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Muscadet Wine

by Marisa D'Vari (all rights reserved)

Can you remember the first time you had Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine? For me, it was on the chic French island of St. Barts. A friend and I found a room with an outdoor kitchen and grill right on St. Jean's beach, and we selected this dry wine to pair with shellfish.

You will find lots of Muscadet on the island of St. Bart, and the wine --made from the Muscadet grape (also known as Melon de Bourgogne) — is a natural pairing with fish and shellfish. It comes from a region of France in the Loire Valley, at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the AC regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy, there is no generic appellation for the Loire. Instead, a Vin de Pays designation (translated to Jardin de la France) covers the entire Loire region, over 13 departments.

Wine regions are located along the Loire River and its many tributaries. In this article, let's focus on the Muscadet AOC and the wines that are produced here.

Soils and Vineyards
In the Muscadet AOC, the better vineyards are in the Sevre et Maine sub-region south and east of Nantes. The soils are diverse, but mostly schist and gneiss (a common metamorphic rock associated with granite) with some sandy soils. The soils are loose-textured with good drainage (especially important in this damp climate). In the key AOC of Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, soil is light, stony, and in places, pockets of sand and clay.

Climate
Damp, cool weather in the region means that in many years the grapes do not achieve ripeness. In cold years, the wine — usually dry, acidic, and fresh — takes on a green sharpness. Chapitalization (adding sugar to increase alcohol levels) is allowed and utilized, but the maximum permitted strength for the wine is 12.3% abv. Producers have the option of hand harvesting the ripest fruit for a better acid-fruit balance, but only a handful of producers take the care and expense to do so.

Regions & Styles
Today the most exported wine comes from the Muscadet de Sevre et Maine AOC east of Nantes and north and south of the city. This AOC's name is derived from the two Loire tributaries that run through it. The most popular style of Muscadet from this region is Muscadet Sur Lie, which means the wine is "aged" on its lees (dead, decomposing yeast cells) for several months. Lees aging is what gives champagne and some other wine its yeasty, biscuit-like aroma and fuller body.

AOC laws maintain that after fermentation, the wine must stay in contact with its fine lees in the tank or barrel for at least the winter, up to the point of bottling. After an initial racking (no further racking is permitted) the wine is filtered before bottling. The process gives the wine more freshness and there is often a slight bubble of carbon dioxide to protect it from oxidation.

Bottling can take place only in two set periods: the first of March to the end of June (80% takes place during this time) or the fifteenth of October to the end of November to avoid bottling in the warm summer months.

Other Restrictions:
1. Wine may only be sold after the third Thursday in March following the harvest.
2. Sur lie wine may only be bottled in the cellar where it was made.
3. Negotiants either buy grapes or must or take mobile bottling lines to the cellars of the producers from whom they buy.

Other Appellations within the Muscadet AOC
Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire AOC is northerly with chalky soils. In hot years, wines can be more balanced than elsewhere. Muscadet Cotes de Grandlieu AOC is a new appellation that received its designation in the mid-1990's.

Other VDQS regions in the Vin du Pays Nantais:

1. Coteaux d'Ancenis
Named for its city, lying between Nantes and Angers, the region produces reds and medium-sweet whites named for their varietal. Red varietals include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Gamay. Whites include Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris.

2. Fiefs Vendeens
This appellation is located south of Nantes. Vineyards must be planted with at least 50% Gamay and Pinot Noir plus Negrette, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Maximum amount of Gamay permitted is 15%. These percentages apply only to planting and not final blends.

3. Gros Plant Nantais
The grapes grown in this appellation are actually Gros Plant, or Folle Blanche, the same wine used as a base for Cognac and Armagnac.

Tasting Notes

Muscadet Sur Lie, Hautes Noelles (Serge Batard) 2006
Ripe, concentrated, explosively flavorful dry white wine with searing acidity. Proprietor Serge Batard crafts staggeringly intense Muscadet that displays all the zingy acidity and palpable minerality you'd expect from this seaside appellation. Prolonged lees aging and bottling without racking give the wines extra texture and richness. Hand Harvested.

Muscadet Sur Lie "Les Granges" Hautes Noelles (S. Batard) 2006
This is a selection of Serge Batard's best parcel of old Muscadet vines. It is only two hectares in size and yields few grapes of top quality, with annual production averaging 650 cases. Clear, pale wine with searingly high acidity and a high mineral content.

Top Producers
- Pierre Luneau-Papin
- Domaine de l'Ecu
- Louis Metaireau
- Chereau-Carre
- Chateau du Cleray

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  1. Wow, fascinating you really know your French wines, I need to brush up I have been focusing completely on learning everything in my area and just noticed from an old tasting book I drink and explore French wines much less than I did 25 years ago. I will become a regular reader of your Blog now! Thanks for all your work! I know it is a labor of Love for me, I feel it in you too.

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