Most wine enthusiasts in Singapore are familiar with France’s famous wine regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne, with the likes of Provence, Rhône and even Alsace coming up close behind. The wines from the Loire Valley, where there has been bustling wine production since the Middle Ages, on the other hand can seem sadly neglected in comparison. We take a look at the dry Muscadet white wines from the Pays Nantais region in western Loire, specifically from the Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine AOC appellation.
Muscadet wines are made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape varietal mostly grown in Pays Nantais – it represents about three-quarters of the region’s acreage – and almost nowhere else except in some parts of Oregon and California, which is why you don’t see the varietal name on wine labels often.
As you can probably tell from the name, the Melon de Bourgogne varietal is believed to have originated from Burgundy, where it was grown until the varietal was ordered to be destroyed and its production outlawed since the 17th century to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir instead. It found its fortunes revived in westernmost reaches of the Loire Valley, where the harsh winter of 1709 had decimated vineyards in the region and a new grape varietal was required. The maritime climate of the northwestern part of France with its cooling influences and higher, however, generally means that the Melon de Bourgogne tends to produce light, generally higher-acid wines that are best consumed young.
The Muscadet white wines of western Loire is unusual mainly for its name because as a general rule in France Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines are named either after the region they are grown in, or in the specific case of Alsace, after their grape variety.
Today, Melon de Bourgogne is the only designated grape varietal allowed in four AOC appellations, one of which is Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine. Located just south of the city of Nantes, the appellation was officially established in 1936, covering just over 20,000 acres with 21 villages within and makes about 80% of all Muscadet in total.
The grape varietal isn’t particularly flavourful on its own, and readily takes on flavours from the soils in which it is planted. As such Muscadet tends to exhibit assertive mineral characters which it absorbs from the chalky limestone and gravelly soils that is abundant in Sèvre et Maine. That lack of flavour is also why Muscadet tends to be sur-lie aged, to provide fuller flavours and body.
We’ve chosen three Muscadet wines as examples, and as a tribute to Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, to explain the characteristics you’d find typical in this specific wine style:
2012 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Clisson
The Clisson from Domaine de la Pépière located in the village of Maisdon-sur-Sèvre, made with grapes grown on fractured granite, can be liked to the tortured soul of Athos – its bright acidity strong and gripping, with a lingering and deep astringent mineral finish that’s just barely compensated with some structure from two years aging on lees.
2002 Domaine Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur lie L d’Or
Charismatic and seductive, the L d’Or from Domaine Luneau-Papin exudes freshness and softened acidity with citrus and herbaceous characters peeking out after 9 to 12 months of aging on its lees. Its attack is a gentle touch, its aroma the captivating scent of perfume on a well-coiffured lady; this is the Aramis of Muscadet.
2011 A-M. Brégeon Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Réserve
Made from grapes grown from ancient vines planted in gabbro amidst gneiss and granite, this is French rusticity at its best. André-Michel Brégeon’s 2011 Réserve has a powerfully sharp acidity akin to unripe mango and an in-your-face bitter freshness of green bell peppers. Here is Portos; strong, powerful, and honest.
These three Muscadet wines are available from KOT Selections.