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Les Vignerons du Pallet Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Jubilation Le Pallet 2007

Back to Muscadet this week, after my recent flirtations with Portugal and Madeira. I last visited the Muscadet region in June, and the wine featured here comes from one of the domaines I visited during that trip. Well, I write 'domaine', but in truth Les Vignerons du Pallet is in fact a group of nine domaines working together within one of the Muscadet region's three new crus communaux, Le Pallet.

Le Pallet is something of an anomaly in the story of the crus communaux I think. It is perhaps not as well known to committed Muscadet-heads as Clisson or Gorges, even though these three villages were the first to have their status as crus communaux ratified by the INAO. Clisson, made famous (hey, it is famous in Loire-geek circles) by the likes of Bruno Cormerais and Marc Ollivier, and Gorges, long associated with André-Michel Brégeon, are both known for their distinctive terroirs, the first granite (a particular type of hard, grey granite) and the second gabbro. Le Pallet, however, seems not to have one predominant terroir, but instead is blessed with a broad variety of the igneous and metamorphic rock types typical of this part of France, including gneiss, orthogneiss, granite and gabbro. The nine members of Les Vignerons du Pallet have vines planted on all these terroirs, about 80% on the former - which group spokesman Pierre-Yves Lusseaud refers to as "white rocks" and 20% on the latter - which to Lusseaud are the "black rocks" of the appellation.

Les Vignerons du Pallet Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Jubilation Le Pallet 2007

So those wishing to use the cru have an unusual starting point. Remarkably, Les Vignerons du Pallet confuse the issue even further with some unusual fermentation methods. Whereas the fruit from the white rocks is fermented in the traditional manner, in subterranean, glass-lined cement vats, the black-rocks fruit sees not only fermentation and élevage in oak, it is also put through malolactic fermentation. Neither process is typical of Muscadet, and indeed I generally find the oak-fermented Muscadet cuvées, regardless of the popularity and geek-fame of the vigneron in question, to be some of the least appealing wines of the entire region. I feel my wine soul sink a little at the thought of tasting the wine; Muscadet and wood just doesn't work. Muscadet and malolactic - the best example I can think of is Miss Terre from Marc Pesnot, Muscadet in all but name (it's actually Vin de France) shouldn't work either, although I admit Miss Terre can sometimes be pretty good.

The saving grace here, I think, is perhaps the fact that the wine from black rocks - this being the wood and malolactic side of the equation - contributes only a minor part of the wine. The traditionally managed "white rocks" wine accounts for 80% of the blend, and this perhaps counters the presumably richer, softer, "black rocks" component. In addition, this being cru communal, quality is elevated by the need for older vines and restricted yields in the vineyard, and the prolonged lees-aging in the cellars, this latter component a strong promoter of minerality in the wine in my experience. The wines are not bottled until they have had at least 18 months on the lees; this is the minimum required by the cru regulations, and coincidentally Pierre-Yves Lusseaud also argues that it is the time at which maximum benefit is obtained. I would disagree with that latter statement, as I think many wines I have tasted that have been aged on the lees for five to eight years (and longer, although data points past eight years are rare) have been absolutely stunning. Another important factor may of course be the bottle age; this vintage will have been bottled about four years ago now.

Tasting the wine, it does seem to be the traditionally managed, "white rocks" component that comes through strongest, although I sense the other 20% here as well I think. In the glass, the 2007 Jubilation Le Pallet from Les Vignerons du Pallet, has a lemon-gold hue. There are fresh, bright, pithy fruits on the nose, reminiscent of macerated lemon pith, yellow plum too, laced with smoke and minerals. Along with this, there is also the suggestion of a creamy richness to it, perhaps reflecting the oak influence here. The palate is fresh, tense, quite crunchy in its presence, with lifted, fresh lemon-citrus tones, filled out by a pithy substance, softened just a little by the oak I feel, and sprinkled with nuances of thyme and rosemary. I confess I am surprised at how appealing this wine is; it seems true to the region, but it presents the defined, crunchy minerality typical of Muscadet wrapped in a very thin tissue of softness and flesh. To be straight it is not archetypal acid-mineral Muscadet, but putting aside this incongruity it is, judging purely on what is in the glass, a good wine. 16/20 (19/8/13)

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