Muscadet

Muscadet is the key appellation of the Pays Nantais, the district of the western Loire Valley around Nantes, on the central western coast of France. The name covers exclusively white wines made from Melon de Bourgogne (or simply Melon) – the variety that was traditionally called Muscadet. The similarity between the name Muscadet and that of the Muscat grape family is sometimes the cause of confusion, but a single taste of a crisp, dry Muscadet wine will confirm that it is definitely not made from Muscat grapes.

Muscadet has a higher output than almost any other single title in France (red Bordeaux is in top place) and has long been the accepted wine of choice for matching with seafood. The Loire Valley was once the holiday location for Parisian nobility; they built the châteaux which now punctuate the pastoral landscape here. It remains a popular domestic tourist destination in modern France, bolstered by images of fruits de mer platters complemented by glasses of cool Muscadet. The wines earned a wide following in the U.K. during the 1970s and 80s, but suffered the same fate as the mass-produced German Riesling that was also popular at that time. In both cases, the explosive popularity of the wines led producers to favour quantity over quality and eventually this resulted in depreciation of the brands.

There are four Muscadet appellations: Côtes de Grandlieu, Côteaux de la Loire and Muscadet itself, the most prolific of which (and consequently the most famous) is Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine. The area covered by these titles spans about 55 miles (90km) from the mouth of the Loire estuary to the western fringes of Angers (where the Anjou district begins). The vineyards are concentrated mostly to the south and east of Nantes city and along the banks of the local rivers – the Loire and its tributaries.

Melon de Bourgogne is not a particularly flavoursome grape variety, so without care in the vineyard and attentive winemaking Muscadet wines can risk being rather bland and featureless. This is particularly true in hotter vintages, when the intense heat robs the grapes of potential complexity and their characteristic acidity. On the flipside of that coin, the Loire has one of the wettest, coldest growing seasons in France, so the growers' goal is more often full ripeness than acid retention.

To glean as much flavour and character from the grape must as possible, many Muscadet wines are left sur lie ("on the lees") for a period of several weeks or even months. This extended contact with the lees imparts a richer, creamier mouthfeel to the wines and contributes to the general flavour profile. Each of the Muscadet appellations is made in both standard and sur lie variants.

A good Muscadet has subtle apple and citrus aromas, sometimes dressed with gentle hints of pepper and even a slight salinity evocative of the Nantais' maritime location. The best examples also have a certain underlying minerality, often thought to be a reflection of the chalky soils that characterise the best Muscadet vineyards.
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