Muscadet is a dry, white wine made in the Loire Valley. But for what is really a modest wine, the label can be confusing.
Because Muscadet is neither a grape nor a region, but instead the name of a wine from the Nantais region in the western Loire Valley, near the Atlantic. Melon de Bourgogne is the only grape allowed, but it originally hails from Burgundy.
The finest Muscadet comes from the area between the two other rivers, Sèvre and Maine, which was established in 1936, one year before the greater Muscadet region was granted appellation d’origine controlee status. There are two other sub-zones, Muscadet-Côteaux de la Loire and Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu.
While Muscadet is perceived as a wine to drink young, it acquires a richer character over time. Most Muscadet found in the Bay Area is aged on its sediment or “lees” — “sur lie” in French — to give it more complexity. The addition of skin contact, which is becoming more popular, increases texture and structure, but isn’t usually indicated on the label. Anyone who has had Muscadet can attest to its acidity, but this is more a result of early picking than the inherent acidity of the grape varietal.
Here are a few safe bets:
Domaine de la Pepière Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, 2010: Marc Olivier, the winemaker and owner employs meticulous and completely natural winemaking techniques. Famous for his Clos des Briords made from 75-year-old vines, this lesser wine is not too shabby. Composed of fruit from 40-year-old vines, it has lemon-lime fruit, zesty minerality and a hint of brine. Available at Arlequin Wine Merchant, BiRite, DIG Wines, The Jug Shop, Paul Marcus Wines, Solano Cellars, Vintage Berkeley. Suggested retail: $14
Domaine Gadais Père et Fils, Domaine de la Tourmaline Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, 2010: Gadais makes several wines from different terroirs. Domaine de la Tourmaline is grown on the hillside, which might account for its relatively rugged character. Floral with firm acidity and citrus components, it can stand up to fish and even poultry dishes that most of its compatriots cannot. Available at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant. Suggested retail: $14
Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet sur Lie de Sevre & Maine, 2010: Located in the original Muscadet village, La Haie-Fouassière, Domaine de la Quilla was founded 64 years ago by Gustave Vinet. His sons, Gérard and Daniel, are running it now. While its holdings have expanded over time, the quality of the wines have been consistent. Vibrant with oyster shell, brine and lime, this is a classic Muscadet. Available through Coit Liquor. Suggested retail: $15
Pamela S. Busch was the founding partner of Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bars, and is a wine educator and writer.