Domaine des Herbauges Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu sur lie Fief Guérin 2009
I have been delving into Muscadet again recently, trying to gain an even deeper understanding of the region, its producers, its wines and its terroirs. Not just those terroirs that many of us will be familiar with, such as gneiss, orthogneiss and granite, popularised through the terroir-specific cuvées from the likes of Guy Bossard of Domaine de l'Ecu, but other soil types less often discussed. The gabbro terroirs between Gorges and Vallet to the southeast of Nantes, for example, brought to life by the wines of André-Michel Brégeon, the schistous soils such as those around Goulaine where Pierre Luneau-Papin has some vines, or the streaks of amphibolite that are dotted around the region, which can be vicariously experienced in the wines of Jo Landron.
At some point it seems inevitable that I will have to revise, expand and update my guide to the wines of Muscadet, but while we are waiting for that no doubt momentous occasion I thought a little look at these terroirs in more detail might be worthwhile. Starting with granite and gabbro, these rocks, both major constituents of the Massif Armoricain (of which I have written about recently in my Domaine de Bablut profile, where Christophe Daviau fashions wines from both the "black" and "white" rocks of the Massif Armoricain and Bassin Parisien respectively) are intrusive igneous or "plutonic" in character, meaning they have been formed from the underground cooling of molten lava. The compositions of these two hard and grainy rocks are subtly different from one another, with the slightly more dense gabbro being rich in minerals such as feldspar, the lighter granite containing much more silicon.
Gabbro and granite are essential for Muscadet; not only are they present in vast quantities, they are also starting points for many of the other common Muscadet and "black Anjou" terroirs. For example, when granite is exposed to extremely high pressure it will, given sufficient time, condense into a layered rock known as schist. Should the pressure continue there will be further metamorphosis, and as the minerals within begin to line up we have at first gneiss and eventually orthogneiss. Thus schist, gneiss and orthogneiss are all derivatives of granite, although they do seem to yield very different styles of wine. In the same manner, the metamorphosis of gabbro when subjected to extremely high pressures and heat will produce the aforementioned amphibolite.
Where these different rock types lie across the Muscadet appellations - especially the Sèvre et Maine region - is well documented, and their existence forms a significant part of the argument for the Muscadet crus communaix for which a number of the best-known local names have been campaigning. But that is an issue for a future Muscadet update, and for the moment we should perhaps get around to this week's wine. The bottle in question comes from Domaine des Herbauges (home to Luc and Jérôme Choblet) in the Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu appellation, which lies south and southwest of Nantes, downstream from Sèvre et Maine. The Fief Guérin vineyard has a complex genetic makeup, with micaschist (schist comprising layers of mica and quartz) at the bottom end nearest the Lac de Grandlieu, a layer of amphibolite at the top, with some yellow granite sitting in-between. It is perhaps no surprise that such a mix engenders a rather complex character in the wine, the 2009 being no exception; it is full of ripe and polished fruit on the nose, with sherbet lemons and thyme, contrasted against a rich sea of powdered rock and minerals, all tinged with sweetness but also a lightly grassy character. You might mistake the fruit profile for a Sauvignon Blanc were it not supported by that blast of volcanic-sherbetty-stony minerality. Lively on the palate, with that sweet volcanic character coming through here too, and a wealth of candied-lemon fruit and a juicy-sour acidity. It all rests upon an appealingly stony-dry texture. There is plenty of style here, good substance, even if it is rather straightforward and fruit-dominated at first. This is an attractive and easy to drink Muscadet, full of piercing character. 16/20 (30/8/10)