Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine
Last week’s 2003 Vouvray Moelleux from the talented François Pinon was a choice inspired by my meeting with François and his son Julien at the Salon des Vins de Loire, as this was one of the older vintages they were pouring alongside their 2014 brut de cuve samples. This past weekend we can yet again draw a line from my drinking back to the Salon. This time, however, the vintage is a little more current, as this is the latest release of the Clisson cuvée, one of the three fully approved crus communaux (the others being Gorges and Le Pallet), from Domaine de la Pépière. This is hardly the first time I have featured Muscadet as my Weekend Wine, and it certainly isn’t the first wine from Marc Ollivier of Domaine de la Pépière either. Indeed, it isn’t even the first time I have cast the spotlight on this cuvée, as I first wrote about this wine nearly six years ago, in the 2005 vintage. That was a very early prototype for the cru, back at a time when the proposed name was Granite de Clisson, a superb concept (the crus are, after all, all supposed to be based on unique and interesting terroirs) which was soon torpedoed by the INAO, as referencing a specific terroir in an appellation name just isn’t French cricket, it seems.
This is all old news of course, and it isn’t what I wanted to discuss here. Instead, I thought it would be worthwhile looking at this latest vintage of Clisson simply so we can appraise, albeit briefly, just how far the Muscadet vignerons have come in the past few years. And, personally, I have been reflecting on how much my own knowledge of Muscadet has also progressed, helped by several visits to the region in the past few years, and also one or two (or three or more!) tasting encounters with the wines, at home and in the Loire Valley. I am sure this would make for fairly dull reading though, so I will focus instead on the region and the wines, and not on me.
I have been prompted to write what follows by a particular problem that faces Muscadet, and that is the outdated image of this region painted by wine writers who, frankly, should know better. I look at Muscadet and I see a dynamic region with no fewer interesting wines and domaines than another other region of the Loire Valley, or Burgundy (not that I would pretend to have any significant knowledge of that region), or Bordeaux, and so on. And yet I see some wine writers trot out the same old tripe when it comes to Muscadet, often following a tangential glancing encounter with the wines of the region, sometimes in relation to completely different regions. If the latest commission is for an article about a wine region in New Zealand or Chile in trouble, having a bit of a crisis, well, it’s inevitable it will be compared to Muscadet, because there was a crash there once. Or does the article concern a wine region in South Africa or the Languedoc enjoying unexpected success, and is there a need to inject a frisson of uncertainty about its future? Yes? Well, compare it to Muscadet then, because that’s what it was like before the crash. Or is the article based on the latest freebie tasting samples, which (strangely, thought the writer) included a bottle of Muscadet? Well you can be sure the hook for the article will be how poor and destitute the Muscadet region is, because that’s probably how it is after the crash. Even though, it has to be said, that was forty years ago, and the author has never even set foot in the region during the four decades since.
I’m not denying that Muscadet has ongoing problems; bulk wine prices are still uneconomical for growers, this being partly responsible for the huge vineyard contraction seen in recent years (the other major factor being the 2008 frost). But to define a region only by these wines and events is a little like disregarding Burgundy because négoce wines from east of the RN74 aren’t very good. There is more to Muscadet, a region which has spent several decades on a slow-burning and hard-won rise, and perhaps we could focus on this instead? The vineyards are more defined than ever, with the three crus communaux mentioned above set to be joined by half a dozen more in the next year, including Monnières St Fiacre, Château Thébaud and Goulaine, to name just three. The region has some of the most exciting terroir in France, from schist and granite to amphibolite and serpentinite (I can’t think of a cooler name for a rock than serpentinite). Dedicated vignerons abound, including Marc Ollivier and Rémi Branger but also Bruno Cormerais, the Günther-Chéreau family, Bonnet-Huteau, Nicolas and Hervé Choblet, Jo Landron, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine Brégeon, Jean-Michel Poiron, Jérémie Huchet, Jérôme Choblet, Famille Lieubeau, Bernard Chéreau, Guy Bossard and Frédéric Niger, I could go on. These vignerons all turn out wines of huge interest and merit, wines which express the region’s interesting array of terroirs with great clarity, in some cases picking by hand to ensure a higher level of quality. The long lees-aged wines and especially the cru communal wines are exciting developments which, while remaining good value, fetch an increasingly handsome price for their makers. The Chablis of the Loire is a phrase I have heard recently to describe Muscadet and I don’t think it is a bad description or indeed a bad model to work with; it certainly indicates to me the very fine quality of wines to be found here, and demonstrates just where Muscadet is heading.
So, now that I have that off my chest, how we move on to look at this week’s wine, the Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Clisson 2012. The regulations for the Clisson cru restrict yields (less than 45 hl/ha, although most recent vintages come in well under this anyway!) and determine length of élevage, which is a minimum of 24 months sur lie. On the nose the wine is rich in fruit character, classic nuances of preserved lemon at first, but there are richer tones here also, desiccated pear in particular, with a lightly sweet sense of ripe, golden flesh. And it wouldn’t be Muscadet without the tell-tale minerality, coming through here as a somewhat saline edge, providing a counterpoint to the rather formidable and pithy fruit substance. The palate does not disappoint after this convincing start. It is full and punchy, rich in golden pear fruit, showing great substance as the nose suggested, with a pithy, fresh citrus-zest note alongside, backed up by a mouth-watering saline minerality and a firm, juicy acidity. Energetic and yet also substantial, this is a true grand vin, finessed but confident, and very likely to benefit from a few years in the cellar at least. Drink now if you wish, but enjoy it more in a few years I suspect. 17.5/20 (16/2/15)