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Domaine de la Sénéchalière Nuitage 2009

Earlier this year the INAO ratified three of the proposed Muscadet crus communaux. The first vintage for these new crus will therefore be 2011, so it is impossible to have one in hand as I update part two of my Muscadet guide, subtitled Terroirs & Crus, which deals with the creation of these new communal zones, although I admit I do have a few more bottles of André-Michel Brégeon's 2004 Gorges, a prototype for the Gorges cru, tucked away somewhere. Nevertheless I settled for something a little more extreme - although how any Muscadet could be more extreme than Brégeon's cuvée, which sees 64 months (more than five years!) aging sur lie - is a wonder in itself. Before we get to that wine though, a little more on these new crus communaux.

The Crus Communaux
Gorges, Clisson & Le Pallet

Vines: aged at least 6 years

Yields: less than 45 hl/ha (from 6-9 bunches per vine)

Potential: 11º or 12º (depending on the cru)

Élevage: 17 months for Le Pallet, otherwise 24 months

Quality: a tasting to assess quality prior to and after bottling

Notation: numbered bottles

The crus communaux of Muscadet are a work in progress, a project that began in the late 1990s and which continues to this day. The proposed crus were originally to be named for their terroirs, as in Granite de Clisson, Les Schistes de Goulaine and the like. For some obscure reason the mention of terroir was forbidden, and I learnt from Pierre-Marie Luneau in early 2011 that the new names would be based on commune only, i.e. Gorges, Clisson, and so on. This is despite the underlying raison d'être for the crus communaux being none other than their distinctive terroirs. Happily, individual vignerons may continue to use terroir-related terms for individual cuvées, though, so this doesn't spell the end for the appearance of gneiss, granite and similar on Muscadet labels.

In July 2011 the existence of three of the proposed crus communaux, Gorges, Clisson and Le Pallet, was ratified by the INAO, while the others still wait for their final assessments and sign-off. The wines of these three crus all originate from specified regions of the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine appellation, and they must all meet certain criteria (see box, right). As always there is something of a compromise between the most fastidious proponents of the new crus, their peers and the INAO, and as such some stipulated elements are not what was originally proposed. The most notable discrepancy is in the age of the vines permitted; the man who embodies the cru communal Gorges, André-Michel Brégeon, would have liked to see a minimum age of 17 years for vines to be eligible for the cru. As it is, the final stipulated limit falls somewhat short of this, at just six years; this is a major reduction, although it does still distinguish these crus from many appellations where the fruit of even the very youngest vines, which typically appears after three years of growth, is eligible. The yields are close to that originally proposed, at 45 hl/ha, a significant contrast against 55 hl/ha for subregional appellations and 65 hl/ha for generic Muscadet. As with the troisième cuvées, a long élevage is stipulated, with 24 months the minimum for Gorges and Clisson, 17 months for Le Pallet; despite this now being embodied in legislature, the anomaly that these bottles are not eligible for the sur lie designation persists.

For further details on the three ratified crus , including a map of the terroirs, for these as well as the other proposed crus including Château Thébaud, Goulaine and others, see my updated Muscadet guide.

Domaine de la Senechaliere Nuitage 2009As I alluded in my introduction, the first taste of the true crus communaux won't come for a few years yet (bearing in mind they require 17-24 lees aging, at the very least). Yes, there are prototypes out there, but I thought instead I would turn to Marc Pesnot of Domaine de la Sénéchalière for my associated Muscadet kick. Marc is something of a maverick, and I have already highlighted other cuvées of his, including the curious Labouriou, a vin de table made from the little-known Abouriou variety, and La Bohème, a Muscadet look-a-like also bottled as a vin de table; Marc isn't too bothered with the agrément required for appellation status, it seems. This week we have his Nuitage cuvée, another 100% Melon de Bourgogne wine, again a vin de table, from the 2009 vintage. This is hand-picked in tries, the fruit undergoing carbonic maceration overnight and then pressed before fermentation using only the naturally present yeasts. This overnight carbonic maceration seems like a radical departure from how Melon de Bourgogne is usually handled (no wonder this is yet another vin de table) and is, if the name Nuitage is anything to go by, seen by Marc as the defining characteristic of this wine. The issue of lees aging isn't discussed but I would think it doesn't see a lengthy élevage; this is a low sulphur cuvée, just 20 mg/l in the final wine (to me that's low - I appreciate within the natural wine world some would have anything more than zero to be too much sulphur) and the 2010 has already been released onto the market I see. It is bottled without fining or filtration.

The 2009 has thrown a light tartrate sediment, and once out and into the glass it reveals an evocative aromatic profile, full of baked lemon and redolent of pine needles and sandy dunes covered in tough, wiry grasses. There is also some polished white fruit, overlaid with a nutty hint giving it an oxidative but happily not oxidised tone, heralding the arrival of scents of apple and sweet pear. It has a fresh and slightly voluptuous feel on the palate, underpinned by bitter acidity and grip, these latter elements coming to the fore through the midpalate, along with vibrant hints of orange peel  There are some quite savoury tones to this wine, and in the finish quite a rolling force of pithy, bitter, gritty elements which give a firm direction - if not a great deal of finesse - to the finish. It has quite a sweetly formed, nicely integrated and harmonious feel otherwise though. Overall this is a charming wine, somewhat atypical of what many are aiming for with Melon de Bourgogne I think, and not reminiscent of the crus communaux prototypes I have tasted (that is not meant to imply it should be, or that it is meant to be, or that it fails by not being so, by the way). It will certainly appeal to fans of 'natural' wine, though. 16.5/20 (10/10/11)

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