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“France’s most physically messianic winemaker…” “Dagueneau glared at tasters; he poured samples with studiedly curt swiftness; all questions were met with monosyllabic replies. He would rather, one felt, have been racing huskies in Finland (as he did for three months the following winter). His wines smelled not of Sauvignon Blanc, nor of gooseberries or asparagus or of micturating felines, but of......Spring. Sipping the Buisson Renard was like standing beneath a waterfall: the flavours were clean, limpid, eerily palpable, a soft shock. The Silex was not the parody flintlock of popular myth; it was pure, sappy, soaring, rich, finishing with just a hint of stone after rain. I had not been expecting this calm and majestic retreat from the varietal. I learnt something new.” Andrew Jefford, The New France
“Due to a titanic level of work in the vineyard, his pure-bred Sauvignon Blancs act like a terroir sponge.” Michel Bettane, Le Grand Guide des Vins de France
“I had a few scores to settle with the family,’ he said. ‘So, I decided to make wine, to make better wine than them. That was my first motivation. So, I decided to make the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Not at all pretentious for someone who’s been making wine for two years.” Didier Dagueneau, in Decanter
“In my opinion, 80% of the growers are thick and lazy.” Didier Dagueneau, to Jancis Robinson
Exacting. Motivated. Perfectionist. Iconoclast. Daredevil. Hirsute. Didier Dagueneau looms over the Loire Valley appellation of Pouilly-Fumé 12 years after his death, as famous for his strutting rejection of conventionality and his neighbors’ still ruffled feathers as for his transcendent Sauvignon Blancs. In an era of chemical farming and overcropped, watery wines, Dagueneau demanded parsimonious yields and delicate, labor-intensive handwork in the vineyard, employing one worker for every 2.5 acres (the same ratio as Domaine Romanee-Conti). He forsook his family domaine in favor of establishing his own, forging a reputation for both brilliantly expressive single parcel cuvees and brutally frank opinions. Finally, he rebuffed the orthodoxy that Pouilly-Fumé and other Sauvignon Blanc based wines were meant for early consumption. His first wines from the mid-80’s are still (reportedly) drinking quite well.
After a short career as a motorbike racer (he retired after two severe crashes), he turned to winemaking, establishing his domaine with rented vineyards beginning in 1982. He would slowly add cuvees throughout his tenure, beginning with his flagship Silex (named for the siliceous terroir it is planted on) in 1985, and continuing until his 2006 acquisition of a small plot in the storied Sancerre vineyard of Monts Damnes, overlooking Chavignol. Didier’s winemaking idols included legendary producers Edmond Vatan of Sancerre and Henri Jayer of Vosne-Romanee, vignerons renowned for marrying transparent site expression to a singular house style.
Dagueneau, forever restless, experimented over the years with native yeast fermentation, extensive battonage, a low sulfur regime, and various types of oak, but the domaine’s core principles always remained the same. It began with massal selection vines pruned very aggressively, producing less than half the total yield allowed by the appellation. A practitioner of organics and biodynamics (though not certified; Didier did not mix well with bureaucracy), herbicides were eschewed in favor of plowing, whether by horse (he was one of the first growers to revive the practice, well before DRC adopted it) or tractor. At harvest, Dagueneau’s late harvesting and rigorous selection led to phenologically ripe wines without the damp heaviness of rot and botrytis. Elevage always took place in oak, though the vessels’ size and shape varied considerably over the years. Didier is famous for pioneering the use of 350l oblong “cigar” barrels with very low levels of toast, which allowed the piercing minerality and Satnav terroir of his cuvees to shine.
“A chip off the old Silex”
When Didier Dagueneau died following an ultralight plane crash in 2008, many assumed that his domaine was doomed. Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau, having studied with biodynamic Loire luminary Francois Chidaine and Olivier Jullien of shop favorite Mas Jullien, was ready to strike out on his own, much like his father before him. Instead, Louis-Benjamin took up his father’s considerable legacy, expanding upon the domaine’s fame with a string of successful vintages that have left some wondering if the son has surpassed the father. The vineyards are cared for with the same laborious intensity, and the work in the cellar has only become more precise and translucent. Methinks his father would be proud.
“Didier was more than a light, he was a natural phenomenon, a storm, a commotion and a celebration in a world that is often too dull and glum.”...“Yes, he was bigger than life. But Dagueneau was a man who didn't suffer fools and clichés lightly.” Joe Dressner
Jo Landron, Muscadet vigneron and prominent moustache owner
Muscadet might just be the summer wine. Unlike more aromatic varieties, it shows well with a serious chill. It is always refreshing, low in alcohol, and thirst-quenching. It is also (usually) very reasonably priced, so you can afford a couple bottles to get you through a sweaty summer evening.
Where is it from?
Muscadet is in the far western part of the Loire Valley, north of Bordeaux. It abuts the Atlantic Ocean, which contributes greatly to its maritime structure and salty flavor. Nantes, the nearest city, is a bustling, rainy tech hub that has been called France’s Seattle.
What is it made of?
Melon B., formerly Melon de Bourgogne. For a more thorough history of the grape, including its unceremonious banishment from Burgundy, please refer to this earlier Thief blog.
What does Muscadet taste like?
Melon, a neutral grape, often tastes of orchard fruits such as green apples or pears, with a lean structure built around citrusy acidity. Muscadet’s proximity to the sea causes a distinctly saline, minerally finish that makes your mouth water. Some producers age their Muscadets on lees for extended periods, providing extra weight and creamy autolytic flavors like baking bread (similar to Champagne).
What should I pair with it?
The classic Muscadet pairing is fresh oysters with mignonette, though they provide an excellent foil for nearly any seafood (particularly raw or light preparations). They also play really well with green vegetables, which can be a difficult pairing. Well-made examples pick up some golden weight as they age, allowing them to be paired with richer foods like chicken in a cream sauce or leeks au gratin.
When should I drink it?
Fresh Muscadet is delicious, salty, and quaffable, the kind of wine to drink on your porch tonight. Aged Muscadet can hold for 10 years or more, growing weightier and more complex as the years roll by. So, I guess the answer is, you should’ve been drinking Muscadet this whole time!
Ch. Thebaud, Famille Lieubeau
Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet Sevre et Main Sur Lie 2018
Lemon and the lightest texture are lifted by intense acidity and a lively, fresh aftertaste.
Domaine de la Fruitiere Cru Clisson 2014
Sourced from profoundly granitic soils that are some of the oldest in France, these wines have a lash of savory acidity and remarkable longevity.
La Berriere Muscadet Sur Lie 2018
The wine is fresh and has unusual depth and minerality. Thanks to its exceptional terroir, the wine is very floral and will develop fuller flavors with aging.
Joseph Drouhin Rully Blanc 2016
A wine full of charm! The color is a beautiful white gold, with a ravishing purity and brilliance.
St. Cosme Little James Basket Press Pays D'OC Blanc 2018
Chateau de Saint Cosme is the leading estate of Gigondas and produces the appellation’s benchmark wines.
Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz Braitenpuechtorff 2018
The oldest wine-growing districtus in Austria, the Weinviertel DAC, is where Ingrid Groiss calls home. Hailing from the town of Breitenwaida, in northeast Austria, near the border with the Czech Republic, Ingrid crafts wines expressive of terroir, keeping with her family’s long tradition of winemaking. She is supremely passionate about her wines, with sustainable practices in the vineyard and minimal interference of modern technologies in the cellar.
Peyrassol La Croix des Templiers Rosé 2019
The name of the estate is the first indication of its long, illustrious past. Located in the heart of Provence, near routes traveled by Crusaders in the early Middle Ages, the Commanderie de Peyrassol was founded by the Knights of Templar who were dedicated to protecting the Crusaders en route to, and in, the Holy Land.
Domaine de la Patience Rosé Nemausa 2018
This family estate located in the Costières de Nîmes takes its name from a wild, aromatic herb “La Patience” that can be found throughout the vineyard.
Figuiere Mediterranee Rosé 2019
Over a period of 25 years, the Combard Family has grown Figuière to its current size of 210 acres. Additionally, Figuière produces an entry-level tier of wines called "Méditerranée" using meticulously selected grapes sourced from négociants. The perfecting touches of maturing and blending are carried out in the domaine’s cellars.
About the producer:
Álvaro Palacios (a celebrated producer of Priorat) teamed up with his nephew, Ricardo Perez, a Bordeaux trained enologist, to fulfill his early passion for making great old vine wine from the Mencía grape. Pétalos is made from vineyards scattered across Bierzo’s western border and made for early enjoyment.
About the producer:
Bodega Marañones is located in the DO of Viños de Madrid in the sub-zone of San Martín de Valdeiglesias where the Sierra de Gredos meets the Sierra de Guadarrama. Their vineyards stretch from the steep hillsides at the base of the mountains down to gentler slopes near the valley floor – providing them with a variety of terroirs that capture a more Mediterranean expression of the Gredos. Helmed by Fernando Garcia, who together with Dani Landi, are the creative minds behind Comando G, Bodega Marañones is farmed organically and manually with the assistance of mules due to the steep slopes of their vineyards.
About the producer:
Bouchon Family Wines began in the late 19th century when young viticulturist Emile Bouchon left Bordeaux, France for Chile. Today, Julio Bouchon and his children carry on their 4th generation family winemaking tradition in the Maule Valley.
Sparkling wine labels can be confusing as heck. Traditional method, Charmat method, brut, extra dry, Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, BLAARGH...I just want bubbles in my glass!!! Here’s a handy guide to help you find the right bottle the next time you’re celebrating a promotion, an anniversary, or even a Tuesday.
Traditional Method - The method used for Champagne, Cremant, and other fine sparkling wines around the world. First, the grapes are picked and pressed, just like regular white wine. The juice is then fermented, usually in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels depending on the winemaker’s preference. The highly acidic still wines that are produced are called the vin clairs. These are blended with reserve wine from previous vintages (unless the producer wants to make a single vintage wine) before being bottled with a small amount of yeast and sugar. As the yeast ferments the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide. This trapped CO2 from the second fermentation stays in the bottles. Blammo, we’ve got bubbles.
As the yeasts die, they drop out of the wine and form sediment in the bottle known as lees. The amount of time a sparkling wine spends on the lees has a huge impact on its aroma and flavor, contributing notes of baking bread or roasted nuts which round out and soften the wine.
After the lees are removed through a process known as disgorgement, the wine is dry and still very tart, so a small amount of sugar is often added to balance the wine. This is the dosage, and it determines the finished sweetness of the wine. Brut is the most common level (~12g sugar), but drier styles have become more popular recently, with some producers choosing to forgo this step in favor of brut nature or zero dosage wines (more on that later).
Cava - Spanish (Catalonian) DO that produces traditional method sparkling wines, often based on Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Often excellent quality vs price.
Prosecco - Italian DOC or DOCG in the Veneto and Friuli (northeastern Italy), often produced from the Glera grape (itself formerly known as Prosecco, recently renamed to avoid confusion). Made in the Charmat method, where a wine is refermented in tank, rather than in each bottle as with the traditional method. The lower production cost allows Prosecco to be sold at very reasonable prices.
Sweetness - The sweetness of a sparkling wine is determined by the residual (unfermented) sugar. In the traditional method, the winemaker will often add a dosage of wine and sugar after disgorgement. In the Charmat or tank method, a dosage is often added after sterile filtration.
Here are the sweetness levels for European sparkling wines:
Brut Nature - 0-3g/l. No added dosage, the driest of the dry.
Extra Brut - 0-6 g/l. Not to be confused with Extra Dry.
Brut - 0-12 g/l. The most common sweetness level. Still drinks fairly dry because of sparkling wine’s high acidity.
Extra Dry - 12-17 g/l
Demi-Sec - 32-50 g/l
Dulce - 50+ g/l
If you’d like a sparkler with more perceptible acidity, a drink to pair with a full meal from salad to main course, head for drier climes. If you prefer a softer, fruitier sparkling wine, or you need something to pair with dessert, aim for the sweeter end of the spectrum. Most importantly, taste a range of styles and learn what you prefer. After all, bubbles are about enjoying yourself!
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