Two Bottles Domaine Saint Nicolas

We drink two bottles of wine from Domaine Saint Nicolas from the Loire: a bottle of Les Clous 2022 and a bottle of Le Haut Chemin Chenin Blanc 2021.

A bottle of Les Clous 2022 and a bottle of Le Haut Chemin 2021 of Domaine Saint Nicolas on a wooden table with a wine glass and books in the background, and corks with a corkscrew in the foreground.

Slowly but surely, we are approaching the end of the box of wine discoveries from Perspektive Wein. This is a good thing because we are now closer to the hopefully happening next edition than to the last one. And these two bottles, like so many from the package, are from the Loire. While this is technically correct, and we know that’s the best kind of correct, a bit more differentiation might be necessary. The truth is that the vineyards lie quite isolated, about 50 kilometers south of the Loire near the Atlantic. The fact that the Fiefs Vendéens region is still counted as part of the Loire is one of those wine law facts that I file under “it is what it is.” Overall, the 1,000 kilometers of the Loire are so diverse that one more enclave doesn’t really matter. And for me, at least, the more I taste, the more I feel like I actually know less. Behind every bottle, every region, and every tiny appellation, a whole new universe opens up. In this case, at least geographically, it’s a very small universe. The Fiefs Vendéens covers just under 500 hectares and was only registered as an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée in 2011. Patrice, Eric, and Thierry Michon have been making wine in the area for a bit longer. The winery was founded in 1960, the cellar in Ile d’Olonne was built in 1985, and biodynamic certification followed in 1995. The AOC was still many years in the future at that time. The winery manages almost 40 hectares, nearly a tenth of the area of the region. Les Clous is a cuvée primarily of Chenin Blanc with a small portion of Chardonnay (and depending on the source, a splash of Groslot Gris). The vines grow on clay-schist soils in an Atlantic climate. The grapes are spontaneously fermented in wooden barrels and stainless steel, then aged for several months in wood. The Chenin Blanc for Le Haut Chemin grows on schist in the same climate. It is entirely fermented in wood and then aged for a year in wood as well.

We start with Les Clous. It has creamy, yellow fruit, herbs, and a fine structure already on the nose. It’s fascinating how we’ve developed the habit of immediately trying to deduce from the aroma how the wine will feel when drinking it. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it’s completely off. Wine can be strange after all. Here it works well. Just as creamy as it smells, it also tastes. There’s a lot of stone fruit, and even the acidity feels strongly like apple. With air, it develops more and more spice.

A day later, it remains pretty much the same. The fruit leans a bit more towards yellow plums and mirabelles, but it is yellow, creamy, and quite balanced and harmonious. Juicy, clear, a wine for a big thirst and a long weekend.

Although Le Haut Chemin has a year more on its back, it seems much more vibrant and somehow fresher from the start. There’s just more tension in it. There’s fruit, something savory like granulated chicken broth perhaps, and a bit of lovage. And that salty minerality that often comes with wines from the coast. It drinks with a lot of drive and some salty stone. Right after uncorking, it was actually not that easy to tell the two wines apart. With each minute in the glass, they diverge, and after 2-3 hours, they are completely different wines. This one increasingly becomes a wine of structure, more spice, more stone, and less fruit, while Les Clous retains its fruit all evening.

And on the second day, it continues just the same. It remains the more serious wine of the two. The more mineral, the spicier wine. A bit of Campari Orange in mouthfeel, with significantly more orange than Campari. Saltiness in the middle of the tongue, creamy texture at the edges. Herbal, yellow, and now with a touch of honey. The question of which bottle is better doesn’t even arise. One’s own mood is much more decisive than the wine. Sometimes I wonder what good it does me to scratch the surface of a region. These wines are always somehow highlights, a short spotlight, a small window into a world we know too little about. For Germany, I feel like I can now quite well judge what to expect from a bottle, where something fits, and whether it fits there. But even there, it’s often just stabbing in the dark. Here, I’m completely clueless. But in a way that has its own charm. And when I come across something from the Atlantic coast with Loire on the label again, I can dig into this description, compare, recalibrate, and open the small window a bit wider.

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