Just when you think you have a clue, a wine appears as a reminder of how much there is to learn. In this lesson, our swami appeared as an unassuming bottle of Muscadet. If you’ve ever sat in one of my Loire classes, you would have heard me describe this wine from the Melon grape as light bodied, rather neutral in flavour and generally of modest quality. While Muscadet certainly has a fair following in the UK, new world consumers tend to bypass this vinous wallflower for more obvious offerings. For that reason, and compounding this issue, the examples we get in Canada tend to be on the lower rungs of the quality ladder. Here is a happy exception.
Ernest selected the wine from his cellar and poured blind for Sharon, Treve and me. I was struck by how much the wine expressed the earth in which its vines were grown. The grapes themselves seemed to act as a vehicle for communicating the wines terroir. (Terroir can be though of as a summation of the vines total environment – from soil to sun to aspect to slope.) This sense of place is the foundation for all exceptional wine. It is the reason European wines are generally named after places they are from and not the grapes that are in them. Fine wine reflects its roots where commercial grade or bulk wine can be produced anywhere.
So with this terroir/quality link in mind both Sharon and I pegged this wine as a Samur (a neighbouring appellation in the Loire that makes good caliber wine from Chenin Blanc). Both regions, with their cool climates, offer unoaked whites with crisper acidity and less ripe fruit flavours than you would expect to find in a warmer region. I was focused on notes of minerality (imagine driving down a gravel road or falling face down in the parking lot of the pub), chalk, earth, and citrus. The group also suggested talc (perfect!), straw, and mushroom. We agreed that this wine offered an above average length (a sure sign of quality), medium body, and medium plus intensity of flavour. This wine is drinking perfectly well now, but has the potential to develop over the next five years.
The key to quality begins in the vineyard. Producer Guy Bossard employs biodynamic viticultural practices such as harvesting, planting and pruning following an astrological calendar, spraying with herb infused teas and plowing with horse not machine. While there is some controversy surrounding these growing applications, this wine makes a firm argument in their favor.
This example is such a treat, I would hesitate to pair it with anything. But if you want to eat, think ceviche, lobster terrine and of course tiny, briny oysters. In the likely event that killer Muscadet proves to be elusive, substitute with whites from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Saumur, Savennières and dry examples of Vouvray.
Which wines have taken you by surprise?