Two posts ago, I shared a wine tasting event at a local restaurant. One of the white wines was Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie. Since most are probably not familiar with this grape, I thought I'd share a bit, in the hopes that you will seek out a bottle, and try some.

Loire Map c/o The International Sommelier Guild
Muscadet (also known as Melon de Bourgogne) is different from Muscat, which most people associate with grapey, lightly sparkling wine. There is an old story that Melon de Bourgogne arrived from Burgundy via the Valois Dukes who gave their poorest variety to the Loire as a joke. Only France would consider this a practical joke! It is thought that Muscadet is a cousin of Chardonnay. Muscadet is generally an undistinguished and neutral variety with some apple, citrus and herb notes. But with lees contact, is much improved. It also ripens early, regularly, and fairly generously, making it useful in the cool maritime climate of Loire Region in northwest France. Its' home is in the Pays Nantais region of the Loire, thanks to influence of Dutch merchants. The Dutch liked the fairly neutral grape for making Brandy.

The most significant appellation is Muscadet Sevre et Maine, which accounts for half of production in the Nantais region, though there is also Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire in the north, and Muscadet Cotes de Grand Lieu in the south west.  Muscadet is the basic appellation for wines without lees contact. At their best, these basic Muscadet appellation wines are ordinary and pretty straight forward. The wines are generally pale with green flecks. The aromas of the Muscadet are abundant in white flowers and fruit.

Typically, Muscadet vinification is done in cool stainless for the most part, and after fermentation, the wines are stored over the winter on their lees, which imparts a subtle yeastiness and, occasionally, a slight spritz.

The term "Sur Lie", which is often associated with Muscadet, translates to "aging on the lees," and often referred to as "yeast contact." Wine is aged in the barrel with the yeast retained, rather than being clarified before aging. Aging on the lees increases the complexity and creaminess of the wine. The lees function as an antioxidant but can occasionally taint the wine. Bottling is usually in the spring after the harvest—but definitely before the next harvest—it is often bottled directly from tank. The slight residues of carbon dioxide which remain after fermentation give the wines their particular freshness and special liveliness on the palate, often referred to as the ‘pearls of youth’. They also offer a great finesse and a characteristic bouquet. It is required to have 12 % or less alcohol, and a high level of acidity.

Muscadet shines as one of the great seafood wines (in particular shellfish). The classic pairing is with raw oysters. It is also wonderful with (and in) mussels à la marinière and mussel soup with saffron, and with simple grilled fish. Muscadet may have been the wine used in the original beurre blanc, a white butter sauce from Muscadet's native Pays Nantais.

The wine is designed to be consumed young and you should make a point to avoid “mature” versions of the wine

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