Domaine Mosse Moussamoussettes NV
The Loire Valley has fascinated me for more than two decades now. During that time, I have continued to make new vinous discoveries, perhaps not surprising in such a huge wine region, with all its varietal diversity and patchwork of terroirs. In the former, I started with Sauvignon Blanc (don't we all), then Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, but it is only as I have gotten to grips with the likes of Pineau d'Aunis, Romorantin and Menu Pineau (also known as Arbois) that I feel I have really begun to understand the full range of what the Loire has to offer. As for terroir, this too is more broad and complex than at first I imagined. Much of the Loire, in particular Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, Montlouis, Vouvray and Saumur, lies on the limestone of the Bassin Parisien, the soils peppered here and there with flint. That we should find flint in these soils would be no surprise to a geologist; while it is probably common knowledge that limestone is a sedimentary rock, so too is flint in a manner of speaking, it being formed from silica that fills out defects in the limestone, before it crystallises into the hard rock we call flint. Further downstream, however, the lower part of Anjou and of course Muscadet lies on the Massif Armoricain, a more complex array of volcanic and metamorphic forms including granite, schist, gneiss, orthogneiss and more.
And of course we must not forget to go upstream too; more than 200 kilometres above Sancerre lie two of France's forgotten appellations; although the Côte Roannaise and Côtes du Forez are today just a few hectares in size, they are the remains of what was once one of France's most expansive vineyards, one which only barely recovered from the devastation of phylloxera. Purists might point out that the vineyards lie closer to Beaujolais than to any other Loire appellation (and this does come through in the varieties planted), but I'm afraid that's irrelevant in terms of determining the 'region'. If it were significant, then Chablis (which is just over 100 kilometres east of Sancerre, closer than it lies to Dijon) would be a Loire appellation, and I can't imagine Burgundy fans being understanding of that. The Côtes du Forez and Côte Roannaise vines lie on the banks of the Loire (indeed, the river flows through the centre of Roanne) and that makes this a Loire wine region. The vines dig their roots towards the volcanic granite and porphyry of the Massif Central; incidentally, one of the most delicious wines I encountered at this year's Salon des Vins de Loire was a Côte Roannaise Gamay, grown on granite, from Domaine Sérol.
As if that weren't enough we also have peculiarities of winemaking to add into the mix. The Loire is rich in such diversity, from the long aging sur lie in the subterranean tanks of Muscadet (up to ten years at some domaines), to the peculiar division of Vouvray's harvest into sec, demi-sec and moelleux cuvées, winemaking adds another layer of complexity. In the past decade-or-so the pétillant naturel style, an antidote to the pure regularity of the méthode traditionelle for producing sparkling wine, has been on the rise. It is more associated with the Loire than anywhere else (I think), although it can be traced back to the very earliest production of sparkling wines in the 16th century, in Limoux, where the style is also popular. In the pétillant naturel method (also correctly called the méthode ancestrale) the must is bottled before fermentation has completed, and thus the yeast continues its work in bottle. This has the effect of producing a wine that is lower in terms of pressure (pétillant rather than mousseux), occasionally sweet (although likely to get drier with time, if the yeast are still active) and possibly also with a little variation from one bottle to the next, a consequence of each bottle having its own unique ongoing fermentation. More variety!
The renaissance of the pétillant natural technique in the Loire Valley perhaps warrants an essay all of its own, but I think that is beyond my remit today. Instead, I offer as evidence the latest example of this fabulously fun style of wine to land in my cellar, a wine which also serves to illustrate all the rolled-up complexity of the Loire. René and Agnes Mosse are based in St-Lambert-du-Lattay, one of the villages dotted along the Layon, and so the soils here are generally schist and other metamorphic forms, the 'black' Anjou as opposed to the 'white' Anjou of limestone to the east. The varieties in question are predominantly Grolleau and secondarily Gamay, both traditional Loire varieties, Gamay not being restricted to the vineyards of Roanne. And it has a glorious pétillant naturel character, sealed under crown cap, and bottled using clear glass, so the sediment is plain for all to see. The last time I clapped eyes on such a swirling suspension it was Mark Angeli's Rose d'Un Jour 2008, and that was just brilliant. Happily, the Moussamoussettes (Lot L012 I think - does that mean this is the 2012 vintage?) is no less joyful. There is a confident 'pop' of fizz under the cap. In the glass it shows a rich, confident colour, a little difficult to describe, being not just pink but instead a deep, peachy sunset-orange kind of pink. The nose is fascinating, being redolent of baked white peaches, with a herby freshness and white-pepper twist on the side, along with nuances of rose petals and red fruits. And the palate is exactly as I hoped, being fulsome and enticing, definitely showing some residual sugar at present. I would estimate it is carrying at least 20 g/l still, although it does not come across as overtly sweet thanks to the masking effects of the acidity and perhaps also the pétillance. The flavours mirror the nose, all sweetly-baked peaches with a funky-herby edge to them. It finishes clean and crisp, and it is finished quickly, especially on a warm summer's day. A wine of great joy, delicious and honest, and a fine symbol of how diversity - in terroir, in grape variety, in vinification - is what makes wine really interesting. 16.5/20 (2/6/14)