The appellation of Muscat de Mireval is tiny, just 170 hectares around the villages of Mireval, Vic la Gardiole and Maguelone, with nine independent producers and a coop. And the wine is a classic Vin Doux Naturel made from Muscat, just like the other Muscat appellations of the Languedoc, such as Frontignan, Lunel, St Jean de Minervois as well as Rivesaltes in Roussillon.
The name is a bit of a misnomer; what is natural is the sugar in the grape juice, but the vinification process requires some attentive wine making, choosing the precise moment to stop the fermentation with the addition of grape spirit. It is all a question of balance. Get it right and you have a lovely luscious dessert wine, but get it wrong and your wine is horribly cloying.
If I were starting a new venture in the Languedoc, I am not sure that one based on Muscat would be my first choice, but that is just what Julie and Pierre Viudes at Domaine de la Rencontre have done, making their first wine in 2010.
Neither of them had any immediate links with wine. They met in Mexico, and that meeting is one reason for the name of their estate. It also relates to the painting by Gustave Courbet called la Rencontre, or the meeting, which is said to have been painted close to their vineyards, in 1854, with a view of the Mont St. Clair in the background. There is a Route Courbet, which covers seven paintings in seven villages and la Rencontre is set in the commune of Mireval.
So why Mireval, rather than anywhere else?
Pierre in fact comes from Sète, so in a way he has come back to his roots. In 2008 they bought 7.5 hectares, one plot in the garrigues overlooking the sea. At the time they did noteven own a bucket or a pair of secateurs. And in 2010 they bought a house, with an adjacent building for a cellar. They have not been content to make just Muscat de Mireval, but have gradually pushed the boundaries, experimenting and extended their range, so they now have several wines, all from Muscat and demonstrating the surprising versatility of that grape variety. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Rencontre, Muscat Sec, Pays de l’Herault – 9.50€
They prefer Pays de l’Herault to Pays d’Oc, which has much stricter regulations. With Oc you cannot make Vin Doux from the same vineyards as a Muscat Sec whereas the Pays de l’Herault allows you to keep some grapes back for a dry wine.Light colour with a fresh, grapey nose – Muscat is the onegrape that really smells of grapes. And on the palate, dry and pungent with some depth. A nice bite herbal and pithy.
Philosophe, l’Entre Deux – 11.00€
In other words between the dry and the vin doux in sweetness, with about 30 gms/l of residual sugar. Light colour,a hint of honey, and more so on the nose. Quite rounded and ripe, with some fresh honey. It is a blend of dry Muscat,picked a little later and blended with just 15% some late harvest Muscat that was fermented in oak, from the previous harvest.
L’Hédoniste, Muscat de Mireval, Vieilles Vignes – 15.00€
From 75 year old vines. Elegantly honeyed, rounded,concentrated, with balancing acidity. Elegant and ethereal with a nice lift on the finish.
2012 Éclat, Muscat de Mireval From 25- 30 year old vines.
The two vineyards are side by side, but give quite different results, even though they are treated exactly the same way. Not only is the vine age different, but also the rootstock. Quite lemony, with fresh honey and good acidity. Nicely rounded and elegant.
Hédoniste is fresher with lower sugar; this is richer, but certainly not cloying. And the newest addition to the range is a sparkling wine,Esprits Libres, – 15.00€, made in the traditional method, with a second fermentation in the bottle.
What next, I wonder
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