Louis Métaireau Muscadet S&M s/l Premier Jour 1989
Life brings us many lessons. Realisations that we were wrong about a wine (or indeed any other facet of life) are especially humbling. One such realisation I have experienced in recent years concerns the old maxim of 'drink youngest available', a piece of dogma applied to certain wines, styles, grapes or regions which, I have discovered, is often incorrect. It is a bald statement, frequently based it seems on the flimsiest of evidence, and yet I recall finding it everywhere in the introductory texts which I read when first learning about wine (before the internet came along, naturally).
It was a statement applied to a number of wine styles, with all rosé wine being an obvious example, although what fans of López de Heredia - a source of fine, aged rosé wines - would say about that I can only imagine. Varieties and regions also suffer the same ignominious disregard, especially Sauvignon Blanc and associated appellations, most notably Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé of course. But try telling that to those who like to squirrel away a few bottles of Cloudy Bay, or to those who prefer the wines of top Sancerre estates, such as Pascal or François Cotat, with a few years of bottle age. And who clamours to drink Pavillon Blanc de Margaux as young as possible? Low dosage Champagne is another one; notable critics claim we should drink it young, a Champagne for freshness and lift which does not have the right criteria for ageing. And yet in the most recent edition of the World of Fine Wine I read of a tasting of Brut Nature and Ultra Brut wines in which the Jacquesson Dégorgement Tardif Brut 1988 - a zero-dosage wine - performed brilliantly. Clearly this is another piece of dogma open to question, although not one where I have made my own mind up - yet.
Muscadet is another good example, although sadly this week's wine perhaps belies that fact. Spurred on by successes from the likes of Jo Landron, Marc Ollivier and Luneau-Papin, with vintages as far back as 1996, 1992 and 1982 respectively, I was eager to try this most esoteric of wines which I first read of in Jacqueline Friedrich's A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire (Henry Holt Publishing, 1996). The Premier Jour cuvée is produced using only fruit harvested on the first day of picking, a practise which obviously calls to mind the première trie cuvées of Domaine Huet (which are in truth made from highly selected pickings rather than the very first fruit to be harvested). My only worry with this process in the vineyards of the Nantais is that the earlier you start picking, the more likely it is that the harvested fruit will be less than ripe. And given Métaireau's tendency towards a firmly acidic, bracing style, any practise which encourages an even stronger acid backbone might not necessarily be a good thing.
The only way to tell for yourself, of course, is to taste the wine. Something some critics would do well to remember, I think!
In the glass the 1989 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Premier Jour from Louis Métaireau, an opener for my 1989 Twenty Years On tasting, has an amazingly pale hue, looking fresh as a daisy; having experienced a number of mature Muscadet cuvées before, including some older than this, I have to admit I was expecting something deeper in colour, richer and more evolved. This looks as though it might have been bottled just yesterday. The nose has some honeyed elements that suggest a certain evolution, with a complex white pepper and dry quince edge. The palate starts off honeyed, but then quickly reveals its dry character in the early midpalate, albeit nuanced with elements of toasted seeds, lightly candied orange peel, vanilla and toasted bread. There is a pervading, really quite sour acidity which has a marked presence from the midpalate onwards, and it is this that really spoils this wine for me today. The texture is lightly honeyed, with mineral-steel-lemon components at the edge of it all, but this is overshadowed by a powerfully acidic finish. Nevertheless, this is certainly a remarkable wine, still so fresh despite having twenty years under its belt. But does it give real pleasure? Not really, not with that painfully disjointed acidity. And does it have the potential to continue, with the eventual promise of complexity and richness, like that offered by Luneau-Papin's 1982 L d'Or tasted earlier this year? I suspect not, my concern being that power-house of acid that sits at the core of the wine. It might be argued that this offers protection to the wine, but I am concerned that it will just become more and more prominent with time, as the wine ages. If that is so, then this will never be anything more than a fascinating, albeit sour, curiosity. 14+?/20
Read more notes from my 1989 Vintage tasting, at twenty years of age. (23/11/09)