The Great Grape Alphabet
In continuation of our wine journey here are six varieties beginning with M. This alphabetical and blissful voyage through the ampelographic wonderland is supported by diverse examples from our wine portfolio.
Despite its name, Macabeu, (or however you wish to spell it) is not The Scottish Grape. Long established in Roussillon, Macabeu, or Maccabéo, is a varietal of Catalan origin (some say that it is originally from Asia Minor). It is also known as Viura and is the grape of white Rioja where it makes everything from simple sherbet-dippy whites to the more famous aged burnished oxidative styles.
It is a vigorous vine, with fragile branches, sensitive to drought (it doesn’t suit dry soils) and doesn’t like fertile and wet plains where its large, compact bunches rot easily. Ideally it prefers warm, well-drained slopes and poor-quality soils. That is undoubtedly the reason why it is quite widespread in the Agly valley. The grapes are harvested in early September for the dry wines and carefully made into an original, colourful, quite full-bodied, delicate dry white wine with quite subtle aromas and a nose of ripe fruits. When it is mature, its high alcohol content lends a full-bodied quality to some blends of red wines. In red Vins Doux Naturels, it is a secondary but important varietal. In white Vins Doux Naturels, it is the main grape. When aged, mostly associated with Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc, its qualities are accentuated and it almost miraculously produces delicate and complex aromas that are truly phenomenal.
It features in several of our wines, performing different function. In the Matassa Blanc it is the minor partner of Grenache Gris and appears in as part of the field blend in the light red called Coume de l’Olla. The Roc des Anges Llum is another Grenache Gris/Mac combo. Notes of white and yellow flowers, particular and delicate flavours, mineral and persistent finish. Foulards Rouges Soif du Mal (1/3 Macabeu) does what it says on the tin - waxy fruit, seasoned with herbs and some crushed minerals is the thirst-quenching order of the day. Oh, and it’ll fizz in your mouth like sherbet popping candy. In Majas Blanc it provides ballast to the more fragrant Rolle, meanwhile it is an important element in the sparkling wines of Recaredo where it constitutes between 35% - 65% of blends of those extraordinarily complex, lees-aged sparkling wines.
Quick definition: Catalan on hot stones
Mauzac is mainly grown in the Gaillac and Limoux regions in the southwest of France. In Gaillac its aromatic wines are often blended with Len de l’eh to create moderately sweet and sparkling white blended wines. In Limoux, Mauzac is a compulsory part of the Blanquette de Limoux, where it may be blended with Chenin and Chardonnay. However, in Limoux, plantations of Mauzac are decreasing in favour of the popular Chardonnay. The grape is also one of the seven permitted white varieties in Bordeaux, believe it or not. Mauzac buds and ripens late, and was traditionally picked quite late, when temperatures had dropped in Limoux. This allowed for slow fermentation which preserved residual sugar for a "natural" second fermentation in the spring, creating a sparkling wine. The Mauzac grape, for example, is especially versatile: it is resistant to rot and ripens late and may be found in everything from sparkling wines (methode rurale or gaillacoise was being praised by Provençale poet Auger Gaillard long before champagne was a twinkle in Dom Pérignon’s eye) through dry (en vert), to semi sweet and even vin jaune.
The Plageoles family believe in rediscovering what has been lost. Not for them the slavish adherence to global varietals; Robert Plageoles grubbed up his plantings of Sauvignon and concentrated instead on the native Mauzac, in which he found the potential for a whole range of styles. Mauzac, when dry (or sec tendre to be precise) can produce a fascinating soft style redolent of pears, white cherries and angelica. The Plageoles Mauz-stable includes: Mauzac Blanc, Mauzac en vert, Mauzac Rose, Mauzac Roux, Mauzac Noir - to name but five.
The house of Cazottes bequeaths us two versions of Mauzac Blanc: Marcotte and Champetre, both easy-drinking yet subtle examples of the variety with hints of acacia and pear-blossom leading into palates reminiscent of sage and other green herbs.
Quick definition: Multi-faceted Mauzac
Melon de Bourgogne is better known as Muscadet and is the dominant grape of the area around Nantes on the coast of Brittany, where the Loire meets the Atlantic Ocean. Muscadet has such a bracing sea tang, and such an affinity for the shellfish of the Breton coast – especially the superlative Belon oysters of the region – that it may come as a surprise that the Melon de Bourgogne is a relatively recent arrival, and its dominance in the region was the result of one terrible winter.
The Melon has a long history but not all in one place. As the name would imply, the variety originated in Burgundy but was removed from the vineyards there in the 16th century, as other varieties proved more successful in that climate. However, the ability of the vines to withstand frost made it attractive to winemakers in Anjou, where it was also eventually edged out by other varieties.
At the same time it caught the attention of Dutch distillers further downstream, who needed large quantities of wine with which to make brandy. The Dutch started planting Melon in vineyards near Nantes, the most convenient port from which to ship the wine to Holland, in the 17th century. At the time the area was planted primarily with red grapes but when the worst winter in recorded history devastated the vineyards in 1709, causing barrels to burst in the cellars and even freezing the coastal waters, the Melon was one of two varieties to survive and it has dominated the region ever since.
Although it was originally a rather neutral wine, Muscadet producers have refined their techniques in order to make wines with their own distinctive attributes. In particular, the wine can be designated as Muscadet Sur Lie, indicating that it has been left on the lees for the winter between fermentation in autumn and bottling in spring. This allows the wine to develop a fuller flavour and a slight prickliness that gives the wine additional freshness.
We have a melange of Melons. Pierre Luneau specialises in quality Melon that is a far cry from la lavasse served up in many bars. Clos des Allées is low-yielding old vines Muscadet, a mightily mineral taste bud tingle that’s serious enough for food. Laverbread, certainly it is reminiscent of all things littoral. The concentration is achieved by hand-harvesting, maceration pelliculaire and seven months sur lie before bottling. If you want to freak your friends out purchase a bottle of the “L” d’Or – it’s Muscadet, but not as we know it Jim. You’d be ready to bet it was butt… Burgundy. From 50-year-old+ vines in the terroir Vallet (comprising granitic micas) this also undergoes a maceration followed by nine months on the lees and many many years in bottle. Hmm (strokes chin quizzically) is this the only list where the Muscadet is older than the Vin Jaune? And did you know that Pierre Luneau is at the forefront of a movement to make cru communale Muscadet? Top quality Luneau-cy all round. And here it is: sur schist and sur lie (24/s months thereon) – Le Clos des Noelles, Muscadet in excelsis. The poet Andrew Marvell wrote “Stumbling on melons, as I pass…” We warrant he never stumbled across a melon like this! This single vineyard Muscadet has an amazing, almost exotic nose of acacia-blossom and lime-flower and fills the palate with layer upon layer of “bread-and-butter” fruit. The yeasty sour-dough smokiness lingers hauntingly and the length would grace a premier cru Burgundy. Possessor already of superb single and cru locations, they have now brought a spectacular new vineyard on stream. Finally, La Butte de la Roche – planted on the exposed slopes of a hill that rises steeply out of the marshes the vines are on a fascinating iron-rich serpentite and magnetite soils caused by gradual metamorphic transformations. This terroir imparts terrific complexity to the wine which is initially taut with cool oyster-shell notes before unveiling more complex aromas of salt butter, gorse blossom and river stone and a palate bound together by soothing acidity. Truly the DRC of Melon de Bourgogne, the 1er Mousquetaire of Muscadet.
Melonix is where Asterix naturally meets Musca-tache. Talking Jo Landron here. Indigenous yeasts, no sulphur and bottled without fining or filtration. The ‘hands-off’ approach also facilitates malolactic fermentation. It has a very expressive nose, very floral and minerally too, elegant but also open and accessible. The palate shows a very deep and sappy character, with a floral expression like that on the nose, alongside a white fruit character. Yes, it has le crunch in abundance. Getafix of Melonix! (you know what I’m talking about). Another richly styled Melon is Miss Terre from Marc Pesnot which also underoes malolactic fermentation; not a process generally associated with Muscadet. As a consequence, it has lower acidity than one might expect from Melon, as indicated on the label where Marc has written “Ce vin est sec, mais pas acide”. Scents of pear and citrus pith, alongside elements of white pepper and also a very faint seam of bright, perfumed almond. The palate is quite exhilarating, with a deep texture, sherbetty minerality and a rich, flavoursome substance. Finally, we have one of the rare Oregonian Melons from Scott Frank (Bow & Arrow) which is brisk and mouthwatering on the palate with fine intensity and length, a wonderful match for a plate of freshly shucked oysters.
Quick definition: A stirring tale of lees
Menu Pineau is a very old grape that has been cultivated in the Loire Valley since at least the 16th century, where it was first mentioned in print by François Rabelais. The more technical name is Arbois (no relation to the eponymous regions), Arbois/Orbois name being a corruption of the name Herbois, which is what the grape was called in the Loir-et-Cher region where it is most widely grown. In the local dialect, Herbois was spelled/pronounced Orboé or Orboué, which ultimately became Orbois and then Arbois. It was named Menu Pineau to differentiate it from Gros Pineau, which is another name for Chenin Blanc, which is widely grown in many of the same areas as Menu Pineau.
Enough ampelography. Our sole 100% ambassador for the variety is Clos du Tue-Boeuf’s Brin de Chevre which is fresh with notes of apple, citrus and gentle herbs. The wine is grippy, and texturally rich with lingering salty flavours. Touraine Tesnière Blanc is mainly Menu P combined with the more acid-driven Romorantin. This white positively skitters across the tongue. As does Racines Blanc from Etienne and Claude Courtois, aka the “Don’t Ask” blend of Loire white grapes. Fabulously pure wine built on a spine of citrus acidity with Men Pin lurking somewhere in the blend.
Quick definition: Menu on the Pineau
Mtsvane or Mtsvane Kakhuri means new, young and green. Typically planted in the Republic of Georgia in the regions of Kakheti, Signagi and Kvareli it has distinct bronze-spotted medium-size yellow-green grapes. One of the best adverts for this grape is Mandili (Marina Kurtanidze’s project). The grapes are gently crushed in wooden troughs before juice and skins (and a proportion of stems) go into beeswax-lined qvevri to ferment for 6 months on skins and stems. The salmon-pink colour is inviting, whilst the nose communicates so many things including roasted apricots, crystallised citrus, even grilled mushrooms, and the palate encompasses tea, sake and a pink grapefruit tangerine-tang. Like the best Georgian wines, it possesses earthiness and real umami flavours bolstered by energetic acidity and fine-grained tannins.
Pheasant’s Tears make Kakhuri Mtsvane, grown at altitude in Tibaani. 90% of the grapes are destemmed and the must spends thirty days with the grape skins. An infusion of golden apples, pears, white peach and apricot, checked with a certain phenolic kerchunk. (Technical wine term)
Quick definition: Fruit tea
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