Wines of the Loire Valley: Muscadet
There is a wine from the oft called “Garden of France” that is the perfect pairing for fresh seafood. So much so that whenever I reach into the wine chiller and suggest it, Joe chastises me, “No, that’s for when we have good seafood.” Thank goodness last night’s dinner menu included sauteed shrimp and mussels, so that we could finally open the bottle of Muscadet that had been languishing for a few months.
When is a Melon not a Melon?
Melon de Bourgogne is not a melon at all, but in fact a white grape grown in the Loire Valley of France used to produce Muscadet. The grape originated in Burgundy, as its name suggests but those in power twice decided it was much too prevalent in the area, and ordered its destruction. Historical accounts indicate that Philippe II of Spain, Count of Burgundy, ordered its demise in the 16th Century, and the Burgundian Parliament followed suit in the early 18th century.
Melon is quite hardy in winter, and lore indicates it was brought to the Pays Nantais region in the 17th century by a Dutch trader, looking for a neutral grape that could be distilled into brandewijn (brandy). When a deep freeze in 1709 damaged most of the grape varieties in the region, they were replaced by the more cold-resistant Melon de Bourgogne. Other accounts indicate that it was King Louis XIV who ordered their planting.
Officially established in 1937, the generic “Muscadet” region covers 32,000 acres (13,000 hectare) that benefit from the maritime climate of the Atlantic. The largest white wine appellation in France, it contains three sub-appellations: Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine, established in 1936, which produces nearly 80% of all Muscadet; Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire, also established in 1936 and Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu, so named in 1994. The generic Muscadet are considered a bit less exciting than the others, as they are excluded from wines matured “sur lie”. (See To Sur with Lie for more about that.)
Les Clissages d’Or Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2008
A classic pairing, Joe often suggests Muscadet with mussels, and it’s a must ingredient when he prepares them for dinner. For this meal, we chose Les Clissages d’Or Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2008 from Vignobles Guy Saget. Says the winemaker…
“Brought up in the vineyards, the Saget brothers; Jean-Louis and Christian, learned from a very young age to love and respect the soil. Vignobles Guy Saget sources two-thirds of the production in the Loire Valley from their estates with the remainder from long-term relationships with families of vine growers. In 1995, Jean-Louis Saget purchased the Loiret Frères Company located in Le Pallet, in the heart of the Muscadet Sèvre & Maine AC. Thanks to this acquisition, Vignobles Guy Saget developed strong relationships with many vine growers in this area. The Muscadet de Sèvre & Maine sur Lie “Les Cilssages d’Or” is the result of the combination between the local people’s passion for their vines and the experience and know how of our winemaker, Bruno Mineur.”
This Muscadet is very pale golden straw, the color one might imagine Rapunzel‘s locks glinting in the sunlight as they cascade from her window in the tower. Lemon, slate, lemon zest and hint of peach blossom on the nose, the wine is lemony crisp on the palate, with further notes of lemon, pear and peach once in the mouth. The wine is balanced by a minerality that reminds us of pebbles gently washed in a bubbling spring. This wine is creamier, richer than a simple generic Muscadet perhaps due to its aging on the lees:
Grapes are mechanically harvested in the middle of September. After pressing the grapes, the must is clarified for 48 hours. Once decanted, wine ferments in epoxy coated tanks between 15/20°C. Special Yeasts are added, mostly FTH to develop the natural characteristics of the grape variety. After the alcoholic fermentation, wine stays on its lees which are composed of 95% dead yeast. Wine will never be racked until bottling which provide a high concentration of natural CO² (1600 mg/L).
Alcohol by Volume 12%, this wine came to us as a sample from the folks at Pasternak Imports. Retail price: $10.00 – 15.00 in the U.S.
Pairing: Sauteed shrimp, steamed mussels in a garlic and Muscadet cream sauce with lemon juice, lemon zest, fresh flat leaf parsley and fresh basil, with a pinch of Etnia Merquen Spice-Smoked Chili with plenty of crusty bread for dipping, along with white corn on the cob and baked pub fries. For a great mussels recipe see Wine Pairing Recipes: Wild Salmon and Mussels posted here.