Domaine de l'Ecu Cuvée Ludwig Hahn NV
Every once in a while a wine comes along that completely flummoxes me. It doesn't seem to follow the normal rules, doesn't present itself in the accepted or anticipated fashion, or doesn't smell or taste the way you might expect. This sparkling wine from Guy Bossard, proprietor at Domaine de l'Ecu, is just such a wine.
Having recently spent some time chatting with a Bordeaux vigneron about the lunacy of French wine legislation (for instance, wines that bear a French tax stamp on the top of the capsule are not permitted to have a back label written in English) it is always a surprise to come across a bottle that doesn't seem to explicitly adhere to all the known rules. I have experienced it before, especially with one or two sweet wines from the Languedoc, but this wine is one more example. The label declares it to be a Vin Mousseux de Qualité, but that term means little to me. A search on the internet shows one or two wine geeks using this terminology as if it were the appellation, but having thumbed (in an electronic fashion) through the appropriate INAO documents I have discovered no such appellation. I have seen one merchant list it, perhaps in despair, as a Crémant de Loire, which does I suppose convey some information to the consumer, but it is blatantly wrong; the Crémant vineyards do not extend west of Bresseuire, long before those travelling downriver would reach the vines of the Nantais.
What I did discover is that this is a fascinating blend based largely on Folle Blanche, otherwise known as Gros-Plant. At 45% of the total this is the predominant variety, blended with 25% Chardonnay, 20% Melon de Bourgogne (the local name for the Muscadet grape) and bringing up the rear, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Guy Bossard has been biodynamic for about as long as anyone else, having first converted to organic viticulture in 1975 and then biodynamism in 1986, and this is clear from the label, which not only declares this to be a vin issu de Raisins de l'Agriculture Biodynamique, but also reveals Ecocert and Demeter certification. How anyone manages biodynamic or organic viticulture in the frequently damp, misty or salt-sprayed vineyards of the Vendée is beyond me, but some clearly do achieve their goal. After manual harvesting, the grapes are lightly pressed before first fermentation, and then undergo a second fermentation in bottle, the méthode traditionelle. The result is the Domaine de l'Ecu Cuvée Ludwig Hahn, a non-vintage wine with distinctive character and great personality. In the glass it has an an attractive pale straw-gold colour, with a plentiful, rather fat bead. On the nose there are yeasty notes, but these are more than matched by some delightful notes of minerals, citrus, straw, smoke and almonds. The palate is precise, very well defined, although it has a full presence through the midpalate it is sharp, incisive and clearly defined. Overall very fresh and straw-grassy-nettly clean. This is really characterful and surprisingly stylish, and whilst clearly very different to other more familiar sparkling wines, namely Champagne, it has its own intrinsic quality more closely related to its origins, rather than being a pale imitation of some other wine. And for that I admire it greatly. 17/20 (8/1/07)