bottles are produced on the approximately three hectares of the Domaine, and those that are disappear from the market faster than one can click, if there’s even an opportunity to click. Often, it’s just to reappear at eye-watering prices. I have written several times that I prefer to drink rather than sell, or more precisely, just drink and never sell, and that hasn’t changed.
Stéphan Bernaudeau’s vineyards are located on the Loire in Anjou, where Stéphane grew up. After working for many years with Mark Angéli, a pioneer of Vin Naturel, he founded his own Domaine at the turn of the millennium. He produces three wines, all Chenin Blanc, all dry, and Les Onglés is somewhat of an entry point into the collection. Grown on soils with high slate and limestone content, the grapes are then fermented in used barrels and aged on the lees for 12 months. The vineyard for this wine is quite susceptible to frost, further reducing the available quantity. Only a single bottle of this wine has found its way to me, and although the wines have a reputation for aging exceptionally well, curiosity has been gnawing at me more and more, so it was time to uncork.
There is a touch of Natural on the nose. Not directly musty and not an oxidized apple peel, but it is wild and somewhat metallic. With air, it quickly gives way to yellow stone fruit, herbs, and slightly exotic fruit. Quince and a bit of stone come into play. Nice, but not super impressive at first. These are the situations where it would probably be better not to know exactly what you’re drinking. That would surely be good for internal expectation management. The benchmark is always set somewhere, and you have to calibrate between what you expect and what you find. What is really impressive from the first sip is, indeed, that sip. It’s so fresh, citrusy, juicy, so straight, clear, and clean, with so much tension that you don’t know to where the wine is disappearing. That clarity and inner tension, the energy in the wine, is really, really good. And as you sit there and consider that 2019 wasn’t exactly yesterday, you wonder if the wine has even started aging. I certainly don’t notice any signs of it.
And it remains the same the next evening. The first few seconds of Natural dissipate a bit faster, the spiciness is slightly more pronounced. Maybe a touch more herbs, perhaps honey drizzled over it. But if the label said 21 instead of 19, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Of course, I have absolutely no idea how the wine tasted when freshly bottled and how much has settled in the last few years. But I’ll stick my neck out and claim that not many people would know. And, of course, I would like to know how the wine ages. But I would open it again right now if I had the chance. It has its own charm for such a bottle to simply be a one time experience and then be gone. Despite all its power, this is not a loud wine. The herbs, quince, and stone provide the framework for what happens when you drink. The wild bouquet of citrus fruit, pomelo, grapefruit, yuzu, flowing from front to back over the tongue. That’s the thing that some people tend to call Niagara drink flow, which sounds weird. However, saying “a lot of salivation” somehow sounds crappy too, doesn’t it? And if I say “Saufwein” someone will certainly object that such a wine cannot be Saufwein. Anyway, I hope my point does come across. When we’re in Freiburg in southern Germany, we spend at least one evening at the One Trick Pony Bar and more than once with a Citronicus Maximus in the glass. As the name suggests, it’s quite citrusy. A bit, what happens on the palate with Les Onglés reminds me of this cocktail. My personal taste in wine is quite fluid. Currently, this bottle is pretty close to what I’m looking for. It’s that inner calm and energy that the Chenin radiates. And the fact that I just like drinking it without having to think too much. I can understand why it’s in such demand.