Muscadet: It’s Not Such a Sweet Surprise
By Elspeth Brown
Muscadet has always been a tough wine for me to sell. When I suggest it, most customers say, “No, thank you, I don’t drink sweet wines.” Even after I assure them that it tastes nothing like a moscato, many still refuse because they assume what’s in the beautiful bottle shaped like a bottle of riesling will not taste anything like I am describing. In actuality, muscadet is an unassuming surprise: dry, acidic, high in minerality, an excellent food wine and, typically, reasonably priced.
Muscadet comes from the Loire Valley in central France. The wine is produced in the Pays Nantais area in western Loire. Muscadet is the name of the wine, not the grape or the location. The grape that is used to produce the wine is called melon de Bourgogne, considered to be a cousin of chardonnay. It was originally grown in the Burgundy region of France and was brought to Loire in the 1700s where it thrived due to the cool, maritime climate, which is a factor in the wine’s having a hint of salinity.
This grape was the first modern success story for the Loire Valley. Before 1970, the grape was unknown. Since then, the vineyard area has doubled. Within the Pays Nantais area are three sub-appellations that produce muscadet. The Sèvre-et-Maine grows 85 percent of the vines used to produce muscadet. The vines are grown in granite and are ripe and very aromatic. The muscadet Coteaux de la Loire is also grown in granite, but tends to be leaner, whereas muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu vines are grown in sandy, stony soil and produce the ripest style. While Sèvre-et-Maine and Coteaux de la Loire were established in 1936, the Côtes de Grandlieu sub-appellation was not established until 1994.
Muscadet is packaged in a very lean, tall, feminine bottle remarkably like the bottle of a riesling or a gewürztraminer. While it might appear otherwise from the shape of the bottle and the misleading name of the wine, muscadet wine is dry with a light, clean finish. It possesses a good amount of minerality, dry pear, tart apple, some acidity and a touch of salinity. This delicate white wine is in no way like moscato, muscat, muscatel or, in this area, muscadine.
It pairs with a variety of foods. If you ask a sommelier what to pair with oysters, they will likely suggest muscadet. The wine also pairs perfectly with scallops, shrimp, fish, chicken and cheeses such as buttery Brie, Jarlsberg or even Gouda. Pull your bottle of muscadet out of the fridge about 20-30 minutes before you are going to serve it. If this white wine is too cold, you will miss all the subtle nuances and textures the wine has to offer, but letting the wine warm a bit offers a much rounder, richer wine on your palate.
Muscadet is great to drink any night of the week, but your sweetie will be impressed this Valentine’s Day when you show up with oysters (an aphrodisiac) and a bottle of white wine that is just as exciting and enticing as the entrée. Enjoy!
Elspeth Brown owns Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.