Domaine de Bellevue Muscadet Gaïa 2014
One of wine’s many joys is that, if you wait long enough, it will surprise you. How long you have to wait depends, I suspect, on how far you have already travelled on your personal wine journey. I worry that this rather turgid phrase suggests understanding wine is something akin to religious enlightenment, but please bear with me; I simply mean to say that early on, when you are relatively new to wine, every bottle you meet holds the promise of surprise, a new grape variety not previously encountered, a new style of wine, a different arrangement of sweetness and acidity or perhaps a different, profoundly esoteric flavour profile.
With the passing of time, and of course the passing of many bottles (let’s not dwell on whether that phrase works or not), this early naivety fades, perhaps with a tinge of regret. You can only have one first taste of Viognier, or Romorantin, one first experience of Quarts de Chaume or Barsac. After that, while you may encounter new vintages, and new domaines, the best most wines can do is slot into place in an already long thread of vinous consciousness. Another Cheverny. Another Chambertin. The quality may vary, but the blueprint for the wine is ultimately the same. Sadly, finding a bottle which reminds you exactly why you fell in love with wine in the first place becomes an increasingly rare phenomenon.
One way that wine can surprise is when your expectations were very different to what lies beneath the cork. I first met Jérôme Bretaudeau, of Domaine de Bellevue, in Gétigné very close to Clisson, back in 2015. He works organically in the vineyard, and with controlled intervention in the cellars, which most significantly means minimal use of sulphur dioxide. I would say he is part of the ‘natural’ wine scene, and whereas some wines that are born of this philosophy can be arresting homages to variety and place – think Richard Leroy, Eric Nicolas or the modern-day Domaine aux Moines – others can fall flat on their face, and sometimes I feel they remain popular because of positive bias towards the dogma that lies behind them. Perhaps this belief influenced my expectations here?
Many of Jérôme’s wines are varietal IGP wines, but he makes a couple of cuvées of Muscadet. Both come from a gabbro terroir, a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine christened, accordingly, Gabbro, and a straight Muscadet, Gaïa, which I feature here. The key to this wine, apart from the terroir of origin, is the élevage which comprises 14 months in cement vats shaped like an egg (as suggested by the label, I suppose), which allegedly encourages the circulation of the lees in a ‘vortex’. The 2014 Gaïa from Domaine de Bellevue displays a pale golden hue, richer than I would expect for Muscadet, and I wonder whether there is a very subtle oxidative influence here. Whether the driving force behind the style of this wine is oxygen or the lees ‘vortex’, though, its effect on the nose and palate is very welcome. Aromatically this is very convincing, the nose absolutely loaded with enticing scents of white pepper and crushed minerals, backed up by a strong fruit presence redolent of crystalline kumquat, yellow peach, mirabelle and scented lemon balm. The palate is gloriously broad and succulent, and it brims with flashy citrus elements, swirled with a white-pebble minerality and framed by a fine, grainy acidity. This is a real mouthful of a wine, exciting, tangy and fresh. It is a great example of a wine that feels recognisable as Muscadet, yet which also pushed the boundaries a little. Top work Jérôme! 17/20 • 94/100 (6/11/17)