Where I live there are eight different producers of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine on the market. I've tried six of them -- seven by tomorrow -- and, by virtue of this turning into an unofficial Muscadet week around here, I'm on track to tasting all eight by the weekend. Yet I'm already prepared to say that there is only one Muscadet to avoid in the province. And it's a tricky shapeshifting Muscadet. It can look like this (left) or like this (right):
Being a shapeshifter is what makes this wine not so hot.
I posted about three good Muscadet Sur Lie bottles on Monday. All of them -- Donatien Bahuaud's 2003 Le Master, Sauvion's 2005 Château du Cléray and Chéreau Carré's 2006 Réserve Numerotée -- are great values and representative of the AOC Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine mark. Add to Monday's proceedings the bottle above, a masked Muscadet: the dreaded Remy Pannier Muscadet, issued, I now discover, by the Remy Pannier Ackerman conglomerate. They suggested it was aged on lees on some 2006 bottles (at right, with Sur Lie etched in the glass), but not Sur Lie on others (left, a cuvée they decide to anoint as Vallée des Jardins 2006).
The bottles and their labels look nothing alike. You can click on the images to enlarge them and see. It took a bar code scanner and some assistance from an SAQ employee to figure out that these seemingly different bottles held exactly the same wine. Whether that wine is sur lie or not is anybody's guess.
Whether a wine is "sur lie" and aged on its lees is not required wine label information. But it does determine where the vintner must bottle his wine: that place is exactly where the wine was made. Yet Remy Pannier's Sur Lie is bottled nowhere near Sévre et Maine in Loire Atlantique, the place that the Muscadet appellation specifies that all grapes must come from. The bottle factory is some two hours down a highway into the centre of France, almost as far away from the sea as you can get and still be in France. Here's a potential route the grapes unnecessarily take inland (1 hr, 49 min):
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So once the Melon de Bourgogne grapes from Loire Altantique arrive in St-Florent -- the land of Chenin and Sauvignon -- Remy Pannier's winemaking process begins several French départements east of Muscadet's homeland, which is centred around the city of Nantes.
Perhaps I'm being a bit romantic in my disapproval of Remy Pannier. It's true I make no exception for industrial wine and avoid it the best I can. Overly processed foodstuffs not only increase carbon footprints, but they generally are not wise buys either. As it happened, my Remy Pannier -- Remy Pannier Vallée des Jardins Val de Loire Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2006 -- features tasting notes that were neutrally written up because I took them down before I knew this wine was bottled so far from where its grape were grown:
No varietal character, like the strangely generic Burgundy bottle might suggest. It lacks a saline component and has little minerality, mostly thin sour edges reminiscent of slightly oxidized Sauvignon. I can hardly believe this is the Melon grape.
Today I returned this wine, not only because its contents were substandard but also because the label information, though confusing and contradictory to its alter ego Sur Lie bottle, reveals itself as an inferior industrially manufactured wine product.
Furthermore, consumers should know that this is the only Muscadet sold at the SAQ that is not produced in the Nantais region. You don't buy Chianti from Capri, why would you buy Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine from Saumur Champigny?
Here is the concept of quality behind Muscadet Sur Lie winemaking -- a concept that clearly holds sense of place at its centre, which is what Remy Pannier Ackerman is missing:
Bottling wine Sur Lie is an ancient bottling technique used in the Nantais. After fermentation, the Muscadet wine remains on its lees (expired yeast cells) for at least the winter and is bottled straight from the vat where it was fermented... This process gives the wine more freshness and there is often a slight prickle of carbon dioxide which helps protect the wine from oxidation. Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie has more flavour as contact with the lees adds to the richness of the wine and enables it to be aged longer. By law, Sur Lie wine may only be bottled in the cellar where it was made, protecting and ensuring the quality of the wine.
St-Hilaire St-Florent, France. 11.5%.