Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sparkling Muscadet: Oysters, Curry & A Tuna Melt

Muscadet & Oysters. It's almost a cliche wine pairing but there is also much truth to be found. Muscadet is a white wine, produced at the western end of the Loire Valley, near the city of Nantes, in the Pays de la Loire region. With its proximity to the sea, briny oysters are readily available in this region, and they commonly pair very well with the local Muscadet. However, Muscadet is versatile, pairing well with far more than just oysters.

The name “Muscadet” refers to common characteristic of the wine, which in French is “vin qui a un gout musqué,” basically translated as “wine with a musk-like taste.” Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which was probably initially planted in the 1600s, if not earlier, and was imported from the Burgundy region. Burgundy chose to uproot many of their own Melon de Bourgogne vineyards and today only a tiny portion remains. Melon didn't begin to attain dominance in the Loire until soon after 1709. What happened was that there was an extremely terrible freeze in 1709, destroying many of the other vines, but Dutch traders found that the Melon de Bourgogne was very hardy and encouraged massive plantings.

Melon de Bourgogne is a relatively neutral grape, similar in that respect to Palomino, the famous grape used to produce Sherry. French winemakers discovered ways to transform the Melon into compelling wines. One of the most important techniques is sur lie aging, where the wine stays in contact with the lees after fermentation. Other techniques include oak barrel fermentation, bâtonnage (stirring the lees),and extended maceration.

There are four main appellations of the Muscadet region: the generic AOC Muscadet (which covers the entire region); Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine (which produces about 80% of the region's wine); the Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire; and the Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu. Muscadet is the most commonly produced wine in the Loire region. Muscadet wine is commonly light, dry, and may have a slight effervescence, which in the region is referred to as "pearls of youth." The flavors can include green apple, a certain yeastiness or even a touch of saltiness (like a manzanilla sherry).

As I wrote yesterday, though I've previously enjoyed a number of Muscadet wines, this past weekend was the first time that I've tasted a Sparkling Muscadet. While dining at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, we ordered the Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($40/bottle at the restaurant, $20/bottle at retail stores).

Julien Braud is from the small village of Monnieres in the Sèvre et Maine appellation, where he worked on the family estate, Fief aux Dames, which they have owned for over a century, producing Muscadet. In 2012, Julien decided to venture out on his own, taking three hectares of his family's estate, and now he currently possesses seven hectares. He practices organic agriculture, with the addition of some Biodynamic practices. In the winery, he uses natural yeasts and ages his Muscadet on the lees in glass-lined, underground cement vats.

The Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut is made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, is certified organic, and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. In short, this method allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide in the bottle, creating bubbly. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. Only 450 cases of this wine were made though, so it could be difficult to find, though locally it is distributed by Arborway Imports.

As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. We enjoyed the wine so much that we ordered a second bottle.

Though the Muscadet was wonderful with our oysters, it also went well with the fresh and bright Striped Bass Ceviche.

The Unshelled PEI Mussels, in a yellow curry broth with couscous, also went great with the Muscadet, its acidity helping to cut through the creamy curry. I would love to pair this Muscadet with Indian cuisine.

Even the Yellowfin Tuna Melt (one of my favorite lunch dishes at Island Creek) went well with the Muscadet. Again, the acidity of the wine dealt well with the creaminess of the sandwich.

Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, loved the wine too!

I highly recommend this Sparkling Muscadet, especially at this price point. It is a great summer wine, especially paired with seafood, though it is also versatile and it would work with much more. It may not be easy to find at your local wine shop, but in Massachusetts that shop could order it from Arborway Imports. And if you dine at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, this would be a great choice on their wine list, especially considering its relatively low markup.

No comments: