As you consider summer whites, it’s well worth including muscadet in your mix. Muscadet is produced in the western end of France’s Loire Valley, not far from where the Loire River joins the Atlantic Ocean, and is considered a quintessential fish wine. Indeed, it is the wine of choice by the glass or carafe at countless cafes in maritime France and beyond, a natural pairing with oysters or moules frites (mussels and fries) or other shellfish and fish dishes.
But just what is muscadet? First, it is the name of the wine, not the grape. The grape is the melon de Bourgogne, which finds its origins in Burgundy, as the name suggests, although it is no longer grown in that region.
Muscadet (pronounced MOOSE-ka-day) tends to be very dry and is almost never made with oak, which preserves its fresh character. That said, some examples can be a little too austere, especially when young. I think that muscadet benefits from a year or so in the bottle, losing some of its angularity in the process. So look for the 2007 vintage, which should still be widely available.
The best examples tend to have a fairly complex, mineral-driven character that lingers in the mouth and provides a framework for the background fruit, perhaps apple, peach or melon, and definitely citrus. Some people say they find a slightly briny note in the wines, although I haven’t been able to detect it.
In contrast to their image as simple fish wines, muscadets can project considerable elegance and sophistication. With modest alcohol levels that tend to be at just the 12 percent range, they are about as far from big-fruit, big-oak chardonnay as you can get. Some will welcome that, obviously, while some won’t.
In fact, many wine lovers probably have no idea that muscadet can age remarkably well. I had the chance to taste a number of older muscadets not long ago at a dinner built around wines from 2006 back to 1997 and was surprised at how round and supple (while still relatively fresh) some of them had become. The more recent vintages were paired with sautéed calamari filled with sweet prawns and shitake mushrooms, while the older wines were served with poached halibut.
As for currently available vintages, three wines from my recent tastings stood out, all of them from the 2007 vintage:
- Luneau-Papin’s Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Les Pierres Blanches” is crisp and mouthwatering with green apple, lemon-lime, herbal and mineral notes. It’s $14. Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York.
- Domaine de la Louvetrie’s Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Le Fief du Breil” is a slightly richer wine with a touch of cream, apricot, lime, a sweetly spicy note and minerals on the long finish. It’s $18 and imported by Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y.
- I also enjoyed Choblet’s Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu “Clos de la Senaigerie,” an excellent value at $11, with notes of apple, lemon-lime, melon and a touch of vanilla. Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
The wines, as you’ll notice on the labels, are aged “sur lie,” which means they are left in contact with the lees (the yeast and fruit remnants), which give them added depth and a very slight creamy quality on the finish that softens their lively acidity.
Two other things I noticed: They become more expressive the longer they’ve been opened, so you might want to consider decanting them to speed along the process of aeration. If there’s any left in the bottle, it’ll improve for a day or so. Second, like almost all white wines, they are at their most vivid when only slightly chilled. If you’ve had them in the refrigerator for a while, the flavors will emerge more fully as they warm up a bit.
So enjoy these subtle and elegant muscadets this summer with fish and shellfish and even grilled chicken with herbs. I think you’ll find it a treat to enjoy such honest and original wines at such attractive prices.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at email@example.com
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