Muscadet: White Wine from France’s Loire Valley is Perhaps the World's Greatest Wine Value

The Loire River is one of the most important rivers in France.  Over the course of its 650 miles, the Loire River Valley is the longest winegrowing region in the world.  The river begins in the mountains of the Ardeche in south-central France, before flowing gently north and then west, flowing out to the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of France.  Many of France’s Kings had built chateaux’s along the river earning it the nickname of the Royal valley.  In fact, at one point, the Loire Valley was the seat of Royal power in France. 

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The Loire Valley is also the home to some of France’s most distinctive wines.  In wine terms, the Loire Valley is concerned with the flow of the Loire River after it heads west from the center of France, until its outflow into the Atlantic.  At the western end of the valley, close to where the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean is the city of Nantes, home to the area that produces a wonderful wine known as Muscadet.  The vineyards around Nantes are moderated by the warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic.  The wine appellation gets as close as ten kilometers to the Ocean in the commune of Saint-Père-en-Retz.  The far eastern end on the area is Saint-Florent-le-Vieil which is about 110 kilometers inland.  The soil is made up of Granite with Gneiss.  The area was a prehistoric seabed which has left many of those deposits in the soil. 

Although grapes have been made into wine here since the Roman Emperor Probus’ edict in the latter half of the third century, most of the wines were thin and acidic reds.  The killing frost of 1709 wiped out many of the red grape vines in the area.  The Dutch, who were major customers of the vineyards, suggested planting Melon De Bourgogne as both a base for their distilled brandies and as a white varietal which could survive cold winters.  The grape was, as the name suggests, from Burgundy (although today it is not used anywhere in France).  The wine made from these grapes was called Muscadet apparently coming from the French expression vin qui a un goût musqué, meaning a wine with a musk-like taste.  I am not sure I would agree, but there it is.

During the French Revolution, most of the areas growers took the unfortunate position of siding with the Royals and the Church in an effort to retain control of their property.  The resulting turmoil presented problems for the area until stability could be restored.  Although the wines have never met with huge public acceptance outside of the Loire Valley, there was a brief period of international interest in the latter half of the twentieth century before Muscadet faded into the background of the Chardonnay boom. 

There are four designated Appelation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) areas of France which produce Muscadet.  This is a rare exception to AOC naming conventions as Muscadet is neither named after a grape or a place.  The largest is the general AOC known only as Muscadet which was established in 1937.  I have had some nice wines carrying this generic designation such as Amphibolite by Joseph Landrone.  These are, however, hard to find and do not represent the best this region has to offer.  AOC Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire was established in 1936.  This sub-region covers 189 hectares and my favorite is Domaine Guindon.  Muscadet Cotes de Grandieu is the newest AOC having been designated as such in 1994.  It covers 290 hectares near Lake Granieu.  The very best wines of the region, however, are from the AOC Muscadet Sevre et Maine.  This AOC was established in 1936.  The area is near the Sevre and Maine rivers and the best wines come from the hillside vineyards near St. Fiarce or Vellet.  Eighty percent of all Muscadet produced carries this designation which covers over 8200 hectares. 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.