Since March 1st, we can bottle the first bottles of "sur lie" but Muscadet is no longer part of the celebration. But that doesn’t mean that you can no longer enjoy the wines "sur lie" in the Pays Nantais. Explanations and insights on the 2020 vintage with Romain Mayet, technician working for Fédération des Vins de Nantes.
New regulations in Muscadet
The Pays Nantais is a very large and beautiful wine-growing region which has known for the last 25 years big changes and a drastic fall of its production areas (50%). But, as in any crisis, we also saw the emergence of a new generation of winegrowers who have taken their destiny in hand in order to make amateurs rediscover this vineyard and its superb wines made from Melon de Bourgogne.
It’s in this context that the Muscadet regulations have been rewritten and the most spectacular change is the termination of the use of "sur lie" for the appellation Muscadet (we often say Muscadet AC). The other important change is the possibility to blend Chardonnay with Melon de Bourgogne within the limit of 10%.
Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Coteaux de la Loire et Côtes-de-Grandlieu can still be "sur lie"
Preliminary question: Why do we produce sur Lie? "It’s a term used since the end of the 70s which was then the transcription of customs and traditions of the region. The tradition was that the wines are kept on total lees in underground glass-covered vats. These vats bring a good balance because they let oxygen com in more than stainless steel but more than wood. The thermal inertia is also stonger and the use of SO2 is very reasonable. "
Technically, the autolysis (self-destruction) of the yeasts feeds the wine, brings complexity, richness retains carbon dioxide, which is very interesting for aging and which brings a slight sparkle (it’s a little fizzy in the mouth). The wines were therefore bottled as spring approached. "The elderly used to say that wine had to go through Easter."
But you might argue that almost all wines are aged on lees...
This is completely true but, with one or two exceptions, only the Nantes region has codified this term "sur lie". So, if you want a wine have the benefit of the mention, it is necessary that it remains on its fermentation lees until March 1st minimum, date you can start to bottle until December 31st of the year (November 1 previously).
Why these dates? "The principle is to keep the fruityness, floral notes, fringance, to sum, to keep the youthness of sur Lie wines". We have to note that a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie is necessarily bottled in the same winery in order to keep all its qualities.
Crus, what Crus ?
Today there are 7 crus in the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine appellation. These complementary geographical names (this is the legal term) are, in alphabetical order: Château-Thébaud, Clisson, Gorges, Goulaine, Monnières-Saint-Fiacre, Mouzillon-Tillières and Le Pallet.
Three others are under investigation, Vallette and La Haye-Fouassière in Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine and Champtoceaux in Muscadet Coteaux-de-la-Loire.
We will come back to these vwines and their specific characteristics in a future post but, schematically, we can say that professionals have identified particular areas, decided on specific cultivation practices and chosen long aging, even very long before the release of these wines. These Crus therefore do not mention “sur lie” because their aging results in a lower level of CO2, richer wines with really different styles from “sur lie”.
First tastings of Muscadet 2020
"Even if, due to Covid crisis, I tasted a little less wines than usual, we have a very good vintage, a little more contrasted in terms of maturity (while 2018 and 2019 were very homogeneous)."
"The precocity was exceptional but the water stress changed the situation a little as well as the rain in mid-August which was a little scary but, in the end, restarted the ripening. The earlier plots may have a little more difficulties with a lack of rain."
"There was a little less yield than expected because of the grapes dry out. Despite the water stress, the vines did not show any sign of stress but the grapes were sometimes more affected than expected. In September, the concentration also took out a little volume. We finished with 5 to 10% less than forecasts but it is a good harvest ".
The phenolic maturities of 2020 were exceptional (everything was ripe). The grapes were fruity with no vegetal notes. The alcoholic potentials were good but not too high. We find back a more classic style of Muscadet. "The 2019s are out of the ordinary sometimes not very far from the Grenache Gris du Sud".
"The 2018 and 2019 showed notes of candied and overripe fruits with slightly more marked warm alcohols which sometimes could surprise.
In 2020, the wines show notes of fresh fruit, a little crunchy, with aromatic vegetal hints. The mouths are rich without being exuberant, and the final balanced.
And for the Crus: "On somewhat late Crus as Gorges and Clisson, we will have very good aging profiles which, today, could evoke the 2010s".