Jun 9, 2020
The wine world often looks at Muscadet with disdain for its
lighter body and subtlety of flavor. But for white wine lovers who
care less about showiness and want something with the interplay of
acidity with nutty, bread flavors and soft textures, this historic
wine is a thrill. There is far more to this wine than there used to
be, as it has continued to improve since the 1980s and seems to get
better every year.
This week we discuss this westernmost area of Loire Valley,
which lies along the banks of the river and its tributaries. We
review Muscadet and the grape Melon -- its storied history – from
being a defiled grape in Burgundy (it was outlawed in 1567!), to
finding its place in the Loire (albeit with a strange name), to
moving from just a grape to be distilled to a legitimate wine that,
at the top end, can age more than a decade.
Here are a few of the show notes that you may have missed:
- Muscadet is not the name of the grape (that’s Melon de
Bourgogne) or a place (that’s the Pays Nantais) but it is a huge
part of the AOC system and there are many appellations named after
- The maritime climate in the Muscadet area makes it warmer than
other parts of the Loire – the Gulf Stream, the river, and the
humidity make for a more consistent temperature. But the perils of
this area are many – rain, frost, ice storms, hail are all possible
and can be devastating to the vines.
- As we mentioned, Muscadet is scattered across many areas – some
of it is gently rolling hills near the river, much is in fertile
flats near the estuary. The best areas are on the hills.
- This area was once a hotbed of volcanic activity. Soils vary
here – granite and gabbro (a harder form of granite) make up the
subsoils in the better regions, yielding complex wines. Gneiss,
sand, silt, and gravel provide much-needed drainage – in this are
with so much moisture the vines must stay dry!
- Lest you think this area is one-note, there are now producers
like Domaine l’Écu, Jo Landron and Pépiere that make wines from
multiple terroir to show their differences!
The grape, the wine, the appellations:
- There is only one grape permitted in Muscadet: Melon de
- In the Pays Nantais, other grapes do grow -- Folle Blanche,
Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Gamay, Pinot Noir
- The styles of the wines have changed over the years. Producers
used to pick early but of late, they prefer to pick later to
develop more flavor. This presents a tradeoff between fruit and
complexity with higher acidities. Still, the ripeness is limited –
there is a maximum alcohol for Muscadet of 12% ABV.
- Muscadet is best described as a wine that is salty, acidic with
lemon, lime, chamomile, herb and gunflint aromas and flavors. With
techniques like sur lie aging (to promote autolysis), bâtonnage
(lies stirring), fermenting in oak barrels, and extended skin
contact the wines acquire a soft, bready, creamy texture that is
unique to this wine – it’s light yet has subtle dimension when made
There are 4 main appellations:
- Muscadet: Light-to-medium-bodied floral,
fruity notes and good acidity. It can be very meh, as it’s often
not grown on the best sites.
- Muscadet Sèvre et Maine: (sub AOC) 75% of
output. This is the largest Muscadet appellation and it’s
the home of the top wines. The area is where La Petite Maine and La
Sèvre Nantaise rivers meet. It has much more dimension, flavor, and
aroma than general Muscadet –there is more elevation, better soil
types, and the wines are generally aged sur lie for more interest.
We mention special terroirs/CRU
- Muscadet Sevre et Maine Clisson
- Muscadet Sevre et Maine Gorges
- Muscadet Sevre et Maine Le Pallet
- Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire: In the
northernmost area, the quality and ripeness of the grapes varies
based on vintage. Cooler years don’t bode well for this
- Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu: In the southwest
around Grandlieu Lake, this wine is rich, full, and flowery with
lower acidity but with good balance.
Top Producers: Pierre Luneau-Papin, Domaine de
la Pépiere, Jo Landron, Stéphane, Orieux, Domaine du Fief aux Dame,
Domaine de l’Ecu
Other areas we mention:
- Coteaux d’Anciens --reds and rosés Gamay,
semi-sweet whites of Pinot Gris
- Fiefs Vendeens (+regional designation like
Brem, Chantonnay, Mareuil, Pissotte, Vix are communes allowed):
Chenin for whites, Pinot Noir or Cab Franc for reds
- Gros Plant du Pays Nantais: Folle Blanche with
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