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As I mentioned in a previous post, I made a few wine resolutions for 2010. One of them was to drink more Muscadet.

Muscadet has always been the perfect pairing with oysters, so I usually will order it in a restaurant since I don’t shuck many oysters at home. However, Muscadet is not only for pairing for oysters. It is a very versatile food wine. The low alcohol doesn’t overwhelm and the wine’s acidity makes it a great pairing for many rich dishes — and certainly a great pairing for most seafood. Muscadet often is a very good value play as well.

Beyond the virtues of the grape, there are some very talented winemakers from the appellation as well. No survey of Muscadet would be complete without experiencing the wines from Domaine de la Pépière, home to Marc Ollivier. This particular bottle is a very-old-vine cuvée of Muscadet from a single-plot vineyard in schist, the Clos des Briords. These are among the oldest vines in his estate (planted in 1930) and all the vineyards are from original stock. Ollivier is the only grower in the Muscadet who does not have a single clonal selection in his vineyards.

Ollivier takes his time in the vineyard and the cellar. Ripening is slower, and the longer hang-time before harvest allows for optimal maturity.  He hand harvests (also a rarity in the region), uses natural yeasts, waits for the wine to finish and bottles with a very light filtration. Because of the soil and greater concentration achieved with old vines, the Clos des Briords is a more powerful wine that most Muscadets. It is very mineral and quite austere in its youth, rather than fruity and light. Over a few months, or even years, if one can wait for it, it develops much complexity in aromatics and structure.

Aromatics of apple, citrus and saline. Great precision on the palate with sharp acidity. Loaded with citrus and crushed rock with some orchard fruit. Briney, stoney and chalky. A tremendous value at $16-$17 a bottle. 12% alcohol. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections.

Also interesting to note, that Joe Dressner tweeted on January 30 —  Finished Tasting in Muscadet. Marc Olliver thinks 2009 is best he has made — I will certainly be on the look out for the 2009s.

Related post:
Pierre Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie Excelsior 2005
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Granite de Clisson 2007

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Last night I wanted some comfort — but I didn’t want to make the effort to try and put comfort on a plate. It was a long week and I didn’t have the energy. So I went downstairs and tried to find the best bet in a bottle. I opted for the Beaumont from Catherine and Pierre Breton. I have never had a wine from them that I didn’t enjoy and the 04 Beaumont delivered it in spades. Deep purple in color. Instant satisfaction from aromatics of dark fruit, violet, earth, black olive with smoke, herbs and some funk. Ripe, velvety and textured on the palate. A interesting mash of black and green — black cherry, blackcurrant and black olive with green olive, green vegetable, tobacco leaf and herbs.

A lot of wine and comfort at $13 a bottle. Strongly recommended. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

The 2005 Breton Beaumont was an LA Times pick of the week.

Other wines from Catherine & Pierre Breton:
Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Les Perrières 2005
Catherine & Pierre Breton Bourgueil Nuits d’Ivresse, 2004
Charles Joguet

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IMG_1242I was very excited to see this wine on the shelf and I showed great restraint by only taking a single bottle home with me. The restraint was short lived as this was opened within 24 hours of being brought into its new home. Perhaps not quite as good as the Le Petit Chambord 2006. If memory serves me (and please understand that is a big if), the 2006 had more zing and fruit….but we are talking pretty subtle nuances and the 2007 is a really lovely bottle of wine. Great aromatics, very good acidity with pronounced citrus and mineral components. A great food wine — and especially well paired with seafood given the citrus and acidity — and  a good value at $15-$17 a bottle.

This wine is made by Francois Cazin. It is from the appellation of Cheverny, one of the most recent new appellations in the Loire Valley (1991). By legislation, a Cheverny wine has to be a blend of varietals, and François Cazin’s white is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay.

Another gem in the tried and true portfolio of Louis/Dressner. Recommended — and buy more than just one bottle.

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This is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne. Pale straw in the glass. The aromatics are a bit subdued with notes of pear, honeysuckle, white flowers, lime and macadamia nut.

On the palate, stone fruit, pear, honey, melon with some citrus, a touch of almond and toast. Very good minerality.

The owners tend to downplay and are quite modest about their white wine — and indeed are better known for their red blend. I found it to be a very good bottle of wine, and an excellent food wine. I was able to get this at about 40 percent off retail, and might have expected a bit more had I paid retail — though in wine, the phrase “you get what you pay for” does not carry much weight in the wine world.

Given the chance, I would probably have picked up more of their Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge instead, but it will be interesting to see how this wine evolves over the next couple of years.

About Le Vieux Donjon
Le Vieux Donjon is owned by Marie José and Lucien Michel, they have been in charge of the estate since 1978. The domain was founded by the father of Lucien Michel, Marcel Michel.

The domain covers just over 34 acres of Chateauneuf du Pape. They follow a traditional vinification process, including an extended maceration with stems, long aging in older foudres. The individual varieties are not vinified separately the way they would be at most Chateaunuef estates. They only produce one cuvée of red and of white Chateauneuf du Pape is made.

Average production is about 3,200 cases.

“I have been buying the wines of Le Vieux Donjon for well over a decade, and I continue to be impressed by how consistently classic they are. [This] continues to be the most underrated great estate of the appellation.”
Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate

“The style of the wines is unashamedly, ‘traditionelle’ – vins de garde with plenty of backbone and muscle to them. However, these are no clumsy blockbusters, but wines with real definition and elegance underneath powerful exteriors. … . These are well-constituted wines with great depth and extract, which manage to retain finesse. This is relatively rare in an appellation where size and clumsiness abound and one frequently looks in vain for subtlety…Sales of Le Vieux Donjon are not a problem for Marie-José and Lucien Michel. One can taste why.”
Remington Norman, Rhone Renaissance

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This wine is from the region of Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine. Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Main is collection of vineyards, scattered between 23 communes around the confluence of the Sèvre and Maine rivers as they flow towards the Loire. This region produces 81% of the Muscadet and many contend this region produces the best Muscadet.

Muscadet once held a reputation of being (at best) an early-drinking, neutral foil for seafood and (at worst) a bland, tasteless, light and watery drink. Muscadet may not be considered one of the elite white wines of France, but they are gaining greater recognition as U.S. consumers search for value in the wake of a falling dollar — and the quality of the wines has also improved.

The fruit is cultivated with great care, using biodynamic methods. The wines are true to place and considered to be terroir-driven. The terroir is largely sandy, although there are areas that feature clay, granite, schist and gneiss (a common metamorphic rock often associated with granite).

The Chereau Carre Muscadet Chateau De Chasseloir is pale straw in color. Very bright and fresh aromatics with lots of stone fruits, sour apple and citrus on the nose. Apple, pear, a little citrus and some sea foam on the palate. Loaded with crisp, lively acidity and nice minerality — and a clean finish. A solid Muscadet — and an example of a quality white wine at $8 a bottle — and a perfect summer wine that screams for raw oysters or clams.

While this won’t change your life — it is a very good wine and a tremendous value. Food friendly at 12% alcohol. Imported by Monsiue Touton Selection Ltd.

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This wine is made by Francois Cazin. It is from the appellation of Cheverny, one of the most recent new appellations in the Loire Valley (1991). By legislation, a Cheverny wine has to be a blend of varietals, and François Cazin’s white is 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Chardonnay.

I like the fruit and acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc combined with the minerality and body of the Chardonnay.

Light golden straw in color. Notes of pear, mineral, citrus and a hint of wet grass on the nose. On the palate, lemon with pear, apple and wet stone. A bit of sweetness, almost like you might expect from a Chenin Blanc. Outstanding minerality components with bright, crisp, mouth tingling acidity.

At about $15 a bottle, this one of the best white QPR (quality – price – ratio) plays of the year so far — really a tremendous value and a great wine. Strongly Recommended.

Cazin also makes a cuvée of Cour-Cheverny made from Romorantin. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are the primary white varietals of the Loire Valley, but Romorantin has been grown in the Loire Valley since the reign of King Francis I in the sixteenth century.

Another outstanding selection from Louis/Dressner.

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This wine includes some fruit from Didier Dagueneau’s famed Pur Sang, Buisson Renard and Silex cuvees. It is barrel-fermented and aged half in stainless steel and half in large, neutral barrels.

On the nose, lemon, citrus, white flowers, fresh hay and some mineral notes. On the palate, sharp acidity with rich and creamy lemon and butter components with nice minerality. A clean, persistent finish. There are some similarities to the Pur Sang, as others have noted it is softer — and does not hit the same mark in terms of minerality, complexity, structure or focus. That all being said, this is an outstanding expression of the varietal and the place. It would also probably be one of the nicest bottles of white wine you would hope to find on the shelf at most boutique wine shops.

I am repeating the contents of the post about Didier Dagueneau as his story is worth repeating (and reading). His wines are not the easiest to find — and while I would never turn down an opportunity to enjoy his wines, I would opt for the Pur Sang over the Blanc Fumé de Pouilly.

View Pur Sang review.

About Didier Dagueneau
Didier Dagueneau has been called a nonconformist, independent, eccentric, and maverick. He is also dedicated to producing some of the greatest white wines of the Loire — and all of France for that matter. He is considered by many to be a master of the sauvignon blanc grape.

He is on a crusade to redeem the reputation of authentic Pouilly-Fumé. Domaine Didier Dagueneau is located in Saint Andelain, a village in the Pouilly Fumé Appellation. He owns about 28 acres of land consisting of mainly clay and flint based soils (or ‘Silex’ in French). Dagueneau is a perfectionist and he attends to every detail — from vineyard management (biodynamic since 1993) to the cellar, which is said to look like a cathedral. He goes way beyond the regulations of the appellation — pruning severely, de-budding, de-leafing, thinning clusters, and keeping low yields — and each harvest is done manually over several tries (he has the labor receipts to prove it).

Others have written more eloquently about Dagueneau. The following passage was translated from Vallee de la Loire – Grandeur Nature by James Turnball.

A young rebel with convictions. Dagueneau owes his success to the strength of his convictions. A local winemaker’s son, he set out on his own in 1982. He began using oak barrels for his vinifications a couple years later and wines of great quality were not far behind. Certain traditionalists, however, said that his wines were not “real” Pouilly Fume.

Dagueneau’s non-conformity has helped him more than hurt him: his long tousled hair, his bushy beard, his intense gaze, not to mention his passion for sled dogs have all earned him the nickname “the madman of Saint-Andelain” and made him very popular with the press.

What does Dagueneau have that the other don’t? He is extremely meticulous and possesses a special intuition where winemaking is concerned. His goals are always authenticity and perfection. To obtain grapes of the highest quality, his vineyard workers spend at least three months carefully de-budding even after a severe pruning earlier in the year. And when the grapes are perfectly ripe, the harvest is done by hand, so that only grapes of impeccable condition are picked, the others are either thrown out or left on the vine to be picked later.

His new winemaking facilities, specifically adapted to Dagueneau’s techniques, use gravity for moving liquids and allow him to apply his ideas without the slightest compromise. After fermentation, the wines are aged in a beautiful cellar containing big barrels and “cigares” (small, long oval barrels which he designed and are made especially for him). The cellar is kept quite cool to limit interaction between the wine and the oak, thus avoiding an overly oaky aroma in the wine.

Dagueneau makes four different dry white wines, all Pouilly Fumés. His basic wine is the En Chailloux, a blend from several vineyards. Next step up is the Buisson Menard, more flinty in style, but still round, and more ageworthy. The remaining two wines are both superstars from single vineyards, and are barrel fermented. Both come from slate soils with one being called Silex, and the other known as Pur Sang.

Didier Dagueneau was tragically killed on September 17, 2008 when the ultralight plane he was piloting experienced problems during take off and crashed. He was only 52 years young. He had accomplished so much and his wines established a benchmark for sauvignon blanc, yet it seemed as though he was just getting started. He will be missed.

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