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Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie
Les Gras Moutons 2012

It has been something of a Muscadet weekend, with new notes published, and one or two corks pulled. It started on Saturday, with the publication of a few tasting notes on the wines of Domaine du Haut Bourg, featuring the latest and forthcoming releases from the domaine, which includes wines from the 2012, 2010, 2009 and 2003 vintages. Then I realised, having typed up and published the tasting notes I may as well quickly overhaul my Domaine du Haut Bourg profile. With that done and dusted, I decided I should probably pay the region a vicarious visit, with the help of a corkscrew and a glass (this is tough work, y'know) and pulled this weekend's wine, the Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Les Gras Moutons 2012 from the cellar.

My notes on the wines of Domaine du Haut Bourg sparked some interesting comments on Twitter from a couple of subscribers, who noted that compared to some of my notes on the whites of the 2013 Bordeaux vintage the scores I gave to the handful of Muscadets on which I reported were, on the whole, higher. I know there are some out there who will recoil in horror, or perhaps collapse in a fit of laughter, at such a thought. After all, how could a Muscadet ever be considered superior to a wine with a grand appellation, such as a Pessac-Léognan? Isn't one a failed appellation, suffering a catastrophic contraction in vineyard area? Isn't the other one of the most celebrated white wine names in the world, Bordeaux's premier white wine appellation?

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Les Gras Moutons 2012

I don't concur with any preconception about a wine based on beliefs about the status conferred by its appellation, classification or otherwise. The way I see it, it is up to the wine to prove itself in the glass. Note, this is not the same as saying "it is only what's in the glass that counts" as I believe some knowledge of a wine's story - everything from simple winemaking facts such as assemblage or use of oak, through to the entire history of the domaine and where the winemaker went to school - can help our understanding and thus our enjoyment of the wine. But that's all it should do; knowing a wine has a grand appellation, or comes from a historic château, can influence how we interact with the wine, but it shouldn't stimulate a critic into automatically over-rating the wine. And yet I do fear that this happens with wines from some 'grand' appellations. Meanwhile, wines from 'lesser' appellations are consistently under-rated and overlooked. They "have their place", I suppose.

Muscadet is one such appellation. It has in spades something Pessac-Léognan struggles with, perhaps partly because of the varieties it has to work with (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon predominantly) and more likely the gravel and sand terroirs that characterise the Graves and Pessac-Léognan regions. Meanwhile, up in Muscadet-land, Melon de Bourgogne doesn't seem to have any problem translating terroir (perhaps helped by a little time on the lees, to be fair) but the soils give it something much more interesting to work with. Granite gives wines that are tense and solid, gneiss and orthogneiss wines that are more effusive, softer and more open in style (this week's wine is a classic example), while less common rock types (all igneous - that's the Nantais for you) include serpentinite, amphibolite and gabbro. I could go on about each at length, but all - especially the last of this trio - seem capable of giving wines of great depth and vibrancy, and charged with minerals to a level unlike any style of wine I have ever tasted. Thinking about it, it really is no wonder I love these wines.

Anyway, back to what's in the glass, and this weekend's wine is not from gabbro (you need to head to the cru of Gorges for that) but from gneiss, in the commune of Saint-Fiacre-sur-Maine. Here, on the banks of the Maine, the gneiss terroir is the source not only of the wine featured here, the 2012 Les Gras Moutons from Domaine de la Pépière, but also the wines of Domaine du Mouton, the domaine from which Louis Métaireau did so much to revitalise the Muscadet appellation in the 1970s and 1980s. The wine has a very expressive, effusive nose, very typical for gneiss I think, the pear skin and citrus pith scents to be found here all mixed together with aromas that seem to suggest a mouthful of crumbled volcanic rocks is coming your way. The palate is just brimming with tension, the sappy substance of the midpalate underpinned by a seam of vibrant, flinty, volcanic minerals, and a layer of thyme-tinged pear skin. This is a wine of great substance, and it culminated in an enticingly chalky-flinty vigorous finish. Still a lot of youthful substance here, but this is clearly a great Gras Moutons, which should develop nicely over the next few years. More please. 17/20 (28/4/14)

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