Having spent last week in the Loire, I was yet again reawakened to the utter deliciousness of Muscadet wines. Not only are they crisp, clean, mineral and lower in alcohol (11.5-12%), they offer excellent value. When compared with trendy (and many insipid) Pinot Grigios, they seem to be an obvious bargain – many priced at 25%-40% less than these more sought after competitors. Why this hasn’t been discovered or rediscovered by more of today’s wine drinkers is still beyond me.
Last year I searched high and low for a producer who made wine with character, who did not harvest by machine (a rarity), who refused to use commercial yeasts (an even truer rarity) and who understands that fine Muscadet needs time to spend on its lees developing complex aromatics and flavours. After many mouthfuls and visits, I discovered my Muscadet hero in the form of A. Michel Brégeon, a small vigneron in the village of Gorges. He works a little over 5 hectares uniquely by himself. Low yields, hand working the soil and vines and non-interventionist winemaking are his doctrines. Though his success is highly due to his own hard work and determination, the area around Gorges has a unique subsoil called Gabbro, an ultra hard granite that produces particularly character-rich and powerful wines. This combination is spectacular to say the least and as a result, his wines radiate soul and vivacity.
When I was at his cellar last week, he showed me an article that appeared in The Wine Advocate in August 2007. I must admit that it had never appeared on my radar, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that Parker’s right hand man, David Schildknecht, had shared my feelings in his article, “Muscadet: The World’s Greatest White Wine Value?” (subscribers can read the article here). He described these wines as “distinctively delicious”, “inherently synergetic” and “stimulating thirst and appetite.” I got thirsty just by reading as my mouth went into lipsmacking mode. He too had tasted with Michel and gave his wine 88 points, a score not unheard of for Domaine Leflaive’s Puligny Montrachet.
What I found particularly unusual for the region is that wines such as Michel’s are not necessarily drunk in their first year or two of life. At a top restaurant outside of Nantes, the two overflowing pages of Muscadets were mostly filled with wines from 2003 and older (they even listed one of Michel’s 1996 bottlings!). As curious as I was, I just had to ask why they drank them so ‘aged’. I was told, “Lesser wines from the region are drunk early on, but top producers, particularly those whose vines are on the dense Gabbro soil, create expressive, complex wines that are worthy of aging. And that’s just how we like them.” I must say that I couldn’t help but follow the cliché, so as in Rome, I just dove in.
2005 Muscadet Sur Lie Sevre et Maine, A.M. Bregeon (£65 per 12 DP)
“With aromas of raw almond and fresh lemon, Bregeon’s 2005 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine Sur Lie presents a bright, juicy palate impression with subtle exchanges of mineral, citrus and nuts, leading to a finish of considerable refinement and nuance. 88 points.” The Wine Advocate, Aug 2007