First published in The Irish Times
Sat, Jul 11, 2015, 01:00
Those of you of a certain vintage will remember Muscadet with a shudder. For a while in the 1970s and 1980s, this was the favourite tipple of the wine drinking classes. No drinks party was complete without it, and it featured on every wine list in the country. To meet demand, the vineyard area expanded dramatically and the larger companies started making vast quantities of very cheap wine.Most was pretty dire and a some of it probably didn’t even come from the Muscadet region. We moved on to the New World, and poor Muscadet hasn’t really gotten a look in since. Which is a pity as the region has long ago reformed itself (the good producers never went away), and now offers the intelligent buyer a selection of light wines, beautifully made and complex, with a character all of their own.There are few finer things in life than a large plateful of spanking fresh plain seafood washed down with generous quantities of Muscadet. As with Beaujolais, it is the perfect al fresco summer wine, one that seems made to drink outdoors at lunchtime.
Muscadet is the wine; the grape variety is Melon de Bourgogne, a distant relative of Chardonnay. The vast majority of the vines, some 20,000 acres, are grown in the Sèvre-et-Maine region and most bottles will bear this name on the label.In recent years, two other smaller sub-regions to the north have been created, Coteaux de la Loire and Côtes de Grandlieu. Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu tends to be riper and fruitier; Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire is lighter and more linear.Muscadet sometimes suffers a little due to its reputation as a crisp light white to go with seafood; although it will never be a big wine, that does not mean it is simple. The best have a wonderful subtle complexity. At a wine fair a decade ago, I worked my way around half-a-dozen small domaines, tasting some superb wines, including some excellent 10 year-old Muscadet.However, I would not recommend ageing your bottles; to me this is a wine best enjoyed in the first few years of its life, when the elegant plump fruits are to the fore. I am happy to say that a few intrepid outlets are now importing some of the top estates – Terroirs in Donnybrook in Dublin has the biodynamic Domaine de l’Ecu, and Le Caveau in Kilkenny has Château du Coing. Whelehans in Loughlinstown in Dublin imports the excellent Luneau-Papin, The Wine Store has Domaine Huchet and Wines Direct offers the wonderful Domaine de la Louvetrie. Most sell at €15-€20, very good value for quality wines. These days, most of the multiples offer decent inexpensive Muscadet. “Sur Lie”, which appears on most bottles, refers to the practice of leaving the wines on their lees, or dead yeast cells, for a period after fermentation. Bottled without filtration, the wines have a slight prickle and a soft creamy texture. Producers in many wine regions, including Burgundy and Rías Baixas, age white wines on their lees for 12 to 24 months to add flavour and complexity. It is traditional in Muscadet.
I am the proud owner of a Muscadet vineyard. A few years ago at a wine fair in the Loire, a producer presented me with a wax-covered stick and a small sack. The bag contained salt, Sel de Guérande, and the stick was a Melon de Bourgogne vine. These I was told, were Brittany’s greatest products. I enjoyed the salt and stuck the vine into the only vaguely sunny spot in the garden. Last year, it produced three bunches of very green acidic grapes. I don’t think the vignerons of Muscadet have much to fear from the vineyards of Wicklow.
Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Domaine de la Chauvinière 2013
Lovely light refreshing dry wine with delicate ripe plump apple fruits. Perfect with all manner of fishy things. Try it with oysters for a real treat.
Stockists: O’Briens; James Nicholson , Crossgar.
Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Clos des Montys 2014
Jeremie Huchet makes the Chauviniére above and this delicious wine too; clean, subtle almost snow-like with a lovely long finish and a subtle spritz.
Stockists: Jus de Vine; McCabes; Redmonds; One Pery Sq. Limerick.
Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur lie, Les Pierres Blanches, Domaine Luneau-Papin
Delicate refined and crisp with the finest of floral, lemon-scented pristine fruit.
Stockists: Whelehan Wines, Loughlinstown