Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre & Maine s/lie Le L d’Or 1996
It is no secret that I am in love with the Loire. Not only the wines, but also the place; it is in my opinion one of France’s most beautiful regions. It seems to be widely appreciated, judging by the number of tourists that visit the region each year, so I think I am not alone in my thoughts. The same is not quite true of the wines, of course. Even those appellations which I would argue turn out wines of world class quality, which would stand up to any from France’s other wine regions – I’m thinking of Vouvray in particular, although I think strong cases can also be made for the Coteaux du Layon and its crus, and recently Savennières too – remain niche interests compared to the wide appreciation of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. I myself am thankful to have discovered these wines many years ago, because they have given me much pleasure over the years. But there is one wine that I have paid lip-service to over the years, when secretly I have wondered, from time to time, whether it is really all some people say it is. That wine is Muscadet.
But that’s all over now.
Perhaps unsurprisingly in view of Muscadet’s history, there are many bottles that contain something more akin to dishwater than the fresh, zippy, perfect-partner-for-seafood that the wine is often puffed up to be. I have certainly encountered a few that are closer to the former than the latter. But even with the latter, few really moved me. They are bistro wines, petit vins, workhorse wines, neutral wines for slugging back rather than pondering over. Well, in many cases, this is true. But there are, allegedly, a few producers capable of producing great wines.
Pierre Luneau-Papin is one of them, and his cuvée Le L d’Or, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie is one of his better wines in my experience. This particular vintage, the 1996, has an attractive depth of colour, a very pale lemon-green gold, suggesting a richness which certainly shows through on the nose, which offers up aromas of smoke, thyme, garrigue and crisp minerals aplenty. It is a long time since I recall encountering a nose as entrancing as this on a Muscadet. The palate is fresh, crisp, laser-like in its precision, with desperately straight acidity backed up by just a little flesh which is mouth-watering when in combination with the crisp, acidic structure. On the midpalate and towards the finish it has a zippy character, with an appealingly sour, slightly sherbetty edge, with a little sea-salt character, that just keeps me coming back for more. But I think it is the fabulous acidity cutting through the ample, slightly rounded style that really sells it to me. This is just divine. It certainly shows that a committed winemaker can turn out truly great wine, even working in the sandy vineyards of the Nantais with a poor man’s variety like the Melon de Bourgogne. And it also throws out any misconceptions there might be concerning Muscadet’s ability to age; this has held together beautifully over the last eleven years. I look forward to trying more of Luneau-Papin’s wines over the next few months, including some vintages even older than 1996, but they will have to be impressive to top this one. 18/20 (12/2/07)