Friday, October 8, 2010

Muscadet: The Mystery of Melon de Bourgogne

I recently explored the Mystery of Palomino, delving into how such a neutral grape can produce such stunning and complex sherries. During a tasting of Loire Valley wines, I realized there was another neutral grape which posed a similar mystery, the Melon de Bourgogne, which produces the wines called Muscadet.

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. 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. It seems that many producers choose to use a black label for their higher-end bottlings.

Muscadet can only be made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The grape 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 vineyards and today only a tiny portion remain. Melon did not 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. Yet 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.

Muscadet is commonly light, dry, and may have a slight effervescence to them, 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). The classic pairing for Muscadet is oysters, though other seafoods work well too. The other day, I received the newsletter from Craigie on Main and there was a section titled "A Match Made in Heaven: Muscadet and Oysters."

Some of my favorite Muscadets of the tasting included:

2008 Chateau de la Rogotiere Vielles Vignes Black Label 'Stelvin' Muscadet ($14.99)(Probably my favorite of the tasting)
2008 Claude Branger Le Fils des Gras Mouton Muscadet ($13)
2009 Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet ($12.49)
2009 Chateau de l'Oiseliniere Muscadet Sevree Maine Muscadet ($13)
2009 Remy Panier Muscadet ($14)
2008 Guy Saget Les Clissages D'or Muscadet ($15.99)
2009 Domaine des Hautes Noelles Cotes de Granlieu Muscadet ($12.99)

As you can see, Muscadet is often a reasonably priced wine, offering a good value for the dollar. Like Palomino, it has risen above its humble origins to become a worthy wine. Yet it seems to still be a more niche wine, certainly not a top choice for the average wine drinker. When was the last time you had a Muscadet? If it has not been recently, then you should give it a try. You will find it a pleasant wine, with nice aromatics, good fruit and some interesting elements. Grab a dozen oysters and drink some Muscadet.

I should also note a few other wines from the Loire Valley tasting that especially stood out to me.

NV Langlois Chateau Brut Cremant de Loire Sparkling ($24.99)--Very easy drinking, with notes of green apple and mild citrus.
NV Langlois Chateau Brut Cremant de Loire Sparkling Rose ($26.99)--From 100% Cabernet Franc, this has delicious red fruit flavors, especially strawberry, without any vegetal tastes. Clean and delicious.
2009 Remy Panier Anjou Rose ($13)--Old World style Rose, which was dry with a lush strawberry flavor and some minerality.
2009 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Chanteaux ($16.25)--A rare white Chinon, made from 100% Chenin Blanc. Full bodied, flavorful and complex. An excellent value at this price for a wine of this high quality.

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