Tuesday, June 30, 2009

By the Glass - Top Quality Muscadet Edition

I tend to think of Muscadet as a winter white wine, a wine to drink on a cold January night with a plate of raw oysters. I bet I'm not alone in this - Muscadet and oysters are a classic and wonderful pairing. But the best producers in Muscadet are now making wines that, in my opinion, are versatile enough at the table to transcend the oyster stereotype. Perhaps even the seafood stereotype entirely.

It's not just any Muscadet that I'm talking about, though. I'm talking about fine wines by a handful of great producers, like Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pépière, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Jo Landron of Domaine de la Louvetrie, Guy Bossard, and André Brégeon. These producers make wines that offer ocean side aromatics and flavors, but also herbal notes, and even, heaven forbid, beautifully expressive fruit.

I recently had the opportunity to drink several of these wines over dinnerwith a group of friends. The overall quality level was simply astounding, especially given the fact that none of these wines retails for more than $25.

NY Bossard-Thuaud Vin Mousseux, $18, Chartrand Imports. This is Guy Bossard's sparkling wine, made mostly of Melon de Bourgogne (the Muscadet grape), but there is also some Gros-Plant and Cabernet Franc in the blend. There aren't many under $20 sparkling wines that are as good as this one. The nose is leesy at first, and there are fine mineral and lemon zest aromas. The fruit is perky and ripe, there is good acidity, and the finish is clean and brisk.

Our bottle of 2007 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords was corked, sadly, as was our 2005 Luneau-Papin L D'Or. I've warned people about drinking wine with me, that I am a magnet for corked wine now, but they just don't listen.

2006 Guy Bossard Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Expression d'Orthogneiss, $19, Kysela Imports. Yes, Bossard's still wines are imported by a different company. 2006 wasn't the greatest vintage in Muscadet, but this is great wine. Shy at first, but the nose opens up to reveal beautiful floral notes. Great purity and freshness, like spring water. good acidity, and an energetic lemongrass finish that makes me think of pairing this wine with Thai style roast chicken or spring rolls.

2007 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Le Fief du Breil, $18, Martin Scott Imports. One of my favorites every year, this seems to be a particularly excellent vintage for this wine. The nose is leesy and rich, and very expressive with anise, herbs, and ripe citrus fruits. The palate is quite closed still, but the raw material is obviously very lovely, with hints of fruit, wet rocks, and ocean water. I'm putting mine away for 10 years minimum, and when I crack the first one it's going to be with a simple roast chicken, and braised fennel.

1997 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine L' D'Or, $23, Louis/Dressner Selections. Recently re-released by Dressner. Next to the above wines the nose here is much more mature, with wild mushrooms in the foreground and the immutable brine and citrus aromas underneath. A truly compelling nose that was at its most expressive a solid hour after opening. The palate was as youthful as the 2005 I had a few months ago. This wine seems as if it could do another 15 years in the cellar without blinking. If I have the good fortune to drink this again, I hope it is served along side a plate of wild mushrooms cooked with nothing other than butter and perhaps some thyme.

We then moved on to drink two very special wines, wines that according to David Lillie of Chambers Street Wines, might represent the future of Muscadet. Within the rather large AOC that is Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, there are certain parcels that offer particularly high quality, parcels that some growers are vinifying separately in order to showcase the specific terroir. These wines are typically aged on the lees for much longer than is allowed under the current rules, and ironically cannot be labeled Sur Lie. In fact, these wines are sometimes not labeled as Muscadet, That's how different they are from Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, or more aptly, that's how annoyingly absurd the French appellation systems can be. I think of these wines the way I think of Burgundy wine - they are highly site specific. Domaine de la Pépière's Granite de Clisson is an example of this kind of wine - a superb wine last produced in 2005. We did not drink that wine on this night, but we did drink two others that were perhaps equally wonderful.

2002 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Clos des Noelles Excelsior, $22, Louis/Dressner Selections. I'm going to come right out and say it - I LOVE THIS WINE. From vines at least 60 years old in the village of La Chapelle-Heulin, aged on its lees for three years. The nose is brisk and mineral, but with a nutty depth, and with lovely ripe fruit. I was once poured this wine blind and the first thing I said to my friend was "Well it's obviously a Muscadet." It is the essence of everything Muscadet, but more intense and delicate and deep. Brilliant purity on the palate, great acidity, very youthful, this wine will clearly reward long term cellaring, and somewhere down the line I think will make a great cheese partner.

2000 Michel Brégeon Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Gorgeois, $22, Fruit of the Vines Imports. From vines in the village of Gorges where there is apparently a special black granite that gives this wine its unique character. We were advised to give this wine a lot of air, so we decanted it for 2 hours prior to drinking. It was absolutely beautiful wine, my favorite of the night. The nose was focused and energetic with detailed notes of licorice and lemongrass, and ripe fruit that had a tropical edge to it. Someone said pineapple. Very intense and rich on the palate, buzzing with energy, many layers of fruit and minerals, and a long finish that ends where it started, with licorice and lemongrass notes. I want to drink this wine with tea smoked duck. Who are you to stop me?

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