Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Loire, France
Among the small cadre of committed growers—and it remains a small cadre—the father and son team of Claude and Sébastien Branger rank among the top. Claude was an early member of Terra Vitis, an organization that sets guide-lines for sustainable farming and monitors its members’ practices to ensure compliance. Subsequently, Sébastien embarked the domaine on the road to full-fledged organic farming. Certification came in 2016. They farm 65 acres in two parishes in the heart of the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation. .
Two new crus communaux are the most exciting thing to come down the Muscadet pike in recent time, and are meant to be the apex of the pyramid in Muscadet (the base being made up of generic Muscadet, and the middle being made up of the three sub-appellations of Sèvre et Maine, Côteaux de la Loire, and Côtes de Grandlieu). The INAO recognized the following crus: Le Pallet (grabbo terroir), Clisson (granite), and Gorges (clay and quartz). recognized in 2011, followed by Goulaine (schist); Mouzillon-Tillières (grabbo); Château Thébaud (granite); and Monnières-Saint Fiacre (gneiss), all recognized in 2014. These all require lower maximum yields—45 hectoliters per hectare for a cru compared to 55 hl/ha for the sub-appellations—and a minimum aging period on the lees (usually 24 months, but this varies).
The Brangers have vines in the delimited zones of Château Thébaud and Monnières-Saint Fiacre.
This domaine prunes its vines for low yields, harvests by hand (a rarity in this land of machine harvesting), and lets its wine rest on the lees until bottling, which is done without fining and with a light filtration—the classic sur lie technique. It’s this technique that gives good Muscadet wine its freshness and lift. Contrary to popular opinion, Melon is not, if allowed to ripen properly, naturally high in acid; it’s the lees contact and the resulting CO2 gas that give the wine its crisp spice and zest (acid Muscadet is usually the product of under ripe, high-yielding machine-harvested grapes).
Visit The Wine Doctor for a an excellent summary of a visit to the estate.
Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Terroir les Gras Moutons 2015
This is a single-vineyard wine, made now from 18 acres of vines (before 2009, their parcel totaled 10 acres) growing in a celebrated vineyard named the Fat Sheep*, one that occupies the high and gently sloping ground. This is in the adjacent commune of Saint Fiacre, which is the smallest of the 23 communes in the Sèvre et Maine AC and one with some of the best grape growing land. The bedrock is gneiss with amphibolite, a greenish metamorphic rock and the thin topsoil is pebbly, sandy clay. The vines were planted between 1930 and 1986, and average more than 50 years old. The meager soil and the old vines give naturally low yields, averaging 45 hl/ha. The wine rests on its lees in underground tanks for twelve to fourteen months, and it is quite concentrated by Muscadet standards. Ripe, round, and intensely mineral, this wine can age beautifully, developing aromas with bottle age that are a cross between Riesling and Pinot Blanc. A productive year sees 3,625 cases made.
Fat Sheep is the current literal translation, but it’s pretty far off base. Gras moutons comes from the old local dialect for gros moton or gros motton. Gros refers to something important, as in big or promi-nent. Moton is derived from mons in Latin, referring to mont (mount in English), the base for montagne or mountain. Motton comes from motte, referring to a natural levy or rise in the ground. Whether you go with moton or motton, it’s clear that Gras Moutons refers to a high point of ground in the area.
"Last tasted in late July 2016 on the eve of what was to be the first of multiple bottlings, this is a bit closed on the nose but displays infectious juiciness of apple, lime and honeydew melon mingled with iodine, crushed stone and mineral salts, leading to a vibrant, consummately refreshing, palate-staining finish. (91-92) Points" - David Schildknecht - Vinous - May, 2017.
Also available in Mags!
Muscadet Monnieres-Saint Fiacre 2014
This cru is based on gneiss soil and made up of a selection of well-sited vineyards. The Brangers have four parcels awarded the right to make this cru, including Gras Moutons (thus a portion of those grapes go into this wine). The first release came from the 2009 vintage and less than 400 cases were produced. They made the wine with indigenous yeast and left it on its lees in a horizontal underground tank for 33 months (the INAO rules require 24). Check the links at the bottom of the web page to see maps of the crus and of the Branger parcels.
Still in tank and at least a year away from bottling when I last tasted it in late July 2016, this displays a harder stony and alkaline mineral character than the corresponding 2010 tasted alongside. Bright, piquantly pip-tinged apple, lime and white currant fruit create an invigorating and bracing palate presence, leading to a rapier, refreshing finish. (91-92) Points" - David Schildknecht - Vinous - May, 2017