Wines of the Week: Domaine Belargus & Bruno Giacosa

Domaine Belargus Layon Coteaux du Layon 90
Bruno Giacosa/Falletto 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Asili 99
by Robert Millman & Ian D’Agata

Domaine Belargus Layon Coteaux du Layon              90

Instant cultification may not be the best thing to happen to a wine estate. I was looking through the inventory at Grapes the Wine Company, the store for which I consult, when I came upon a half dozen entries under the name Domaine Belargus. This Coteaux du Layon estate was new to me. I decided to do some research: The first releases were for the 2018 vintage whose wines have just made it to the U.S. market. The reviews were, to put it mildly, simply rapturous. It is as if a restaurant opened up and immediately got three stars from Michelin before the first customer paid the bill. It is true that we live in a period when wines can go from relatively obscurity to worldwide fame in a year or two. But I have never seen such rapid cultifiation before. Naturally I had to try one of the wines to taste for myself what has so entranced the wine reviewers.

I will get to that wine after I provide some background for my readers. This newly created domaine is the work of Ivan Massonal, a wine collecting Parisian businessman who had long ago fallen in love with the Chenin Blanc grown in the Coteaux du Layon. It seems that the Jo Pithon holdings were available for sale. Massonal, who knew those superb wines well, immediately swung into action. Demand for sweet Loire Valley wines is not exactly up there at the top of the collector’s wish list. This only made the vineyards all the more attractive to Massonal. In all he acquired 24 hectares, ten in the Quarts de Chaume (the Sauternes of the Loire), three in Savennières and three in a site called Les Treilles. Les Treilles a composite of seventy little plots each with its own terroir. His goal? To produce white wines, over 50% sweet, which could compete in quality with the best dessert wines made on planet earth. One of the smitten wine writers declared “Belargus is one of the most spectacular new entries in the history of wine reviewing”. The word Belargus refers to the blue butterflies that make their home in the Coteaux de Treilles.

I must now discuss the specific Belargus wine I tasted with friends at one of a dozen newish Haut Korean restaurants which represent the pinnacle of fine dining in Manhattan. The label simply says 2018  Layon with indicators below that this is a sweet Chenin Blanc. The word used in the Loire is Moelleux which literally means marrowy—as in the sweet fat from marrow bones. The wine is 12.5% alcohol. On the pallet the sweetness was so dominant that it was frankly that it was all but impossible to feel or taste anything else.  Repeated tastings over an hour did little to change these initial sensations. I cannot speak to the technicals—pH, acidity, measured sugar density. As is always the case, trusting one’s senses is the royal road to correct judgment. I hope that the Belargus Quarts de Chaume will exhibit more of the acidity and salinity which are essential to great dessert wines. I am willing to taste additional Belargus wines. The Layon is a work in progress. Instant fame is not necessarily the best thing that can happen to a new project, however laudatory in ambition and dedication. Drinking Window: 2024-2030.

Bruno Giacosa/Falletto 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Asili             99

Bruno Giacoisa is an iconic name in Italian and world wine circles, with some of the estates wines going down in history as some of the greatest red wines ever made, by anyone anywhere. One wine that can lay claim to that title is the Bruno Giacosa/Falletto 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Asili that has been much lauded everywhere and that I’m not scoring only 99 points because at Bruno Giacosa they made even better wines in 1971, 1978 and 2001. The “Falletto” in this wine’s name refers to the Giacosa family estate and the wines made with estate-grown grapes (as opposed to the Bruno Giacosa line of wines that can be made with bought grapes from growers with whom the winery has longstanding relationships with).

Luminous, deep red colour with only a hint of garnet at the rim. Very intense aromas and flavours of ripe red cherry, camphor, licorice, strawberry jelly, incense, sandalwood and mint. Nobly austere in the mouth as any self-respecting Asili wine ought to be, this multilayered beauty coats the mouth with utterly silky tannins and finishes long with compelling sweetness of fruit. It never ceases to amaze me how this beautiful 2004 Barbaresco, that I have had at least two dozen times since its release, manages to stay so light on its feet while boasting Barolo-like levels of power. Best of all, this is still remarkably youthful and has at least another twenty years of life ahead of it, easy, and probably more. Very, very well done. Drinking window: 2024-2050.


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