Here Comes Muscadet!

Here Comes Muscadet!

7th Feb 2019
- Paul Downie -

Muscadet is a wine producing area of France near the town of Nantes at the western end of the Loire Valley.

Forget the thin, low alcohol, acidic muscadet of the eighties and early nineties.

A revolution is underway.

You may ask why. Well my take is that the biggest export market for muscadet back then, the UK, collapsed due to the flood of full flavoured white wines from the New World wine makers. Areas planted to Melon de Bourgogne nearly halved, land prices dropped and this allowed new young wine makers to buy vineyard land and start introducing more modern and innovative techniques in wine production.

One innovation in particular that made a stepup in quality is the practice of maturing the wine on lees. To qualify as “sur lie” wines have to spend one winter on lees and then be bottled between March and December.

Muscadet is usually fermented and aged in large, shallow underground vats and the ageing on lees has added texture, mid-palate body and longevity.

Historically this grape variety originated in Burgundy and was grown there until its destruction was ordered in the early 18th century. In the vineyards around Nantes and the western Loire, however, the harsh winter of 1709 destroyed so many vines that a new variety was needed, and the Melon grape was introduced. Since then it has been used solely in the production of the light dry white wine “Muscadet”.

The next step forward came with producers in particular geographical areas, delineated by differing soil types getting together to make rules to govern the production of muscadet in that area.

Hence the first three “cru” to be recognised are Clisson, Gorges andle Pallet under these new rules.

The hierarchy of Muscadet now looks like this:

- Cru Classé about 2% of total

Clisson, Le Pallet, Gorges

- The Mid Tier about 20% of total

Sèvre & Maine, Coteaux de la Loire and Côtes de Grandlieu
- Muscadet AOC just under 80%

These cru wines are made under stricter rules than those for ‘straight’ Muscadet – yields limited to 45/hl/ha compared to 55hl/ha for ACs Muscadet: Sèvre et Maine, Côtes de Grandlieu and Coteaux de la Loire. The grapes have to be riper – minimum of 11% and the time “sur lie” is longer – 17 months for Le Pallet and 24 months for Clisson and Gorges. Due to the vagaries of the “sur lie” regulations these crus, communaux cannot put “sur lie” on their labels as the current rules dictate that a “sur lie” must be bottled by 30th November of the year following the vintage.

Four more cru communaux are due to be recognised: Château-Thébaud, Goulaine, Monnières-St-Fiacre and Mouzillon-Tillières – all in the Sèvre-et-Maine.

Each of the cru already recognised have different characteristics representative of their soils.

Clisson (granite) showed a clear identity with its energy, broader, fuller and more powerful style.

Le Pallet (mix of granite,gneiss and gabbro) wines tend to be fruity and forward.

Gorges (gabbro) tighter and more restrained in character.

Of the areas still to gain cru status Monnieres- St-Fiacre (gneiss) gave a much more elegant style with floral characters.

The extra time “sur lie” has enhanced the complexity and body of the wines and the longevity is extraordinary some of our offerings are 20 years old. Such wines offer exceptional value.

At The Oak Barrel we have actively sort out these wines to provide to our customers. We have imported directly from two producers, one from the village of St-Fiacre and the other, a biodynamic vineyard from the village of Clisson.

Complete tasting notes are available by clicking the links below

The wines of Domaine des Cognette

The wines of Chateau du Coing

The wines of Chateau de la Gravelle