This week, I’m not just recommending a particular wine, but rather an entire wine style that has become a fast favorite. Friends, I’m here to tell you about Muscadet. Pronounced moose-cah-day, this white wine from the Loire Valley is made from Melon de Bourgogne grapes and is frequently paired with shellfish— but this is my go-to sipping wine pretty much year round. Ridiculously crisp and clean with nearly no aftertaste, it’s also known to be devilishly difficult to identify at blind tastings.
If you haven’t heard of Muscadet, you’re not alone. It gained a reputation for being a simple, one-note kind of “meh” wine a few decades ago, and didn’t take off in any meaningful way among New World consumers. The area around Nantes became sort of infamous for producing crappy bulk wines (with some exceptions, bien sûr), and the Melon grape is, to be honest, pretty neutral tasting.
A greater emphasis on sur lie aging— meaning the wine ages on the dead yeast that remains after fermentation is complete— gives the subtle brew more depth of flavor without sacrificing its wonderful crispness. Muscadet has been slowly making its way into the mainstream, and it’s almost always a bargain (between $10-20). I’ve sampled every single bottle I can get my hands on, and none of them have been plonk. How many other varieties can you say that about? (answer: not so many)
I suppose the last sentence might also be the Ode of A Grateful Wine Shop Consumer– it could be that all of my local shops happen to be stringent about their Muscadet. I think it’s more likely that it’s not much of a prestige wine, especially the young examples we see in most shops, so you end up with great value for a fabulous product.
I’m on the lookout for some aged Muscadet, which I hear can be otherworldy. If you have some you’d like to share, email me!
Oh, and in case you’re a smarty pants, you might have noticed that I’m not talking about the village of Muscadet, which, if I were following the rules of French wine, I should be! Nope, Muscadet is an exception to the rule that the place gives the name, because there is no place called Muscadet.
It’s grown around Nantes, and the name comes from the wildly inaccurate flavor descriptor “musk-like”. It could technically be called Pays Nantais, if you’re really feeling that zesty. And speaking of flavor, Muscadet is clean above all else, and does range considerably with the contributions of terroir. On the nose, you can get fresh salt air, minerals, sometimes herbs like basil, maybe some petrichor. On the palate, there is a flash of acidity (lemon? citron?) and then the quickest taste: sometimes of brioche or other creamy sur-lees influenced savoryness. Then, poof. Gone. It is the most wonderfully brief moment of loveliness, absolutely clean and succinct. The meagre Melon grape, elevated.
There are regional affiliations within Nantes, the most common of which is Sèvre et Maine, which is on the southern bank of the Loire and gets its name from two of its tributaries.
So cheers. Try some Muscadet. Thirsty Cellist recommendation: Buy now, drink young (by and large) and on the cold side. The Dowager Countess would approve.
And now, for some good news! I will be working 2017 crush at Ruby Vineyard in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The season is a little later in the PNW than many other places, so it looks like it’ll be an 8-ish week gig in the early fall. I am so excited to work on the production of some truly fine Pinot Noir, which will technically translate to being covered in grape muck 12 hours a day and developing neuroses about whether hose A goes to tank B.
I’m so happy.