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Château Le Puy’s Peerless “Barthélemy”

When drinking a Bordeaux as alive, as seamless, as the 2015 “Emilien” from Château Le Puy, it’s difficult to believe that the estate makes an even greater wine—but they do. Produced from the Amoreau family’s highest-altitude vineyard, “Barthélemy” (named after the ancestor who built the current-day château back in the early 19th century) is released significantly later than Emilien, and displays a purity and complexity that induces shivers. The plot “Les Rocs” from which Barthélemy hails sits just in front of the château itself, and its clay topsoil—a mere twelve-inch layer atop the Astrée limestone mother-rock—was evaluated by noted soil scientist Claude Bourgignon as containing more than three times the microbial life than that of a typical French vineyard.

And indeed, the Amoreaus take meticulous care of their vineyards, which have never seen chemicals, which have been farmed biodynamically since the 1960s, and which are still plowed with horses. Furthermore, the biodynamics practiced by the Amoreau family goes far beyond mere vineyard treatments. Their estate is a true polyculture, with only 45 of their 100 hectares planted to vines, and the rest comprising forests, meadows, and ponds, all of which foster a biodiversity that keeps their vineyards incredibly well-nourished. This is biodynamics as it was initially conceived—a holistic approach to farming—yet as it is so rarely practiced, and it’s a safe bet that Château Le Puy’s vineyards are the healthiest in all of Bordeaux.

Barthélemy, which comprises 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, undergoes one of the most unique passages through the cellar we have ever encountered. As with Emilien, Barthélemy ferments without any added yeasts, and using a method of extraction established generations ago at Le Puy: fermenting juice pushes up through the cap (which is held in place against the upper opening of the cement fermentation vessel by fixed parallel wooden slats), swirling and bubbling in the concave top of the tank, and thereby keeping the cap continually submerged and soaked. This gentle extraction method—called “infusion” by the family—fosters a wine of incredible seamlessness and elegance.

After fermentation finishes, Barthélemy is moved—gross lees and all—into very old 225-liter barrels. Over the course of a two-year élevage, each barrel is periodically (always under a full moon) stirred alternatingly clockwise and counterclockwise, thus creating a vortex; in this way, the solids slowly dissolve into the wine over time and fortify it against deterioration. No sulfur dioxide is added to Barthélemy at any point, and it is bottled without fining or filtering. Despite such a preservative-free élevage, the wine’s longevity is formidable, as a slew of decades-old bottles presented during last year’s tasting of a century’s worth of Le Puy attested with shocking authority.

The current release of Barthélemy, from the 2011 vintage, is breathtaking. Those of you who have been with us since the beginning of our relationship with the Amoreaus will recall with fondness the sheer personality and presence of the 2011 Emilien (with which we debuted the estate). The 2011 Barthélemy embodies that same gorgeous wildness—that same unadulterated glimpse into a halcyon pre-technologically-obsessed, pre-point-chasing Bordeaux—yet with even greater depth and intensity. Aromas soar, and the wine possesses a sense of lift far, far from the leaden heft of overly pushed modern Bordeaux. Fruits are red, and tangy, and impossibly vivid, as if presented with carefully opened palm for the taster to bite right into. A profound sense of fresh, vibrant minerality suffuses the whole affair, adding its own dimension of lift and balancing the subtly earthy, slightly savory depths the wine plumbs. Barthélemy is not inexpensive, but it is worth every penny, and if you are already in love with Emilien—or you just want to experience a very particular apex of Bordeaux—you must try it.