I can’t think of another major grape variety that is as little planted as Muscadet. It is the most popular white wine in France, the most grown white variety in the 800 kilometre-long Loire wine region and named – at least until recently – in every food matching book as the first choice for seafood, and – again until recently – available in every restaurant aspiring to a decent wine list.
And yet nowhere else grows it. No New World country has planted it, and it is found nowhere else in France and the old world.
If you’ve not encountered Muscadet (pronounced ‘Moose kay day’) then it’s probably because you’re young or not in France. Elsewhere the variety has gone out of fashion in recent times, supplanted by New World sauvignon blanc.
Muscadet is a light – never more than 12% abv -– crisp dry white wine in the same area as sauvignon blanc. The best Muscadets show the words ‘Sur Lie’ meaning the wine rested on its lees – yeast and debris following fermentation – which adds complexity to the wine.
The original name for the Muscadet grape is Melon de Bourgogne. The variety originated to the north-west in Burgundy and it is one of the many offspring of Pinot Noir. The Burgundians decided in the 18th C to clear it from their vineyards to concentrate on noble Chardonnay, although it is said that a few growers kept some because Melon was a good producer.
The main attribute of Muscadet for a grower is that it copes well in cold climates. When an exceptionally cold winter in 1709 wiped out most of the vineyards around the town on Nantes at the mouth of the Loire on the Atlantic coast, Muscadet was what they replanted. Then they found it also made a good brandy which was exported to Holland; being on a river close to the sea opened export markets to Muscadet and its brandy.
And yet today, if you want to drink Muscadet – and after reading this I hope you do – you have to look in the French section of your local wine shop because you won’t find it from elsewhere.
Which may lead you to think that the wine is not worth drinking if no one else wants to make it, but that would be a mistake. Muscadet has been fashionable in the past and its turn may come again. Its relatively low alcohol and clean fresh taste suits the modern palate, and its low price suits the modern wallet.
If Sauvignon Blanc is a bit too sharp for you and Pinot Grigio a little to bland then Muscadet may be ideal for you.
Find and open a bottle and tell us about it on the forum.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.