RICHARD ESLING: Muscadet re-invents itself

Richard Esling at Chateau LAuberdiere with Jean-Michel Morille and Pascal Houis
Richard Esling at Chateau LAuberdiere with Jean-Michel Morille and Pascal Houis

The French dry white wine produced in the Western Loire valley, not far from the Atlantic Coast, has been around for a long time, not just in France but also on the UK market.

It’s one of those wines which wine-drinkers of ‘a certain age’ remember alongside such names as Mateus, Black Tower, Beaujolais and Corrida. Some of these, of course, were or are, brand names for large volume wines produced for a market need at the time. And very successfully too. But most are now names which are not on everybody’s lips, as both tastes and fashions have changed.

A brand is a brand and has its place and time in a market, but Muscadet is a wine type and region and as such is far more complicated and enduring.

Having said that, the total vineyard area for Muscadet has reduced in recent years by over 30 percent, down from 14K hectares to 9K. The exact reasons for this are many, not just about changing fashion, but also concerning modern technology and wine-making techniques, which allows other wine regions to produce better wines, thus creating more choice for the consumer.

However, these same changes in techniques and technology have benefitted the Muscadet producers, or at least those that are left. Muscadet is a very individual style of wine, and the best is absolutely delicious.

The grape variety is the Melon de Bourgogne and as the name suggests, its origins were in Burgundy, from where it has all but disappeared.

As has been said before, a cheap version of an expensive wine will almost always be disappointing, but an expensive (relatively) bottle of a cheaper wine can often be a revelation. Great Muscadet is perhaps one of the unsung heroes of the Loire Valley and deserves greater recognition.

Last week I visited Chateau l’Auberdière, one of the top producers of Muscadet, in La Chapelle Basse Mer, not far from Nantes, whom I represent in the UK.

One of the largest independent producers, there are some 150 acres of vines, most of which are in the best Sevre et Maine region.

The 2016 vintage had been bottled just 5 days before, and on tasting, it was superbly fresh and crisp, with good fruit character, body and depth from 6 months ageing on the lees – top quality Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lie.

This quality of wine outshines many other wines currently on the market from either hemisphere at a similar price. Jean-Michel Morille, one of the owners, works closely with oenologist Pascal Houis, in order to achieve wines which are not only fresh and crisp, but which have character, body and depth of flavour. Their current projects go way beyond this, with a combination of both tradition and innovation, to add to the range of wines to offer the consumer.

The norm for these wine is to age them for 6 months on lees in stainless steel or lined cement tanks prior to bottling. The wines then should be drunk within two to three years.

The new styles being produced at Chateau L’Auberdière involve ageing on the lees for two, three, four or more years before bottling, changing the wines and imparting different flavours and aromas. The 2013 I tasted, had aromas of yeasty brioche and tremendous depth and length of flavour, yet remaing fresh, with no signs of oxidation.

The innovations don’t stop there, however, and experiments are on-going with the use of new oak barrels, both of French and American oak, all of which produces wines which are a true revelation from this region.

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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