Most people who have had any extended exposure to French wine eventually run across Muscadet. The overwhelming image is of a crisp, dry,relatively serviceable wine to wash down some oysters or a chilled seafood plate popular in French bistros. That’s pretty much what we knew about it until one day our world was seriously rocked by a wine from a fellow named Pèpiére. It had more body and density than any Muscadet we had ever run across, and delivered an unforgettable palate experience. ‘Great’ Muscadet? Who knew?
The ‘old knowledge’ also reinforced the idea that Muscadet was at its absolute best when it was at its freshest. For the typical mass produced Muscadets that populate the majority of the marketplace, that is probably true. But we came in contact with some remarkable examples that were given extended lees contact that enriched the wine and gave them the structure to last a decade or more. These ‘super-Muscadets’ took the genre to unexpected heights and today’s offering is one of those that will give you a whole new perspective on the subject.
Founded in 2005 by the talented winemaking duo of Jérémie Huchet and Jérémie Mourat, Les Betes Curieuses (literally translated ‘The Curious Beasts’) is a collaboration to explore the distinct terroirs of Muscadet and showcase a more serious and age-worthy side of the region. Jérémie Mourat, from the Vendee (south of Nantes) initially met Jérémie Huchet, whose winery is located in Muscadet at Chateau Thebaud, through a shared interest in organic viticulture. Huchet was heavily influenced in his approach to farming and winemaking by Marc Olivier (of Domane Pepiere). Besides their technical skills, the partners draw on generations of experience in knowing the best sites of the region. They make four different single cru bottlings.
This is not your grandfather’s Muscadet. While Muscadet has long been recognized as one of the world’s great value wines, there is much more to the region. The cru communaux (communal crus) were initially set up in 2011 and now total 11 in number (as of 2017). These are distinct crus (think cru Beaujolais as a comparison) that were associated with unique soil types where exceptional examples of Muscadet’s grape, Melon de Bourgogne, were consistently harvested. Lower yields and longer aging sur lie (a minimum of 18 months on the lees and 2 years total elevage is required) help to ensure only the very best wines carry the cru names on them. Only 1% of all Muscadet is cru communaux!
The ‘Curious Beasts’ vinify the crus separately using the same farming and winemaking techniques for each. They focus on old, head-trained vines (most are more than 50 years old), organic farming, and minimal intervention winemaking. After fermentation the wines are aged for long periods of time in underground cement tanks on the lees. By keeping everything the same between plots, they clearly demonstrate the differences in terroir. Chateau-Thebaud is comprised of 50-year-old vines planted at a dense 7000 vines/ha on clay gravel atop granite. The grapes are hand harvested, slowly pressed and cold settled. The native yeast fermentation occurs in underground tanks with no lees stirring and the wine is aged on those lees solids for 5 years before bottling.
The result is this riveting white. The Jérémie’s Chateau Thebaud Muscadet Sevre et Maine 2010, at age eight, is remarkably vigorous, and shows no sign of tapering off. The bright flavor band hurls intense stony minerality, skin-on pear, lime, honey, orange and almond, with a changing profile every sip. High pitched yet creamy through the middle, this engages all of the palate and finishes with a snappy salinity. It gets your attention, shows invigorating complexity, and has plenty of tension and grip to keep everything nicely humming along.
Great producer, outstanding ‘cru’, exceptional vintage, this is Muscadet at its very best. This is Muscadet that can play with the ‘big boys’ from anywhere and change people’s expectations of what the region can do, even though only a handful of vignerons work at this level. If you are a fan of Chablis, northern Italian or Austrian whites, or crisp whites in particular, this will be right in your wheel house. The best part is that you can get this ‘game changer’ for under $20.