Tonight’s wine is something unlikely to ever appear as a sample in a blind tasting for the WSET Diploma Unit 3 Exam, but I saw it in a local shop and had to pick it up. The wine is a Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Cuvée Classique from Guy Bossard, 2009. While it is a wine from a region that is covered internationally in wine education, and can in fact be found now and again in bottle shops and on wine lists, it’s a wine worth some description.
So Muscadet is a region, in the west end of the Loire Valley in France where the Loire River runs into the Atlantic Ocean. Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine is itself a sort of subregion of greater Muscadet, and in particular it is the area where the rivers Sèvre and Maine meet before in turn joining the Loire. It’s only “sort of” a subregion in that most of the wine from all of greater Muscadet is produced there, and it’s arguably the most interesting and best wine at that. There are rolling hills of a diverse range of soils, from schist and gneiss to granite and sand. The climate is maritime, temperate and damp, all due to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean to the west.
The main (solitary but AOC rules) grape grown is Melon de Bourgogne, which is also known as Muscadet. Frankly, I think someone decided that wine studies would be too easy if everything made sense, and so we have a grape named after its region of origin (Burgundy) and while it’s not widely grown there, it’s also given the name of its new home. And of course it has to be a new name that’s pretty close to other, existing grape names, such as Muscadelle, the third white grape of Bordeaux, as well as Muscat which comes in a variety of colours and which picks up new named wherever it goes. Some grapes are relatively sensible – Pinot comes in Blanc, Gris and Noir, as does Grenache. Musca-whatever is just a bit annoying, particularly as I think they’re not related to one another in the slightest.
But getting back to Melon de Bourgogne, or Muscadet, it’s a white grape, and often smells/tastes of green apples, grass, and lemons. It’s not one of the noble grapes, but that is a blog topic all its own. For now I’ll leave it that it’s best produced and appreciated in its place of most recent origin, Muscadet.
As far as winemaking goes, I only tend to comment on it when a region does something special, and for Muscadet that would be sur lie ageing. When you ferment grape juice into wine, yeast essentially consume sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. So what starts out as water and sugar turns into water and alcohol with gas released (oh and heat generated). Fermentation can stop for lots of reasons, but two main reasons are that the yeast runs out of food (all sugar is gone, and therefore the wine is dry) or there is too much alcohol for the yeast to survive. (I often describe alcohol as “yeast poo” when explaining fermentation and alcohol levels.) Either way, typically when your ferment is done, you have dead yeast. In the business, dead yeast cells are known as lees.
Usually, once the yeast is dead, you go through a procedure known as racking, which essentially removed wine from other things, in this case lees. More generally, wine as it is being made is a messy substance, but if you let it sit for a while, some of the more messy elements tend to fall to the bottom of the container. When you rack wine, you essentially drain as much of the more clear bit out of the container, leaving the gunk at the bottom.
However, the lees can add a character to the wine that is desirable under the right circumstances. Champagne (and many other sparking wines) will undergo a second fermentation in the bottle, and will be aged with the lees from that fermentation (for a minimum of 18 months in the case of Champagne). Ageing wine in the presence of lees can add body and creaminess, and people who would like to impress you will refer to it as autolytic character. It can allow for greater ageing potential once bottled.
So just to pull together the last few paragraphs, with Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine it is often left to age on lees after fermentation. What I didn’t explicitly mention is that that the term “sur lie” actually means. This is unusual in that most wine is racked off lees sometime relatively soon after fermentation, but if you leave your wine in contact with lees it can give it some autolytic characters which can be desirable depending on the type of wine you’re making.
Having written all that, there may be something funny going on with this wine. It does not use the term “sur lie” on the label. A site which sells the wine mentions in its description that it is made in the “sur lie” style but that it cannot say so on the label. AOC rules are apparently very specific for the use of the term, and so he could be leaving the wine on lees for longer or shorter than the approved time. I want to say I can taste the lees influence, but I’m not an expert and I have only had other Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie a few times.
In any case, this is a good wine, and an interesting style not so often seen. The apple flavours were what struck me, as well as the acidity. It was paired this evening with some grilled swordfish, but I think it would have done better with some chilled shellfish like the last time I had a bottles in Nantes.
Clear and bright, medium-minus gold, thin film instead of legs.
Clean, developing, medium-plus intensity of apples (green and yellow), as well as some sweet spice and a hint of nuttiness. Slight autolytic character.
Dry, high acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium-plus flavour intensity, with notes of apple, sour citrus, some nail varnish, and stony minerality. Sour finish, with medium length.
This is a good quality wine – crisp with minerality and strong tart flavours, but also with creaminess and body. The balance is slightly on the sour end of the spectrum, and the intensity of flavour is supported with high acidity, but that leaves the body and alcohol behind. A longer length and milder sour notes might have pushed this up to a very good. I think at two years old, this wine has potential for ageing, perhaps to improve over the next three years.