Muscadets show personalities of land

March 1, 2012 12:01 am
  • The 23-year-old 1989 'L' d'Or Muscadet served at lunch at Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin's tasting room in Le Landreau, France. Luneau-Papin's delicious, long-lived Muscadets are from parcels of old vines in the Muscadet Sevre et Maine area in the far western Loire Valley.
    The 23-year-old 1989 'L' d'Or Muscadet served at lunch at Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin's tasting room in Le Landreau, France. Luneau-Papin's delicious, long-lived Muscadets are from parcels of old vines in the Muscadet Sevre et Maine area in the far western Loire Valley.
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As my boots crunch through snow, Pierre-Marie Luneau hands me a chunk of serpentinite rock in his vineyard on La Butte de la Roche. Like all the best Muscadet producers, Luneau is obsessed with how soil affects a wine's quality.

Muscadet is typecast as a gulpable, fresh, crisp white wine ideally paired with oysters. And in this huge region in the west of France's Loire Valley there's always been plenty of plonk.

On a recent tasting trek, though, I discovered just how serious this bargain white is becoming. The Luneaus are among several dozen vignerons busy reinventing it.

Their Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin, like most of the top estates, is in the smaller Muscadet Sevre et Maine area. It has more than 30 separate plots with five types of terroir in four villages.

"Our eight Muscadets," Mr. Luneau says, "express the mineral personalities of these different spots."

From La Butte de la Roche, a hill whose rocks were pushed up millennia ago by underground earthquakes, I can see the ice on the frozen marsh dotted with small islands sparkling in the sun.

Later, warmed after our vineyard tour by heaters in the domaine's spacious tasting room, we sample his range of Muscadets over lunch. Mr. Luneau describes the terroir of each, adding that 2009 and 2010 are exceptional vintages.

Thick slabs of foie gras, made by his mother, Monique, accompany the 2009 Terre de Pierre ($23) from the La Butte de la Roche vineyard. The wine is long and layered, with pineapple and mineral flavors that seem to shimmer on the palate.

By contrast, the ripe, round 2009 'L' d'Or ($20), whose vines grow on granite, shows more power and richness.

The 2007 Excelsior ($28), from 75-year-old vines on mica schist, is dense and round, full of finesse and with a briny edge, reminding me how close we are to the Atlantic. All are kept on the lees (sur lie) until bottling, which gives them a richer texture and deepens flavors.

Even so, they're still made from the modest melon de Bourgogne grape, which is why you'd think a 10- or 20-year-old Muscadet would be dead in the bottle.

To my surprise, the 1999 Le 'L' d'Or ($28) has gained weight and softness, developing aromas of honey and a complex tangy ginger-and-lemon taste. The 1989 has freshness as well as concentration and depth.

Several U.S. sommeliers tell me aged Muscadet is the next big thing, so I'm happy the domaine regularly releases older vintages.

Over the past 15 years, small groups of vignerons have been working to define Muscadet's top vineyard sites, based on rocks and soil, an attempt to take the region's wines beyond what people think they're capable of and build Muscadet's reputation.


First Published 2012-03-01 01:13:43

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