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Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Expression de Gneiss 2008

This week, something refreshing to counterbalance the riches of festive dining, a Muscadet from Guy Bossard of Domaine de l'Ecu, and from the frost-bitten 2008 vintage - when yields were dramatically reduced by early frosts. Muscadet is a wine I have grown to love over the years; its vibrant acids can perk up even the most jaded of palates, and the wines are just fabulous as a foil for all kinds of seafood, not just the oft-touted combination with oysters. As my appreciation of the wines has continued to grow I have realised that my guide to Muscadet is in need of updating, so that is coming soon. In the meantime I have been researching the wonderful diversity of terroirs this region exhibits.

Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sevre et Maine Expression de Gneiss 2008

As with any region terroir can be approached in a very broad manner, using giant brushstrokes to paint an image of the region, or it can be turned over with a fine-toothed comb, down to the level of individual communes or even vineyards. Starting with the broadest view possible, we are in the Massif armoricain here, a geological zone which extends eastward into Anjou where it gives us the schistous 'black Anjou' as opposed to the 'white Anjou' of the Bassin parisien, which is dominated by limestone tuffeau. The origin of the Massif armoricain is volcanic, and both granite (as in Bossard's Expression de Granite) and gabbro are classic examples of igneous rock. Under situations of extreme temperature and pressure granite undergoes metamorphosis, turning into schist. Under continued stress foliation occurs as the minerals form bands running within the rock, giving us feldspar, quartz and mica. With time we obtain gneiss and eventually orthogneiss (again both featured by Bossard, in his Expression de Gneiss and Expression de Orthogneiss cuvées). The same process of metamorphosis starting with gabbro gives us amphibolite and serpentine (as in Jo Landron's Amphibolite Nature). Put all these possible permutations together and the grand diversity of this region's terroir becomes clear to see.

Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sevre et Maine Expression de Gneiss 2008

Continuing with a very broad approach, these terroirs may be divided into three principle groups. First up are the sandy soils which are unsurprisingly especially predominant around the lac de Grand Lieu, together with spotted areas of gravel. These soils tend to give simple, fruit-dominated, early-drinking wines which have charm but not complexity. Then in second place come the acidic soils, including all the many kinds of schist and micaschist, gneiss and granite; these soils tend to yield richer and more textured wines which are suitable for cellaring, including the aforementioned Expression cuvées of Guy Bossard, and the Granite cuvées from the likes of Marc Ollivier and Bruno Cormerais (both produce a high quality Granite de Clisson cuvée). Lastly there are the more alkaline soils which are more variable in their effect on the wine, from the easy-early drinking wines given by vines grown on the metamorphic green-hued amphibolite (Jo Landron again), to the more structured wines sourced from the dark and coarse-grained gabbro (such as the Gorges/Gorgeois cuvées from André-Michel Brégeon).

Vignerons keen to reinvent Muscadet, or at least to freshen it up a little, have not, however, taken such a soft-focus view of terroir. Beginning in the 1990s, several groups of locals have been working to define local terroirs of specific interest. There are four principle terroirs or crus communaux put forward for consideration. More on these soon though, (especially as I turn to the wines of Brégeon in a future Wine of the Week). For the moment I will focus on gneiss with the Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Expression de Gneiss 2008 which has a good depth of colour in the glass. On the nose the character is a mouth-watering one, full of lovely sour fruit, with lots of dry and minerally elements, overall coming across as quite challenging and assertive, even a little salty. There follows lots of substance and texture on the palate, a curtain of primary flesh in the beginning which then parts to reveal a more minerally, gritty, lemon-orange peel and sherbet character. Great vibrancy and amazing, incisive lift from the laser-like acids and sharp-edged, stony minerality. It's just how a 2008 should be; big, polished, dry and yet very savoury, with a pleasing quality of fruit on the finish. And this would certainly cellar well. Thank heavens for gneiss! 17.5+/20 (27/12/10)

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