David 4 February 2014
During January I visited the tuna town of Port Lincoln in SA… remember Dean Lukin? A few days over 40 degrees were made bearable with freshly caught snapper and tuna, and oysters from nearby Coffin Bay. Indulging in this deliciously fresh maritime bounty, I couldn’t help thinking of Muscadet, the light and thirst-quenching white wine from the western end of the magnificent Loire Valley. Its vibrancy and tangy/mineral edge mean Muscadet (not to be confused with Muscat) is regarded as the perfect oyster wine, but I reckon it’s a perfect match for most seafood and great for this time of year.
As is often the case, Muscadet is not only a wine but also a place. The region of Muscadet is large and covers about 32,000 acres around the city of Nantes and being close the mouth of the Loire River, there is a strong maritime influence from the nearby Atlantic.
There are 4 options when labelling Muscadet:
1. The basic Muscadet appellation (area) covers wine from anywhere within the entire region. Surprisingly, not much of this is made, nor is it very exciting.
Within this there are 3 sub-appellations:
2. Muscadet-Sèvre et Main – the largest and most significant area, producing about 80% of all Muscadets.
3. Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire.
4. Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu.
Like much of France, grapes have been grown in the area for a long time. Things really got going in the mid 1700s though, when the variety Melon de Bourgogne, or Melon as it is more commonly known, started to emerge. The story goes that the Dutch needed a relatively neutral variety as distilling material for their brandewijn and in time the entire region was given over to this one variety. Nowdays more Muscadet is produced than any other Loire wine.
You’ll find good Muscadet to be light, crisp and dry, with subtle citrus or floral flavours, and a slight saline/marine character. They are around 12% alcohol or less and many are sur lie, which means they have been left on lees (dead yeast cells) for a period of time ranging from several weeks to a few months. This adds an extra dimension to the weight, texture and flavour of the wine. The best examples of Muscadet also have a stoney/minerally element due to the influence of the soil in the better vineyards.
The last 20 years have seen styles like Muscadet (ie. not full of fruit or high alcohol) lose favour. The sheer volume of commercial Muscadet, which unfortunately is often thin and bland, has no doubt contributed to this fall from grace. There is a silver lining to this cloud though in the form of falling prices. The market will simply not pay much for the often-dismissed Muscadet and this is great news for astute drinkers, privy to the handful of good producers turning out true and exciting Muscadet. Here is one such domaine that I highly recommend.
Domaine de la Louvetrie – Jo Landron.
A larger than life character, Jo Landron is widely regarded as one of the most important names in the region - he will open your eyes to the real Muscadet.
‘Jo Landron remains one of his region’s most conspicuous over-achievers and his name on the label a virtual guarantor of fine quality.’ David Schildknecht writing for Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate #190.
‘The wines of Jo Landron are now the reference in the (too small) genre of terroir driven Muscadet.’ La Revue du Vin de France - described rather cheekily by Jancis Robinson as France’s only serious wine magazine.
Jo’s father, Pierre, established the domaine in 1945 near the tiny town of La Haye-Fouassière, in the heart of Muscadet (Sèvre et Maine) and Jo joined him in the mid 1980s, at which time the estate was making some rather unexciting wines. Jo took over in 1990 and made changes… big changes. He slashed yields, adopted manual farming methods, and moved to certified organic by 1999 and certified biodynamic by 2008. Not only that, he’s at the extreme end of biodynamic, which sets him apart in the otherwise high-yielding and commercially oriented region. Interestingly, his vineyards are on a slight slope, which is rare in this flat and homogenous region. The change in aspect gives his wine a notable difference and complexity. In the winery he uses wild yeasts, runs cool ferments and ages his wines in glass lined temperature controlled concrete vats. This sort of winemaking, combined with his obsessive desire to express the vineyard terroir, results in wines that are alive and fresh, yet minerally and textural.
1. Landron Domaine de la Louvetrie 2011
You’d be hard pressed to find a better entry-level Muscadet than this. Sourced from several sites within the estate, it’s made with Jo’s minimalist approach and spends about 7 months sur lie.A classic Muscadet, it’s fresh and dry, with crisp citrus acidity intertwined with subtle floral flavours. There’s an underlying minerality which adds some texture and complexity and makes it unmistakably Euro. I found it a cross between Riesling and Chablis.
This wine is beautifully subtle - a tight balance between brightness and restraint, making it the perfect accompaniment to delicate savoury flavours like seafood. I like that it’s not trying to grab your attention. This is a delicious and refined wine, offering great value for money.
I can offer it for $24 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
2. Landron Amphibolite Nature 2011
If you’ve ever wondered about the term ‘minerality,’ then this wine will make it clear.It has similar characteristics but a very different emphasis to the wine above.
Jo named this wine ‘Nature’ because his aim is to create as pure an expression of the terroir as possible. The vines are 25-40 years old and the wine is made with minimal sulphur. It only has 4 months on lees, so cannot be labelled sur lie (6 months is required) and is bottled without filtration.
The wine is bright, dry and fresh and has an aroma of fresh rain on rocks. I found it crisp, crisp crisp – brimming with minerals and iodine and as it opened up, lifted citrus flavours. Clean, pure and balanced - what a bargain.
On the weekend I enjoyed one of those perfect days with friends on the harbour. Later, back on dry land, one of the crew cooked up some mussels and prawns and we savoured a bottle as the sun went down. Life doesn’t get much better.
These are difficult wines to find retail.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability