© Liber Pater
| Loïc Pasquet takes a sample from one of the traditional amphorae he uses for winemaking.
He’s famous for his super-expensive Liber Pater, but we sat down with Loic Pasquet to try another of his wines.
Let’s get one thing straight – Liber Pater does not have a second wine.
The man behind the wine with the largest price tag on release – the 2015 vintage was launched at $33,000 a bottle – is adamant that his Denarius Rouge (a more affordable, but still hefty $750-a-bottle Graves red) is most emphatically NOT a “second wine”.
“We do not make a second wine. We make Liber Pater and we make Denarius; they are two wines, but one is not an inferior version of the other,” he says, eager to make that point. In a wine region where even the most humble estate knocks out a declassified version of their top wine, this is just one more way that Loic Pasquet is bucking the Bordeaux trend.
Pasquet is a man of strong opinions and very definite views. His Liber Pater wines have been both celebrated and puzzled over and his faith in the traditional Bordeaux methods remains unshaken. He has long been a champion of old Bordeaux grapes and ungrafted vines. In fact, he has run afoul of the Bordeaux authorities on more than one occasion. Perhaps most memorably, he was taken to court by the INAO, the French appellations authority, in 2016 over claims that he was contravening the cahier des charges, or winemaking rules, of the Graves appellation. He won that case on appeal.
He has managed to replant all-but-forgotten varieties such as Castets (which has recently been approved for use in certain Bordeaux appellations), Tarney-Coulant and Pardotte, in tightly packed, dense vineyards in his Graves property and says anyone lucky enough to secure a bottle of the 2015 Liber Pater – the one with the $33,000 price tag – will be rewarded with a unique wine, unlike anything made over the past 150-odd years.
What he is trying to recreate is the taste of Bordeaux as it was before the disastrous arrival of phylloxera in the region, which devastated the vineyards and meant vines had to be grafted onto resistant rootstocks. That’s where it all started going wrong, in Pasquet’s opinion.
“Grafted vines separate the vine from the soil and that means you change the taste, you change the maturity of the grape, you change everything. Before phylloxera, you had fine wines, now you have full-bodied ones. Before the description was of flowers and fineness and brightness; they were very elegant, very feminine. Now [the wines] are full-bodied and manly. We have lost so much of our history, so I said let’s recreate the taste of Bordeaux as it was.”
© Liber Pater
| Everything from the grape growing to the winemaking seeks to honor traditional Bordeaux.
Pasquet is, of course, regarded as a maverick, but that’s not necessarily the reality. As far as he is concerned, he hasn’t broken faith with Bordeaux’s traditions, everyone else has. After all, he’s not the one who grafted his vines onto American rootstocks. He doesn’t have to, he says, because phylloxera never made it to the Left Bank and, in any case, the soils of Graves have a layer of sand on top that acts as insulation against the pest.
There are consistent themes that he likes to come back to and perhaps the central one is the importance of terroir. Actually, it isn’t just important for him, it’s essential.
“In Bordeaux we make wine now from the quality of the variety, not the quality of the terroir.”
He describes modern Bordeaux as being like soup – some body and alcohol from Merlot, some structure from Cabernet Sauvignon, a dash of Petit Verdot for spice – and says it’s being made like that not because the grapes suit the terroir, but because that is the style of wine that critics – and, by extension the general public – want.
“For fine wine you have a coupling of terroir and grape and if you decouple them you stop making fine wine. In Italy they have 1500 autochthonous varieties, so why would they use Merlot and Cabernet? To please the critics.”
Pasquet’s struggles with the Bordeaux bureaucracy are well documented and he’s the kind of winemaker that journalists like, mostly because he is so eminently quotable. However, that’s not what brought three wine writers and another half-dozen of Wine-Searcher’s wine specialists together in the early hours of a Friday morning in New Zealand. What we were here for was to try a different side of Liber Pater; in this case the Denarius. It was something of an occasion, not just because we were being joined via Zoom by Pasquet himself, but because of the tortuous journey the bottle had in simply arriving at our offices.
A bottle dispatched late last year was returned to Bordeaux by New Zealand customs, with no explanation as to why it had been denied access. Instead, through circuitous means involving the family member of a Wine-Searcher staffer, we managed to get the bottle hand-delivered, although it meant spending two weeks in managed isolation/quarantine in an Auckland hotel.
Once the Zoom connection was established, it became apparent that what we were in for was not the usual winemaker-guided sniff and spit. While we had requested an hour of his time, Pasquet responded with a suggestion that we put aside four hours for the tasting and he was closer to the mark. It was during this time that we learned that under no circumstances was Denarius to be regarded as a “second” wine.
It was also when we learned that, whatever we thought of the wine, it was far too soon to make any kind of judgment.
“Wines from grafted vines are better early, when they are young, but they are dead after 50 years. Ungrafted wines it is better to wait 20 years to drink then, but they will last 100 or 200 years. When a berry falls from a vine, after four days it has rotted into the earth, but if you make wine with that grape it becomes immortal. That’s why religion uses wine – it is a symbol of immortality.”
He says one of the regrets of his life is that he will never get the chance to taste his wines at their best, but he knows they will be appreciated. “I never get to taste the wines in their best condition. It is my daughter’s children who will do that.”
And the wine? Well, that’s the nub of the thing, isn’t it? The technical aspects are interesting: fermented in sandstone Clayver amphorae for two days (for alcohol) and a week in total for both alcoholic and malolactic fermentations, the wine stays in the amphorae for two years prior to bottling. The blend is predominantly Cabernet (although he refers to it as Petit Vidure, its traditional Bordeaux name), with Merlot and a smattering of the minor varieties and the wine sits limpid and pure in the glass.
The amphorae round out the tannins elegantly and there are bursts of fresh fruit overlaid with aromas of violet and even citrus, but the reality is that it doesn’t really matter what it tastes like; what is important is that it has been made and that it has been made as a recreation of the style of Bordeaux that made the region famous in the first place. All else is merely window dressing.
It might pay to check back in 20 years, though, if we can find another bottle somewhere.
To see the full presentation and tasting, click here.