What kind of image does Muscadet conjure, if anything, in your head? For me, it’s the beach: seafood, salty air and windswept hair. A wine known for being clean, crisp, refreshing, and affordable, it’s great for those wine drinkers who want to avoid a fruity assault on the senses. Unfortunately due to its popularity in the 70s, producers planted with an indiscriminate mania, producing some pretty bland and boring wines, most of which are responsible for the wines people remember. But recently there has been a move towards quality, craftsmanship and expression of the land. Currently on at Fourth & Church, we have a delicious example of this: Domaine Cognettes Clisson. And to paraphrase a rather well-known supermarket, this isn’t just a Muscadet. It’s a Clisson Muscadet.
Muscadet is produced south of the city of Nantes in the Loire valley. Geography is very important in regards to a wine’s name, along with its style and quality. Muscadet AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) is the basic appellation which covers the broadest area. Increasing in specificity, the smaller AOC of Muscadet-Sevre et Maine produces the majority of wine, named after the two rivers which flow through it and is seen as higher quality. The area has long been a source of wine but wasn’t really a wine I’d reach for.
In 2011 three areas were awarded the right to use their village name as a geographic indicator of raised quality, or Cru status: Clisson, Gorges and La Pellet. To use these appellation names, producers adhere to lower yields, pick at a higher degree of ripeness and must be harvested by hand. This elevated status is also awarded to the use of an extended ageing period the wine spends on its lees (its natural yeasts). In these Cru wines, 24 months are required, but you won’t see it labelled ‘sur lie’, like the other Muscadet wines; for this, a wine must be bottled between the 1st of April and the 30th of November, the year after harvest. I love French appellation law. The Cru status also means wines must spend longer on their lees which gives them a rounder texture with creamy nutty flavours.
Family ran, Domaine Cognettes use organic and sustainable farming methods to care for the 60-year-old Melon de Bourgogne vines. Grapes are harvested at optimal maturity, pressed in whole bunches and fermented with native yeasts. They remain ‘green-minded’ in the winery too, using natural settling methods and minimal sulphites.
“Over the years our eyes have turned to healthier growing methods for our health, your health, for the natural balance, for the biodiversity of the soil and the vine and for the taste expression of our wines. Working in organic farming is not a step backwards, but a look towards the future, in our sense closer to the winemakers that we are.”
The Clisson appellation honours its terroir: granite faults give free draining soils, gravel and pebbles. I think it’s psychological, but the wine carries these nuances. The nose is soft and toasty with peach and candied fruit, all tied with elegant mineral notes reminiscent of the beach. On the palate, the fruit is present but isn’t the star of the show. This is a big wine: it’s rich but not at all fat; it retains characteristic lightness and delicacy. It’s tangy and almost saline. Use of lees ageing has softened the high acid, furthered with a touch of oak. The structure makes it a great wine for ageing. The complexity is amazing, especially for a Muscadet. Try with some of our home cured salmon gravadlax or haddock brandade next time you’re in. I promise you’ll be satisfied.