Les Vignerons du Pallet Muscadet Sèvre et Maine L’Hermine 2014
Sitting in an airport hotel in late-February, back in what will probably one day be known as the pre-Covid era, my eyes scanned a wine list full of unfamiliar names. In these situations I naturally gravitate to the Loire Valley, especially when the two menu items that had so far caught my attention featured in the first instance, smoked haddock, and in the second, mussels. It seemed to me that Muscadet would be the obvious way to go, and my gaze soon landed upon the rather ambiguously named Les Templiers Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie, from the 2017 vintage. The only clue was the origin of the wine, listed as Le Pallet. Could this be from Les Vignerons du Pallet, I asked myself?
It has been a few years since I last crossed paths with Les Vignerons du Pallet and their wines. I visited back in 2013, and for a few years thereafter the wines would crop up in tastings and competitions such as the Decanter World Wines Awards. The range was concise, at its heart a cru communal cuvée named Jubilation and a more traditional sur lie style named Les Dix du Pallet, dix for the ten founder members of the group. I couldn’t recall there being any cuvée which referenced Les Templiers, although I did seem to recall that the town of Le Pallet was home to a chapel which housed several Templar tombs. But time has moved on, and Les Vignerons du Pallet have moved with it, adding several new cuvées to their range. And when the 2017 Les Templiers arrived at my table, it became clear that this was one of their number.
Indeed, my pot-luck restaurant choice turned out to be the first of several cuvées introduced here during the last few years. It started life as Château des Templiers (it was probably pruned down to Les Templiers as French authorities are increasingly frowning upon the indiscriminate use of château and clos on labels) and comes from vines on gabbro and other volcanic rocks. Another new cuvée is Château Palatio, from vines on granite, gneiss and orthogneiss. Meanwhile Les Dix du Pallet is seemingly no more, perhaps not a surprise as the number of members has first slipped to neuf, then climbed again to douze, making anything pointing to dix something of an anachronism.
And then there is this weekend’s cuvée, L’Hermine, which has been around since at least the 2014 vintage. Other than dividing their soils between the ‘white’ rocks of granite, gneiss and orthogneiss, and the ‘black’ rocks, mainly gabbro, of the region, Les Vignerons du Pallet don’t seem to worry too much about terroir. Accordingly, L’Hermine is defined by its vinification rather than anything else, the wine fermented in a conventional manner but then aged for more than a year on the lees, too long for the traditional sur lie designation but not long enough for the cru. It thus occupies a hinterland between the conventional Muscadet Sèvre et Maine we all know, and the Cru Communal Muscadet we should all get to know. Maybe that’s a good thing.
The 2014 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine L’Hermine from Les Vignerons du Pallet is named for the hermine, the heraldic symbol (representing the darker spot on the tail of the stoat, or ermine spot, if you’re interested) which has long been associated with Brittany, and it is a nod to the historical fact that the Muscadet vineyard was once part of a great viticultural expanse running from Brittany all the way down France’s Atlantic coast. It is reproduced in silver on the label above. In the glass the wine displays a pale golden hue, and the aromatic profile has some fruit-rich charm. Indeed given time, it develops scents of yellow peach skin and tangerine with a bitter grapefruit note, but also some sweeter tropical notes, with touches of mango and even pineapple. This all feels enticing, and it isn’t spoiled by the miserly use of a very short agglomerate cork which, in my experience, carry a higher risk of cork (no, it wasn’t a DIAM, in case you were wondering whether or not I had my glasses on). There is also a little touch of banana here, not so much fruit complexity, more suggestive of levurage, which holds the wine back somewhat. The palate continues on with a pithy substance on the palate, with bitter grapefruit notes and bright acidity, as well as a rich and velvety texture. An energetic and bright wine, with so many good points, but not for the first time with Les Vignerons du Pallet I find the winemaking a little more intrusive than I would like. 91/100 (13/4/20)
Read more in:
- My profile of Les Vignerons du Pallet
- My guide to Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and the cru Le Pallet
- My report on the Loire 2014 vintage
- My guide to Melon de Bourgogne