Quarts de Chaume
Quarts de Chaume, also called Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru AOC, is one of the most exclusive sweet wine appellations in the world. Although at roughly 74 acres it is about 1/4 the size of the surrounding appellation, Chaume, Quarts de Chaume's etymology actually comes from ancient days. The Diocese of Angers used to own all the land in Quarts de Chaume AOC, and charged the area's producers 25% of their revenue to lease the land.
As this story indicates, Quarts de Chaume has always been a highly desirable appellation. Nowadays, the appellation is home to many of the world's best sweet Chenin Blancs. Although not all the wines are expensive (or, for that matter, as outstanding as their reputation), demand is still high, partly due to the rarity of the wines. Due to their reputation as an acquired taste, Quarts de Chaume wines remain underrated, and though the wines are expensive, they look like bargains next to comparables like Sauternes.
Ever since the old days, when Quarts de Chaume was owned by an abbey, and before the discovery of modern sweet wine techniques, Quarts de Chaume was highly reputed for its sweet wine production. Then and now it has stayed ahead of the competition by way of low production and geological advantages. It was made an AOC in 1954; interestingly enough, it was the only AOC to be created in that year.
Climate and Viticulture
Quarts de Chaume is very similar to the appellation that it lies within, but the climate is a trifle more exclusive. The slopes on which the vineyards are located face south. The soil is filled with schist, with some sandstone pebbles. The mist that is conducive to noble-rotted wine production is ever-present on the riverbanks. The climate is essentially perfect for making sweet wines from Chenin Blanc.
- Chenin Blanc: This is possibly Chenin Blanc's best place for growth, seriously comparable to Vouvray and other, more well-known appellations. The very sweet wines produced here are extremely intense and can be an acquired taste. Flavors are as minerally as they are fruity, concentrated around honeyed peach, marmalade, and spice. With time, the floral elements become more powerful and the wine mellows out. Though the wines are interesting early, they have world-class aging potential; the best vintages of the 1970s are still going strong, and even wine in bad vintages can age for 20-25 years.
Consistency here is quite impressive, and due to the appellation's small size, the wine tends to be very reliable. Here are four particularly good producers.
- Domaine des Baumard: Baumard's outstanding Quarts de Chaume is extremely underpriced in its range of around $50-$70 and, surprisingly, is not too hard to find in America. The 1995 example garnered a rare 98-point rating from Wine Spectator, with a projected aging ability ranging well into the 2020s. The wines are not too difficult to drink early, though, with very vivid honeyed citrus, pear and spice flavors in their first few years of life.
- Laffourcade: Top dog here is the Clos Paradis, but the L'Echarderie is also good. These wines usually are in the same price range as Baumard's--$50-$70.
- Château Pierre-Bise: Prices of Pierre-Bise's Quarts de Chaume vary widely. If you can find one for $50, it is a good value; the flavors can become outstanding with the right amount of aging.
- Château de Suronde: A bottle of Suronde Quarts de Chaume tends to run about $50. Honeyed, "cooked" but focused aromas of yellow fruit, minerally acidity, and bitter citrus make for a headspinning, Sauternes-like wine. Drinkable young, but let a bottle of this wine age for an even classier drink.
Presumably due to its small size, Quarts de Chaume has no subregions.