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Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Comte de Saint-Hubert Vieilles Vignes 1996

Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Comte de Saint-Hubert Vieilles Vignes 1996

Yesterday I published the final instalment in my new guide to the wines of the Nantais. Over thirteen episodes I have examined the region’s geology in detail, beginning with its Precambrian origins and following it through to the broad array of igneous and metamorphic rocks we find here today, from granite and gabbro to serpentinite and schist. I have examined the region’s climate, looking at how great bodies of water have influenced viticulture in this region, as well as exploring how the spring frosts, from the mother of Melon de Bourgogne in 1709 through to the most recent devastation in 2017, have shaped the vineyards of today.

Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Comte de Saint-Hubert Vieilles Vignes 1996

And of course I have looked in great detail at the appellations, their origins and history, the varieties planted and the wines made here today. Through my research I came to understand how the monks who worked the salt marshes of the Île de Noirmoutier, out in the Atlantic Ocean, came to shape the Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu appellation. And I have learned how merchants from Holland influenced the development of the Gros Plant du Pays Nantais appellation and indeed all the Atlantic vineyards, not just in the Nantais but to the south in Cognac, in their eternal hunt for vin de chaudière. It is not all monks and merchants though; I do take a good look at the wines of today, of course, including a detailed discourse on the three crus communaux, Clisson, Gorges and Le Pallet.

It has been a fascinating journey of discovery, and in writing these new guides I feel I have continued to expand my understanding of the region and its wines. I have really enjoyed writing them. And yet if you had told me twenty years ago that I would get a kick out of writing a guide to Muscadet (or indeed any of the region’s other wines) I would have thought you were pulling my leg. I thought I knew what Muscadet was, a wine to mostly be avoided in favour of, well, just about anything else. I believed what I had read about the region, that it was a good source of tooth-rattling, enamel-stripping wine, these words flowing from the pens of eminent wine writers whose noses were clearly put out of joint by a dodgy bottle during the high-yield young-vine era of the 1980s.

Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Comte de Saint-Hubert Vieilles Vignes 1996

Sadly, I think some writers are still stuck in this rut, as three decades on they seem determined to know as little about the region as humanly possible. Meanwhile, I am filled with joy that, on an early trip to the Loire, I cast aside their words and decided to investigate for myself. I discovered a region rich in minerally and racy wines. I found wines rich in herby orchard fruits and polished by the region’s sea breezes. And I found wines that aged well, their flavours concentrated and their textures enriched by the passing of time. I realised that this region, where apparently one should drink the wines as young as possible, actually made wines that – from the right address – aged beautifully. In this Muscadet is not alone of course; Sancerre has essentially been tarred with the same ‘drink youngest available’ brush.

This weekend’s wine, from Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre, is a celebration. A celebration of the region and the wonder of its wines and their ability to age. And of course a celebration to mark finishing my Nantais guides, a moment of reflection before I crack on with the next region, which won’t be Anjou (I intend to jump around a bit, so I will be heading further upriver than that). The Château du Coing de Saint-Fiacre Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Comte de Saint-Hubert Vieilles Vignes 1996 comes from century-old vines in the grounds of the château, planted on a terroir of particularly friable gneiss lying very close to the waters of the Sèvre and the Maine, which meet within sight of the estate. Other than a day or two of skin contact in the press, commonplace in the Nantais with more serious cuvées made in good vintages, the vinification is very traditional, with élevage sur lie and bottling before the wine’s second winter. In the glass it has, considering its age, a remarkably fresh, pale and shimmering gold hue. The nose is just delicious, filled with the aromas of wet stone, bitter apricot skin, tangerine pith, smoke and struck flint. And this confident start is matched by a wonderfully textured palate, viscous and visceral, this voluminous texture swirling with the flavours of sweet citrus fruits and bitter pith, cut with bright acidity and tingling minerally elements. With time, the complexity shines through, the wine revealing nuances of apricot stone, aniseed, lemon balm and verbena. These savoury streaks rule the length, which remains fresh and bitter in equal parts. A superb wine. 17.5/20 • 95/100 (20/11/17)

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