Up close and personal with the ‘Sur Lie’ gems of Muscadet
The small town of La Haie-Foussiere sits aong the Sevre branch of the Loire river that descends to the south, and just northwest of another tributary begins called “La Maine”. Here begins the epicenter of the Loire’s Muscadet region, Sevre et Maine, in the western most region of the Loire, kilometers away from the mouth of the river.
Even with the considerable amount of water organic and biodynamic farming is relatively common. Some producers have vineyards where they are unable to practice organics or biodynamics, we discovered one such producer in Domaine Bideau Giraud or Domaine Bi’Gi. We were greeted by husband and wife team Daniel and Maribe and their daughter Sa’Rah.
And what an education. Without necessarily speaking to the outstanding products offered by this domaine (not available in the USA at the moment) I would like to speak to the lessons I learned about a region to which I had clearly not given enough of my attention.
There are several AOC’s: Muscadet; Muscadet des Grands Lieu; Muscadet Coteaux de La Loire; Muscadet Servre et Maine. The last three are permitted the additional designation of ‘sur lie’ or on lees. There are rules regarding the wine’s sitting on its lees through the winter and normally being bottles in the spring following harvest. During this short aging period the wine is neither racked nor stirred. A sort of champagneois autolysis. Autolysis is the degeneration of lees in champagne in the bottle during the ‘methode champenoise’ process, an anaerobic aging of sorts, which adds to bottles fermented sparkling wine’s uniqueness.
We taste through a lineup of wines, all labelled as Sur Lie. The electricity of each wine was balanced by the wine’s expression of it soil uniqueness. We arrive at an older vintage called ‘mature,’ where this bottling did not have the designation ‘sur lie.’ And so we earned: that there is not simply a minimum aging for Sur Lie but also a maximum. The minimum is the spring following harvest or late March for bottling, the maximum is eighteen months. Aging for eighteen months or longer sur lie, loses the designation sur lie. What does this imply? Well I saw a twofold issue immediately; when you are shopping for a Muscadet and it does not say ‘sur lie,’ that doesn’t mean automatically mean that is had not been aged on its lees; it only means that the time on its lees is outside the min and max. Still, not much help. How do we differentiate? In this case, look at the price. If a simple ‘Muscadet’ is considerably more expensive than the others in the store a reasonable assumption is the aging exceeds the maximum. You will also know once you taste the wine. The additional time sur lie brings out an elegance and a nuanced evolution to the expression of the fruit while still wrapped in brilliant acidity. A true discovery.
If your bottle says ‘melon de bourgogne’ fear not, it is another name for Muscadet.
©American Sommelier 2016 by Andrew F.