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Jérémie Mourat Fiefs Vendéens Mareuil Clos Saint-André 2012

Jérémie Mourat Fiefs Vendéens Mareuil Blanc
Clos Saint-André 2012

To me this wine personifies one of the many joys of the Loire Valley, and that is its great diversity. Diversity is an attribute upon which I have recently touched in my profile of Vincent Caillé, a Muscadet vigneron whose wines – especially his crus communaux – are of great interest and quality. A guy like Vincent provides diversity of style, his wines transmitting his own personal understanding of the land he cultivates through to the glass, each one a unique interpretation in his case of the Gorges and Monnières-Saint-Fiacre crus. In this, however, the Loire Valley is far from unique; take any appellation you care to mention, from Fronsac to Fleurie, and within each one you find a myriad different wines, each one carrying subtle or sometimes starkly apparent distinctions when compared to those made on neighbouring domaines.

With this wine, however, I think we have something more particular to the Loire Valley, a representation of a much broader diversity, in terms of grape variety, terroir and style. In this I think the region is unique. Whereas uncovering new domaines of interest, or domaines producing distinctive styles of wine, is very difficult in the likes of Bordeaux or Burgundy, in the Loire Valley I sometimes think it difficult not to uncover such gems. Perhaps it is just because I visit the region more often than any other, but in the Loire Valley I sometimes feel I can’t move for new and unfamiliar wines. I recall, for example, during the 2014 Salon des Vins de Loire I attended an informal evening at a restaurant in Angers where some unfamiliar vignerons poured their equally unfamiliar wines. There was vin gris from Châteaumeillant, various whites from the Fiefs Vendéens and Haut-Poitou appellations, Gamay from the Côtes Roannaise and Côtes du Forez, and so on. These wines were in several cases not merely drinkable, but deliciously so. In the space of an hour or two I went from thinking I knew or at least had a grasp of the Loire Valley’s vineyards to realising I was still very much a beginner, despite the fact I have been visiting the region for more than twenty years, and writing about it for fifteen.

Jérémie Mourat Fiefs Vendéens Mareuil Clos Saint-André 2012

Of all the aforementioned regions the Fiefs Vendéens was perhaps the least unfamiliar, as I was already aware at the very least of the wines of Jérémie Mourat and Thierry Michon. As with many of these peripheral regions (these vineyards are an hour by car from the famous names of the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation) its history is intriguing. Although little-known today, the vineyards here were once in the possession of Cardinal de Richelieu, a figure who crops up in the histories of many of the Loire Valley’s wine regions. During the 16th century he donated the vineyards in the diocese of Luçon, over which he had control, to the local peasants (so you see, he wasn’t all bad!), and from that point onwards they were known as the Fiefs du Cardinal. This remained the name for many centuries, and it was only as the vineyards were more firmly defined during the 20th century, as they moved towards appellation status, that they were renamed Fiefs Vendéens. There are five subregions to the appellation, Mareuil being by far the largest with about 330 hectares planted, while the others all boast less than 100 hectares each. These include Brem, on the coast, where Thierry Michon is based, and inland Chantonnay, Pissotte and Vix.

The majority of the wines coming out of the Fiefs Vendéens are red or rosé, predominantly the latter, made using Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir and Négrette. Together these account for more than 80% of production, so the white wines, made using Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Grolleau Gris and Sauvignon Blanc are more of a niche interest. Not every variety qualifies for every subregion by the way, but I will save that sort of detail for the appropriate instalment of my Loire Valley wine guide. The Mareuil vineyards are located to the northwest of Luçon, around the confluence of the Yon and the Lay rivers, and Jérémie Mourat runs one of the most dynamic and expansive domaines. Indeed, with more than 120 hectares cultivated, he is responsible for more than one-third of the appellation. His range is complex (but explained in detail in my profile) but suffice to say that the Clos Saint-André is one of his top wines. The vineyard is farmed organically, and the fruit – a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc and 10% Chardonnay – is fermented in concrete eggs with twelve months sur lie before bottling. The 2012 vintage has a polished lemon-gold hue in the glass, and aromatically it is redolent of bitter fruits, with scents of peach skin and pear skin, fresh and showing some really good saline bite. The palate follows the lead of the nose, showing a slightly glycerin-tinged texture cut with a bitter edge and vigorous acidity. This has deliciously succulent fruit character, ripe but with a crystalline, pithy, and freshly bitter frame. It says more to me of its place of origin than it does of the grape varieties involved, all that coolly crystalline fruit seeming to speak of the volcanic terroir of the Massif Armoricain, while that saline minerality could have blown in on the last Atlantic breeze. What a joy to drink this is. Thanks heavens for diversity, and for undiscovered appellations. 16/20 (22/6/15)

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