Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Pride of Muscadet

I hate oysters. I'm not big on clams, crabs, or shrimp. I enjoy mussels and a lightly cooked scallop, but I very rarely eat them. So why the heck do I embrace Muscadet?

Ah, Muscadet, that bilgey briny little number, a dry white wine to be drunk but not thought about — to be seen and not heard, as it were, as you devour a plate of shellfish. Cheap and inexpensive. Fresh but not deep. Praised (lightly) by Hugh Johnson as an "appropriately watery" drink of "neutral limpidity."

Well, nuts to that! Hazelnuts, specifically, with a dollop of honey (shades of its Loire compatriots made from Chenin Blanc) and hints of lemon pulp. Citrus flowers scattered on a bed of rocks. Yes — complexity! And as with whites from other Atlantic-abutting regions such as Getariako Txakolina and Rías Baixas, a prickle of CO2 and a distinct oceanic salinity transmit vivid coastal images — I tip this fresh pale wine into my mouth and I see myself walking on the Oregon coast at sunset, the wind chapping my face as saltwater races up the beach, only to gently recede into the next wave. (I'm usually not cheezy and sentimental; forgive this honest trespass.)

So, yes, I pay attention to Muscadet, because winemakers like Marc Ollivier and importers like Louis/Dressner do. Ollivier, for example, hand-harvests old vine produce and ferments with natural yeast, yielding wine of great purity. Louis/Dressner then bring in Ollivier's wines and many other fine Muscadets as well, allowing we Americans to easily purchase them from local merchants.

Every white-fleshed fish turns this young man's fancy to Muscadet. But it will almost always be one from the subregion of Sèvre et Maine, the best zone in Muscadet, and it will always be sur lie — aged on its lees, its dead yeast, which deepens the wine. But no matter how deep, it will be subtle, so I avoid pairing it with strong-flavored food. The liberal use of garlic, for example, repels Muscadet as if it were a certain count from Transylvania.

A few facts before I launch into the tasting notes. First, Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which Burgundy rudely outlawed in the 16th century as other societies have outlawed nude beaches — as an eyesore and an embarrassment. After its sad trek westward to the Loire Valley, 17th century Dutch traders encouraged growers to cultivate this exile as a base wine for fortified concoctions whipped up in Rotterdam or wherever. Only now, it seems, is Melon de Bourgogne getting its due, sort of, even if it doesn't have "gobs of fruit," high alcohol, or attendantly high scores in wine rags. Lift that chin up, little guy, you have everything to be proud of!

These three wines are from 2005, a great year in Muscadet, and all can be found for around $12.

Chateau La Bidière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
This is clean but round, with orange blossom aromas, good acidity, and a nice finish. This typifies Muscadet in my mind — not profound, maybe, but very fresh and very satisfying.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
Here's a Marc Ollivier production, and it's a step up from the La Bidière. Honey, minerals, a hint of lemon curd and salinity, and perfect mouthwatering acidity. The shape in the mouth is a zen stone, the finish is long and gorgeous, but above all, the purity is unbelievable.

Clos des Briord Cuvée Vielles Vignes Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2005
This is a subtle and truly elegant wine. The beeswax/honey/clover chord is a soft, pulsing drone atop a wash of saline breeze. It's well balanced and my mouth kept watering long after a swallow, even though there's nothing remotely tart about this wine. Honey, hazlenut, and lemon play in a rock garden on the finish. Terrific with tender tilapia draped in a dry rub. This was also raised by Marc Ollivier to be an upstanding member of society. Welcome it into your home soonest.

By the by, Louis/Dressner say that good Muscadet can age for 10 or even 30 years! This, too, goes against Muscadet's reputation. But as L/D have been right where others have been wrong, I'm inclined to believe them. I surely won't wait 'til 2035 to drink my remaining bottle of Clos des Briord, but I will wait a little while to test the assertion.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,
Thank you for the blog and for this post.

I like to ring a tone different to that of the Wine Importer. The Pépière should not age. It is meant for near-term consumption -- as shown by the synthetic closure.
It does not prevent it from being marvellous as you or I described.

A few Muscadets from the 90's can age longer than 10 years. Some 2000's candidates are made by Brégeon or Ollivier.
Beware that the 2005 Briords may be closed or funky between now and 2011.
You'll find other tasting notes on the Briords at Wine therapy (registration required).

Wicker Parker said...

Félicien, thanks for the notes. I will either drink the 2005 Briords soon or set it aside as you suggest. And I am cellaring the one Granit de Clisson I have until at least 2010 as well.