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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Last year, Clisson, Gorges, and Le Pallet became the first officially recognized crus communaux. (Think of them as Muscadet's grands crus.)

Well-fed, I head to nearby Domaine de la Pepiere. Owner Marc Ollivier, whose wines have a cult following and who has been one of the cru movement's leaders, says: "The classification is a good thing. In two years, we'll have four more."

With his round, bright, blue eyes, frizzy halo of gray-white curls and matching beard, his cheeks red from the cold, Mr. Ollivier looks as if he belongs in Santa's workshop. We traipse off to several vineyards before the sun sets to examine rocks.

His vines in the granite-based Clisson cru, which are at least 50 years old, are thick, gnarled and farmed organically. As we walk, he outlines the production rules for a cru wine: lower yields in the vineyard, letting the grapes get riper, leaving the wine on the lees longer to gain more richness, and a tasting by an independent committee before bottling to verify quality.

"It's necessary for them to have complexity and character, not just flowers and fruit," he says.

In his rustic stone cellar, mercifully warmed by a wood fire, Mr. Ollivier lines up bottles on the wooden bar to show differences among his crus.

His powerful 2009 Granite de Clisson ($25) is rich and complex -- good with cheese, he says -- while the not-yet-released 2010, with a lemon-lime, savory character, is better for fish. The 2009 Chateau Thebaud, which Mr. Ollivier expects to be approved as a cru in two years, has more brightness and minerality, and spends even longer on the lees.

A light, yet intense, anise-flavored 1993 Clos des Briords is from a single vineyard plot of old vines on schist soils. At 19 years of age, it's fabulous. (The 2010 is a mere $15.)

In the last few years, Muscadet has been in crisis, with at least 60 vignerons going bankrupt in 2010 alone. While most wines sell for way less than $10 in France, that doesn't cover the costs of fine wine production, which is why the new crus represent hope.

Jo Landron, whose Domaines Landron have also focused for years on finding the best terroirs, says: "Quality is the way forward. I'd like to see more requirements, like hand harvesting. The crus are the new conscience in the vineyards."


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

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