Grapevine Archive for Muscadet
One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.
A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.
A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.
On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.
And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.
Jo Locke MW
The downside of having a small cellar in another country is that it is generally only topped up once a year with Wine Society wines, and similarly audited, with the odd bottle passing its recommended drinking window.
This Christmas’ pleasant surprise was Bernard Chéreau‘s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière 2003.
When I joined The Society as a buyer in 2004, 2003 was the vintage I was confronted with. At the time I struggled to get to grips with it, especially in the Loire, where the ‘norm’ is something quite different.
There have been warm, ripe vintages since (notably 2005 and 2009) and I have come to think of 2003 as atypical, rather than the Hyde to the regular Dr Jekyll.
The biggest fear at the time was that the wines would have insufficient acidity to maintain freshness even over the short to medium term. Unusually, permission was granted to add acid but, with little or no experience of doing so, few growers did.
The best wines found their balance and I have enjoyed numerous examples over the last few years.
The Le Clos was still remarkably good AND fresh, and complemented a buttery and flavoursome chicken admirably.
Jo Locke MW
The 2009 vintage of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière is currently available for £10.95 per bottle.
The Muscadet region has enjoyed some fine early spring weather and Laurence and Gérard Vinet (Domaine des Ratelles) report that the vines are in good health, with the embryonic ‘bunches’ well formed.
They – and we! – are hopeful that there will be no spring frost to plague the area this year and that the crop will be closer to normal volumes, which should ease pressure on prices too. Fingers crossed for quality as well as quantity.
Jo Locke MW
Let’s hope they are persuaded to bring out a few stories for posterity, and for the enjoyment and benefit of those more recent recruits as well as all those who will remember those ‘old’ days of Wine Society bottlings, and when Chile was barely a twinkle in the British wine buyer’s eye!
One who remembers those early days well is Bernard Chéreau, supplier of Muscadet to The Society for nearly thirty years. On my recent visit to the Nantais, Bernard was recalling Sebastian’s first visit, to taste 1984 or 1985 he thought, a follow-up visit from Sebastian and Marcel Orford-Williams (who, coincidentally, shares Bernard’s birth year), and one from CEO of the time Edmund Penning-Rowsell.
Muscadet has ended up with a small but very good vintage 2012; indeed, one grower I spoke to recently claimed that it may be the best of the past 20 years, maybe as good as 1949 (presumably legendary?!).
A visit to the region comes highly recommended, even if you are only passing through en route to the south west or to Spain. If you can’t get there this year or next, look out for more news from this underrated region on Society Grapevine, in Society mailings, and elsewhere.
Jo Locke MW
During a written exercise as part of my job interview for The Society, I was asked to highlight some wines I felt were particularly good value, and why. In what was almost a reflex arc, for it is certainly what they call a ‘no brainer’, I selected Muscadet as the prime candidate.
Yet I then wondered whether explaining the reasons for my choice within the hastened environs of a timed exam would be a risk. ‘Many producers are struggling financially, the wine’s cheap, hurrah!’ did not quite encapsulate the impression I wanted to give of myself, and so I began to become slightly paranoid. What’s more, it is arguably that very attitude that led to many of the problems the region faces today, with bulk prices being driven to a depth that made many give up and left others clinging on by soil-covered fingernails.Two years on from those nervous stopwatched semantics, therefore, I am ambivalent that Muscadet remains my personal top pick for quality:price ratio in the world of wine.
That fashion has had a role to play in the region’s current problems is especially difficult to get one’s head around, particularly given that current white-wine-drinking trends in the UK almost read like a tasting note for classic Muscadet: clean citrus fruit, food-friendly acidity, freshness, versatility, low alcohol…
Grapevine readers might also like to take a look at an excellent article on the subject by Richard Hemming, published last month on JancisRobinson.com and now free for non-subscribers to view: The Muscadet of Reckoning. As well as providing a useful parallel to the Beaujolais region, the piece focuses rightly on the utterly superb quality of the wines available.
Muscadet’s predicament has not been helped either by the low-yielding 2012 vintage, in which quantities are down dramatically. For Society members, this will probably mean some modest price rises. More than ever, therefore, I would argue that now is the time to buy.
To name but three examples currently available from The Society: in our Benchmark Bottles offer, we list Chéreau-Carré’s Château L’Oiselinière de la Ramée, 2010, which offers remarkable sophistication and class for £7.75. Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2009 gives us the verve of the fruit from 100-year-old vines with change from £10. The aged and distinctive Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière, 2004 (£11.50), eulogised by one Hugh Johnson recently, is a fuller-bodied proposition and a satisfying and complex equal to many a fine white Burgundy sold at more than double the price.
So why not do your own small bit for a classic wine region that does not deserve its present malaise and add a bottle or two to your next order? Your palate will thank you and your wallet won’t regret it either.
There?s a lot of good wine out there. Missing out on a great one is understandable ? particularly in the case of the Loire Valley?s wines, boasting as they do an extraordinary array of grapes and styles ? but none the less tragic for it.
Society buyer Joanna Locke MW?s latest efforts to bring members the cream of the Loire?s remarkably varied crop can be found in our current offer, and it has been heartening to see the UK wine press giving plaudits to several of the wines therein.
Grapevine readers may already have seen the praise given to Mourat?s wines; to ensure that no other gems slip under your radar, we include below an assortment of other Society Loire offerings to have been given favourable mentions. Please note: our current Loire offer closes on Sunday 20th May.
Jancis Robinson recommended a further four Loire wines (?VGV? and ?GV? meaning ?very good value? and ?good value? respectively):
Robert Sérol, Vieilles Vignes 2011 Côte Roannaise 16.5/20 Drink 2012-2013
Lively and lifted. Rather stylish label. Light but true and savoury. Quintessential French country wine made with great facility. Silky texture, great persistence. Troisgros house wine by the way. VGV 12% £7.95 The Wine Society
Frédéric Mabileau, Les Rouillères Chenin Blanc 2011 Anjou 17/20 Drink 2012-2016
Lovely pure, fresh, appley aromas. Lots of tension and terroir. Finishes dry. This wine has just so much energy and typicity. Great stuff. Whistle clean. GV 13% £10.95 The Wine Society
La Claux Delorme 2011 Valençay 16/20 Drink 2012-2013
Very fragrant and floral. Gentle and off dry. Nice texture. Firm spine. Long. Well constructed. Good value. 13% £8.95 The Wine Society
Huet, Le Haut-Lieu Sec 2010 Vouvray 16+/20 Drink 2014-2018
Deeper flavoured than the Chenin des Rouillères 2011. With more honey and more wet wool. Lots to get your teeth into but awfully young for the moment. 12.5% £14.95 The Wine Society
Anthony Rose (The Independent) included a nod for the following wine in his article about The Wine Society:
?Frédéric Mabileau’s 2011 Chenin des Rouillères Anjou Blanc, £10.95, is a terrific expression of Loire Valley chenin blanc combining vivid appley freshness with a mineral-dry finish.?
Last but not least, The Wine Gang, made up of some of the best palates in the UK wine press, reviewed a ?budget selection? of Society wines. The Gang gave a timely reminder of the virtues of Muscadet, recommending a Society favourite in the process, as well as a relative newcomer to our range:
Domaine des Ratelles Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2010
Muscadet doesn’t get a very good press these days. In fact it doesn’t get much press at all and its grape variety, Melon de Bourgogne, gets even less, but a good Muscadet ? the antithesis of a showy wine ? is a useful thing for washing down simple fish, seafood and salads. This one, with its delicate salted-nut and zesty citrus flavours, is as brisk as a swim in the Serpentine but much less masochistic. £6.75 at The Wine Society
Domaine de la Semellerie Chinon 2010
Youthful Loire Cabernet Franc with the signature sweet whiff of potato peelings, juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit and touches of spice, leather and liquorice. Light tannins and a nip of acidity complete the medium-bodied picture. £8.50 at The Wine Society
Just back from an early harvest visit to the Pays Nantais where I was struck by the many contradictions in this rather sleepy vinous corner of France. 2007 and 2008 were both short harvests, with damaging frost the culprit, which meant growers put prices up last year despite the economic climate and the negative impact on pricing of the euro/sterling exchange rate. The market for Muscadet fell through the floor and nowhere more so than in the UK, where we are spoiled for choice and, despite the rebuilding of the last few years, Muscadet is not the must have wine it once was. It was only producers of high quality wines with a loyal following who were able to maintain their customer base or find new customers to fill the gap. Many others were forced to sell up or, worse still, give up vines they had probably farmed for generations. More will go this year.
And yet there is much to be positive about, with a fine 2009 vintage in the cellar and a promising 2010 harvest in train, with temperatures cool enough to maintain freshness and enough sunshine to further ripen those grapes that still need to.
I was moved by the positive attitude of one young grower who was already showing the signs of fatigue resulting from working 5am to 10pm days, brought on because the fruit on his recently expanded handful of properties was all ripening at once. Then by another who recounted how many more small growers he believes will throw in the towel this year but only after delivering their well-tended crop, such is the pride of the vigneron. 2010 will not be remembered as an easy year, which 2009 was by comparison, but the early season was favourable enough to allow growers to use fewer vineyard treatments – and happily so, as many would not have been able to afford a more challenging growing season this year.
The complexion of this region has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, tragically so for some, but, for the most part for the good. There has been considerable consolidation among the bigger, corporate producers, but in recent years a resurgence of small, quality-oriented négociants too, with both love and respect for this lately unfashionable region. Maison Bougrier is one such, recently investing in the area by taking over a former co-operative cellar otherwise doomed for closure. Successful family producers have grown their vineyard holdings for the economies of scale and the more stable life this brings, not least to maximise the value of each of their machine harvesters, which I am told are now responsible for picking 95% of the region’s grapes. Vineyard quality has been under major review and much will be declassified, though admittedly with a generous final deadline of 2025. Plans for the new Cru appellation are well under way, and this should simply need the rubber stamp of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) by the time the proposal reaches them. I even ate in an excellent new restaurant, Auberge La Gaillotière in the heart of the vineyards in the commune of Château-Thébaud.
Perhaps most importantly the quality of the wines has never been better. When I was studying for my MW exam in the 1980s Muscadet was easier to spot for its dull, bitter, mean character than for any regional or varietal typicity. Last week I smelled and tasted deliciously sweet juice from this year’s harvest and enjoyed a mouthwatering range of Muscadets, mostly the excellent 2009s, but also a number of older wines including a remarkable 1996 magnum of Chéreau-Carré’s 100-year-old vine cuvée from the Château de Chasseloir (one of the remaining few to be picked by hand, incidentally, as is their Château de L’Oiselinière).
Muscadet should be mouthwatering. When it’s good it makes for one of the most appetising glasses you can find. The good news is that the 2009s are very, very good; fresh and racy enough to satisfy committed enthusiasts, and ripe enough to please the new recruits that Muscadet deserves and needs.
Harvest is well and truly underway in the Loire Valley and things are looking promising. Despite cool and misty mornings, day time temperatures are still approx. 25 degrees with beautiful sunshine, following a day or two of welcome rain at the start of September. Vines are healthy and Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet are beng picked in Muscadet, Anjou and Touraine, with most wine makers waiting another week or two before picking red varieties. All are keeping their fingers crossed for what they are hoping will be one of the best vintages for many years.