12 Days of Vinebox: Day 5

29 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

The westernmost wine region on a map of the Loire Valley in France is Muscadet, maritime stronghold of the relatively neutral but late-ripening, frost-resistant grape variety Melon (or Melon de Bourgogne, or Melon Blanc). I might propose that this wine deserves a better fate than the shrinking total vineyard areas that characterize its current struggle to survive. Melon is a regional speciality and frankly as a grape might not be capable of achieving much more, although the wine world needs to hold on to this sort of heritage, lest everything homogenize into “hedonistic fruit bomb” oblivion. I’m therefore pleased to see such a wine in Vinebox. In theory, Muscadet should be popular for many of the same reasons Pinot Grigio is an international superstar: it’s neutral and hence unobjectionable (said to taste of “subtle green fruit”), approachable, and food-friendly, albeit with considerably more provincial character. I mean, how many wines can taste of the sea itself? Then again, this is the sort of wine that is built to pair well with local cuisine and is therefore supposed to represent but a shard of viticultural diversity, as opposed to stepping up as the next candidate for world domination. Perhaps it is mediocre to great right where it is.


Muscadet Sevre et Maine is the largest appellation within the broader region, representing around two-thirds of total production. Wines from the broader Muscadet appellation are rarely seen outside the region, made in fairly small quantities, and deemed insipid by international critics. Sevre et Maine refers to a couple of small rivers that flow through the area, which roughly comprises the eastern half of the region. At their best, Sevre et Maine wines are light-bodied, tautly acidic, tangy, and saline in character, although there is some interesting regional variation in them that would be fun to explore. Although traditionally fermented in large old oak vessels, nowadays stainless steel and concrete have become more common. More recently winemakers are seeking to designate unique terroirs within the region, and are even experimenting with Burgundian techniques such as small barrel fermentation. Perhaps the region isn’t going anywhere without a fight.


Today’s producer, Domaine de l’Epinay, was formerly Spanish-owned but is now in the hands of Cyril and Sylvain Paquereau and their children. This family cultivates about 45 hectares of vines that include 10 (!) grape varieties which yield no fewer than 19 different wines. The non-Melon wines (including a Sauvignon Gris!) carry the “Loire IGT” appellation. Still, the Sevre et Maine appears to be their predominant focus, with fully organic farming since 2011. The present vial contains the “Selection d’Espinose”, from a number of different vineyards featuring sandy-silty soils. The grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, followed by a 2 to 3 week fermentation in vats (type not specified, but I will assume not wooden, or at least fully neutral). The wine then spends 10 months on the lees (spent yeast) before bottling, during which time the relatively bland Melon wine gains aromatic, textural and flavour complexity.


As promised, I do get “subtle green fruit”: the classic Granny Smith, some uber-tart cider pears. I also get drastically underripe white peaches, yellow grapefruit rind, a squeeze of fresh lime juice. The acidity is a javelin that pierces deeply, but each dart strike is infused with this disturbingly fresh green apple and grapefruit-lemon-lime citrus that keeps me sipping. I have to slow it down, resist the urge to crush and get all the darts at once. All that lees contact does almost nothing to mollify the acid, but it does smooth out the mouthfeel and add another dimension on which to focus…saltines, nothing as rich as brioche. OK, maybe a little brioche, just a few crumbs. White petroleum jelly. White gummy bears without the cloying sweetness. A bath bomb. You get the drift. This is even more ephemeral than Day 1’s Pinot Grigio but I think the finish might be longer, a syncopated pulse of grapefruit pith, eye drops, and a middling maritime tang. Is anyone else really thirsty?

88+ points



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