Saturday, 25 March 2017

Picpoul de Pinet versus Muscadet



What do Picpoul de Pinet and Muscadet have in common?  They both go brilliantly with an oyster or a plate of moules marinières.   They are both made from a fairly neutral understated grape variety and they are both enjoying a revival in their fortunes.  Improvements in wine-making have had a huge impact in both appellations, but neither benefit from ageing in a barrel, as that would completely mask the essential characteristics of the wine.  

Both Picpoul and Muscadet, or Melon de Bourgogne,  can be made very simply.  Press the grapes, clean the juice and ferment it and you will get a very drinkable fresh white wine, but possibly slightly lacking in character.   But efforts are being made to develop more depth of flavour.   For Picpoul de Pinet  leading producers like Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue, La Croix Gratiot, Félines-Jourdan and the two cooperatives of Pinet and Pomerols are looking a later harvesting dates for riper grapes, skin contact and ageing on the lees, with bâttonage, all of which adds weight and complexity to the wines.  

So by way of a contrast I was sent some wine by Vincent Lieubeau of Domaine Lieubeau whose family make Muscadet and have done for six generations.  Their vineyards are in the heart of the area of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and include two new village appellations,  Clisson and Château Thébaud.   With two vintages of each to taste, these wines proved a revelation. 

For Clisson I tried both the 2014 and 2012 vintage.  Both had some ripeness and richness, with some complexity and depth of flavour.   In contrast Château Thébaud with the 2012 and 2009 vintages was much firmer with much more tension.   You may say, but Muscadet does not age.  I can assure you that it does.  This 2009 was a complete surprise and if I were to consider a comparison, it brought to mind the salinity and flintiness of Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini.  When I suggested that to Vincent, he had just tried Assyrtiko for the first time at the German wine fair, Prowein, and he did not disagree.  

The extraordinary thing about these Muscadets was that they were both made in exactly the same  way, whole bunch pressing, a slow fermentation with natural yeast, no sulphur addition before fermentation,  no chaptalisation and in the case of Clisson 24 months ageing on the lees, in vat, and for Château Thébaud 36 months on the lees.   

So the difference in the two crus really comes from the soil, from the terroir.  Clisson is produced from sandy loam soil on a bed rock of granite. The soils are much richer and deeper, with no water stress and the grapes ripen early,  whereas Château-Thébaud, also grown on sandy loam but wth a bed rock of gneiss, has really poor soil and much more water stress.   The wines  simply demonstrated why terroir is so important.  And  Vincent gives the ageing potential of both crus as 20 years;  I could not possible disagree.  The 2009, which is one of the best of recent vintages, still tasted firm and youthful.

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