The most western part of the Loire, where the river flows into the Atlantic, is known as Pays Nantais, as it is centred on the old historic city of Nantes. It is better known as the region of Muscadet, although this technically-speaking describes the grape from which the most famous wine in the area is made. The area, almost 100km wide, produces almost exclusively Muscadet, especially since the 18th century, when its frost resistant and hardy properties were discovered – well suited to the cold climate of the Pays Nantais; the proper name for the grape is ‘melon de Bourgogne’; despite the name association, it has no connection with the fragrant Muscat grape.
Muscadet is a fresh, crisp, searingly dry white, which is the classic partner to the briny, fresh oysters, and the glistening, super fresh langoustines and prawns from the neighbouring Atlantic. It thrives in cooler climes, which help maintain its characteristic high acidity and freshness – hot summer do not suit this grape, which can turn flat and flabby if the grapes overripen and the acidity drops.
There are various levels of Muscadet, under different quality appellations – the broadest is Muscadet AC, which can be made anywhere in the defined Loire-Atlantique region. Next up is Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, the best known, and most prolific appellation, making Muscadet within a defined region.
The highest quality wines are labelled Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur lie, where the wine is left on the grape skins, or lees, ‘sur lie’ in the tanks for a few weeks, or even months, in some cases, so that the wines take on a fuller, richer, more complex character. The wines are then bottled straight off the lees.
There is also a considerable amount of wine produced as ‘Gros Plant du Pays Nantais’, crisp, but often highly acidic white wines, made from the Folle Blanche grape, and usually consumed on the domestic market. A little red and rose is also produced and labelled ‘Coteaux d’Ancenis’.
Muscadet Styles & Food Matching
Style – crisp, bone dry, with a definite tang of the sea; the sur lie wines have depth and concentration of lemony, creamy flavours, combined with a salty, fresh edge, and a tongue-tingling finish.
Grapes – the majority of the whites are from the Melon de Bourgogne, which is also known as Muscadet.
Good with – look no further than a platter of freshly-shucked oysters, and briny cockles; these wines are made for seafood – grilled langoustines, little brown shrimps, straight from the sea, and huge bowlfuls of fragrant mussels. Perfection.