Grape(s): 100% Melon de Bourgogne
Localization: Pays Nantais, Loire Valley, France
Tasting Notes: The wine rests on its lees in underground tanks for twelve to fourteen months. Ripe, round, concentrated and intensely mineral, this wine can age beautifully, developing aromas with bottle age that are a cross between Riesling and Pinot Blanc.
Notes: From 18 acres of vines growing in the Fat Sheep, a celebrated vineyard.* 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 rocky gneiss soil here is thin, between 6-14 inches deep, in a seam of amphibolite, a greenish metamorphic rock. The vines were planted between 1930 and 1986, and average more than 50 years old. The meager soil and old vines on this small hill give naturally low yields, averaging 45 hl/ha. The wine rests on its lees in underground tanks for twelve to fourteen months. Ripe, round, concentrated 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. Note that Gras Moutons is authorized for Monnières-Saint Fiacre cru production; it's up to the grower to decide if he wants to bottle within 14 months of sur lie aging or pick a lower yield and wait a minimum of 24 months.
Food pairing: The lemon freshness, sea salt minerality, crisp spice, and zest make it perfect with fresh oysters.
The Domain: 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 guidelines 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).