Why 1970s favourite muscadet is back on the wine map 

Gneiss work: the western Loire Valley is at the heart of the muscadet renaissance  Credit: Alamy

Christelle Guibert grew up in the Vendée region of France, close to Nantes on the Atlantic coast. Her family still live there, so she returns often, but, even so, before she went back to write a piece on the local wine for Decanter magazine – where she is tastings director – a couple of years ago, she hadn’t had a glass of muscadet in two decades. “I arrived in London in 1994. Muscadet was out of fashion and I kind of turned my back on it. There were so many other exciting wines, especially from the New World, that you don’t really see in France.”

Now Guibert is not just drinking it, but is making it, too. Her first wine was released at the end of last year and is beautiful stuff. Textured and subtle, Terre de Gneiss, Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, is an artisan wine that is nothing like some of the impoverished muscadets found on supermarket shelves. Guibert says she became interested after trying a muscadet at the annual Loire wine fair in Angers one year. “I thought, well, this is actually delicious, began looking around and saw that a revival was happening, especially with the cru communaux [crus launched in July 2011 to help muscadet move upmarket and concentrate on quality].”

She decided that an article was in order and after doing research arrived there in February. “It was one of the most exciting trips I’ve done. I discovered a handful of producers whose wines I loved, who are very terroir-driven and who are fighting to put muscadet back on the map.” Before long Guibert was thinking about much more than just writing about this renaissance: she wanted to be part of it.

I know Guibert as one of the most stylish women on the tasting circuit. Now here she was forming a company with her accountant sister Corinne and spending her savings on a hectare of old vines. Having tasted wine made from grapes grown on different soils, she had set her sights on a vineyard planted on gneiss (pronounced nice), a metamorphic rock that produces wines in a gentle, floral style. The one she found had been planted in the Fifties and was already in full biodynamic production.

“The plot had been looked after by the winemaker Vincent Caille for 15 years. He’s the sort of man who practically hides under the table when you tell him his wines are good, but I got on well with him. He has the local knowledge and he’s ambitious, I felt there were things we could do together.” Guibert spent €7,000 (£5,300) on the land, which was actually divided between two owners, one of whom sold up straight away, in May 2014. The other took longer to persuade, only selling a year ago.

One of Guibert’s innovations was to buy one of the concrete eggs that have become fashionable as vessels for vinification around the world, though she knew of only one other producer using them for muscadet.  “Muscadet needs lees contact [maturation on the dead yeast cells, to give it flavour] and the shape of the egg means you have constant movement of the wine over the lees even without doing anything.” At €7,000, it cost as much as the vineyard – but Guibert felt she wanted to explore what muscadet could do.



The wine is a collaboration. It is made by Caille, but Guibert – who still lives in London – is hands-on when it comes to decision-making and travels to France when she can. She was over for the harvest, picking mob-handed with friends and family. It has proved an illuminating adventure that Guibert says has made her consider wines differently. “I have even more respect for those who make it. And Vincent occasionally had to point out that there were things we couldn’t do. For example, I wanted to number each bottle, but that would have tripled the cost of labelling.” Now Guibert, stylish as ever, is pulling her jacket tight against London’s icy snap, saying she’s off back there soon, “to dig up 300 old vines. I’m really looking forward to it.” 

What I enjoyed this week

Les Domaines Brocard Organic Chablis 2014 France  (12.5%, M&S, £15)

I often find a dollop of the caramel flavour of dulce de leche in chablis made by Brocard. There is only a touch of it here – a good thing, in my book. There’s no oak, either: this is all made in shiny steel tanks and retains a riffle of white grapefruit with that gentle edge of butterscotch. Very nice.

Box Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc 2014 Marlborough, New Zealand (9%, Telegraph Wine from Waitrose, £8.99) 

For those determined to minimise alcohol consumption this year without cutting down on the number of glasses – a sauvignon blanc at a mere 9% abv. The catch, if you want to call it a catch, is that, as with lower-alcohol Mosel riesling, this white wine is not perfectly dry, but has the same sort of sweetness as biting into a nectarine. It’s lovely.

Toro Loco 2014 Spain (12.5%, Aldi, £3.49)

And, for January budgets, here’s one of Aldi’s cheapest and best-value reds: a bouncy, smooth juicy tempranillo to which a bit of bobal has been added. It passes the “Can you get it down?” test – which is about the best you can hope for at this price.