Domaine du Haut Bourg Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Origine 2002
Muscadet returns to Winedoctor today and tomorrow, with the wines of Domaine du Haut Bourg, a notable estate in the Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu appellation. This is something of a first for me, as although I am no stranger to the wines of this appellation the Domaine du Haut Bourg, home to Hervé and Nicolas Choblet, is the first I have profiled. Until now, as is the case with most Muscadet acolytes, I have been more concerned with the most famous domaines - Pépière, Luneau-Papin, Jo Landron, Guy Bossard and so on - all of which are located within the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation. And so I thought before I profile the domaine in question, I might whet your appetite today with a little more background on the Côtes de Grandlieu appellation, and also throw the spotlight onto the most remarkable wine from this domaine which I have tasted in the past few months, the 2002 Origine.
I occasionally enjoy dipping into some of the more dated texts on my wine book shelves to obtain a little recent historical context, and decided to see what Oz Clarke had to say about the Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu appellation in The Wine Book (Websters International Publishing, 1987) one of the first and most inspiring books I read on wine. I was initially surprised to see he omitted it entirely, claiming that Muscadet was divided into only three appellations, the aforementioned Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire and generic Muscadet. Of course, at the time (a frightening 25 years ago - can it really be that long since I first opened the pages of that book?!), this was correct. It was only in 1994 that the rolling slopes around the Lac de Grand-Lieu received their own appellation; up until that point these vineyards had been a major source of generic Muscadet, accounting for perhaps three-quarters of all bottles labelled as such.
My Muscadet guide includes a map of the major appellations which may help explain this better, but in short the Côtes de Grandlieu vineyards lie to the west of those of Sèvre et Maine, the two separated by a strip of generic Muscadet, and they surround the aforementioned lake, a very significant wildlife sanctuary. They thus lie a little closer to the Atlantic, meaning very slightly cooler and wetter weather, but perhaps also milder winters. There are 19 eligible communes situated on the slopes around the lake. The underlying terroir has the same metamorphic origins as the other Muscadet appellations, this being the Massif Armoricain, meaning granite and schist predominate, but other more unusual metamorphic forms may also be found. And given the presence of the lake and the proximity of the coast, naturally there are large areas of sand as well.
Just to the north of the lake lies the commune of Bouaye, and this is where the vineyards of Domaine du Haut Bourg are located. And of all the wines of this domaine I have tasted over the last couple of months (and I have tasted a lot) the most remarkable is the 2002 Origine. The Choblet brothers, not afraid of experimentation, left some of the just-fermented wine from this vintage sur lie for a few years, in one of the traditional subterranean cuves. Then they left it a few years more. And then a few years more. Eventually, after about ten years, they decided to bottle it. And, unlike the 2001 which had no specific nomenclature to distinguish this long lees-aged cuvée from a wine of the same vintage that had simply languished in bottle for far too long, they have christened this later vintage Origine. I did suggest to Nicolas earlier this year they come up with a catchy name; whether they took my advice or whether this new name was already in the pipeline I am not sure!
The 2002 Origine from Domaine du Haut Bourg is - like the entire Haut Bourg range - bottled under DIAM cork, which means in recent months I have tasted through dozens of wines from this estate without a single hint of cork taint. Kudos to the Choblet brothers for that. Once released from the bottle this wine demonstrates a pale lemon-gold hue in the glass. And it has a quite remarkable nose, rich and impressively full, and yet vibrant and bright. The fruit character is very exuberant, but also clean and well defined, with orange zest, sherbet, honeysuckle and yellow peach aromas all in evidence. Later on, with a little more exposure to the air, it shows more complex fruit notes, slightly more tropical, with hints of pineapple even. On the palate it is pure and defined at the start, with fabulous depth and a firm minerality coursing through beneath the vibrant citrus fruits. There is a lemony cut to it but there is no denying the substance. This gives it a lemon-cream feel, a slight hint of richness but nothing too polished or honeyed, the midpalate maintaining a precision and beautifully poised balance. It has a delicious length too, the finish just going on and on. A super style here, proof that there is life beyond the Sèvre et Maine appellation. 17.5/20
I need to get my hands on some more of this, and I suggest you do too. Don't be too worried if any bottles you procure look a little different to the one above, it is unlikely that you have encountered some counterfeit Muscadet! The label above - on a sample sent over by Nicolas - has a just-laser-printed appearance to it, and the final version may differ slightly. If I ever manage to locate some I will let you know! (18/6/12)