Domaine de la Pépière Pépies Bulles NV
Marc Ollivier, patron of Domaine de la Pépière, one of Muscadet's leading domaines, has not been one to shy away from experimentation. His Granite de Clisson cuvée, renamed simply Clisson in the 2009 vintage in anticipation of the creation of the Clisson cru communal, has long been a model for troisième niveau Muscadet (if none of that means anything to you, part two of my guide to Muscadet will explain). His Clos Cormerais cuvée, featuring Melon de Bourgogne aged in a mix of oak and acacia has something of the mad scientist about it, although it's not truly an experimental cuvée as far as I'm aware. Having said that, it's not one I have particularly enjoyed whenever I have tasted. That isn't true of the rarely sighted Trois cuvée though, a wine recently introduced to the portfolio, the novel feature here being that it spends three years on its lees - hence the name - before bottling.
It might be tempting therefore to ascribe the creation of this latest cuvée from Domaine de la Pépière, the Pépies Bulles Vin Mousseux, to Ollivier's inventive nature. That wouldn't be wholly true, however, as this wine is the brainchild of Ollivier's new associate Remi Branger. Remi joined Marc very recently, his name only appearing on the labels of the 2009 and 2010 vintages (depending on when the wine was released) and he clearly isn't taking a backseat. His wine combines the acidity of Melon de Bourgogne with a cushion of residual sugar, all brought together using the méthode ancestrale akin to the pétillant naturel wines of Montlouis, to create an impressive sparkling wine.
Melon de Bourgogne isn't an obvious choice for sparkling wine; take a look around at what Remi's neighbours are offering and you will see that Guy Bossard's Cuvée Ludwig Hahn features the variety only as a component within the blend which is dominated by Folle Blanche (also known as Gros Plant), and Jo Landron's Atmospheres also features this latter variety, blended with Pinot Noir, with not a hint of Melon de Bourgogne to be found anywhere. Nevertheless, it's the path Remi and Marc have taken, and they have sourced their fruit from the highest vineyards around Maisdon sur Sèvre. Although it is widely touted by retailers as being purely Melon de Bourgogne it is in fact a blend of Melon and Chardonnay, although it is the former that dominates. The harvest was by hand, the fruit picked fairly early the intent being a wine not too rich in alcohol. A gentle pneumatic pressing was followed by a short period of settling to allow the juice to clear, before fermentation without chaptalisation. As with the pétillants naturels from further upstream the yeast activity was halted by chilling, following which the embryonic wine was transferred to bottle, without the addition of sugar or yeast, and it is the continuation of the primary fermentation that gives the carbon dioxide to the wine.
This wine has a pale, straw-gold hue in the glass, reassuringly warm in appearance, with a very fine pétillance, enough to provide the wine with a very fine central stream of tiny bubbles. The nose is certainly charismatic, with fleeting nuances. The overall impression is fruit-dominated, golden and autumnal in style, but still bright and fresh. There is a sweet, ripe green apple and white grape character to it, the sweetness for brief moments giving the aromatic profile something of a resemblance to toffee apples. There are hints of more savoury nuances as well, though, ripe Maillard-like autolytic nuances from the dead and dying yeast, but these are subtle components. Gentle and refined at the start, this quickly fills out on the midpalate, helped by a generous helping of residual sugar. There is 20 g/l here, although tasted blind I would have put it a little lower. It does not bring an overt sweetness to the palate, but a rounded, fleshy feel. The pétillance is finely inscribed, but still gentle and soft, settling out though the middle to give it a creamy feel. In the end it picks itself up, showing a sappy detachment. The finish is not exactly intense or long, but it has an appealing sappy-sour character. This is very appealing, and with just 9% alcohol it would make a lovely summer sparkler. There's a really good balance here between the incisive acidity of the fruit which is kept nicely in check by the residual sugar, and there is some appealing substance to the wine to add further interest. Overall, pretty good stuff! 16/20 (28/11/11)