For us here at Rosenthal Wine Merchant, as well as for countless drinkers across the country, Château Le Puy has greatly expanded our notion of what Bordeaux can be—aesthetically, philosophically, and historically. In a region teeming with commercially minded product and still suffering from the excesses of an era during which power was seemingly prized over grace, Le Puy is a beacon—a singular producer with no real analogues whose wines nonetheless seem to express deep, if rarely articulated, truths about Bordeaux. The ways in which Le Puy is unique are manifold, but for starters:
▪ The winery has been in continuous operation since 1610, situated on the outskirts of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, at the highest point of the Côtes des Francs appellation (although the Amoreau family chooses to remain outside the appellation), on the same plain as Pomerol.
▪ The Amoreaus own over 100 hectares, but purposely only cultivate 45 hectares for wine, preferring to maintain a balanced ecosystem (they have numerous ponds, forests, and fields).
▪ The vineyards have never been sprayed with chemicals—ever.
▪ Biodynamic treatments have been employed here since the 1960s (the manure-filled horn and the quartz spray have been used continuously since then).
▪ Many of their vineyards are plowed by horse, and always have been.
▪ In a glade behind their house is an ancient cromlech—a stone circle, flanked by two burial-stone configurations. The cromlech is said to emit energy in a 400-meter radius; coincidentally, their greatest vineyard, Barthélemy, begins exactly 400 meters from the center of the cromlech…
▪ In their cellar, no artificial or outside yeasts have ever been introduced. The wines have fermented spontaneously since the very beginning.
▪ During fermentation, no human hands ever touch the cap—no punch-downs, no pump-overs. They employ an ingenious but very low-tech arrangement in which wooden slats are affixed to the top holes of their huge cement fermentation tanks, with small gaps between the slats. While the juice is fermenting, the cap is pressed up against the slats and held there, while the bubbling juice breaks up through the cap and between the gaps in the wooden slats, swirling continuously in the recessed tops of the tanks, and keeping the cap moist—all without any human interference.
▪ After fermentation, the wines are transferred to very old barrels—in the case of “Emilien,” enormous 50-hectoliter foudres of up to 100 years of age, and in the case of “Barthélemy,” directly to well-worn 225-liter barrels. They only replace barrels as needed—a true rarity in a region widely enamored of new oak’s influence.
▪ Sulfur is applied exceedingly sparingly, and only in certain vintages and for certain cuvées. If the wine is stable enough, it receives no added sulfur.
▪ The wines are never fined and never filtered. Each bottle is finished with a hand-dipped wax capsule, wrapped in a sheet of translucent white tissue paper, and packaged in wooden cases.
As fascinating as these facets of Le Puy’s history and operations are, however, it is the wine itself that really ignites the imagination… How can Bordeaux be so classic in flavor yet so evanescent and pure on the palate? How can the tannins of a Bordeaux be so honest yet so caressing? Where is the clunky, foursquare character these grape varieties often demonstrate here, particularly in their youth? There is a harmony of elements in the wines of Le Puy—a weaving together of acid, fruit, tannin, mineral, and savory earth—that is spellbinding. We are excited to welcome the arrival of a new vintage of Le Puy’s core wine “Emilien” with the 2017 this week, alongside the terrific 2019 Duc des Nauves—an adjacent property owned and run by the Amoreau family in the very same spirit as Le Puy.
Le Puy’s main-production wine, “Emilien” comprises 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Carmenère. After spontaneous fermentation in cement vats, it is transferred to 50-hectoliter foudres for one year, then to old 225-liter barriques for an additional year, before being bottled without fining or filtering. Over the course of several visits, we witnessed the 2017—not an easy growing season in Bordeaux—transform from something jagged and ornery in its early stages of elevage into something focused and beautiful in the bottle. Higher-toned and leaner than the broad 2015 and the richly layered 2016, the 2017 still offers a succulence of sappy red fruit that is very Le Puy, as well as a driving, tunneling palate of remarkable energy. A subtle but irresistible umami pervades the palate and grounds some of the wine’s higher tones with its savory pull. [2017 “Emilien” contains but 13 mg/L of total sulfur.]
2019 Duc des Nauves
The Amoreau family acquired this nine-hectare property in 2006 and immediately began employing biodynamic practices (Duc des Nauves has been certified biodynamic since the 2015 vintage). The vineyards are situated on the same Asterie-limestone mother rock as those of Le Puy, but at a slightly lower altitude—80 meters above sea level compared to Le Puy’s 110 meters. The topsoil is slightly sandier and less clayey here, and it is a bit deeper than at Le Puy—between 1.0 and 1.3 meters. In the cellar, Duc des Nauves is both fermented (spontaneously, of course) and aged in cement, and bottled without filtration after one year—a simpler elevage which results in a wine built more on the fruit than the “Emilien” above. Hailing from a warm and solar growing season, the 2019 Duc des Nauves offers a dark, ripe, granular nose of black cherries and plums, and despite the richness of the fruit it pulls off a lifted and balletic palate, with that haunting seamlessness of texture that all Le Puy wines demonstrate.