STRAWBERRIES, cherries and angels kiss in spring. My summer wine is really made from all these things. Muscadet, my recommendation for a great summer wine has neither of the fruits flaunted in Nancy Sinatra’s ’60s hit. But it has lots of other points in its favour.
It has hints of melon. It’s a real maritime drink, dryish and often bubbles with neutral flavoured fruit. Once its bottled, it does not age. Which means that a five-year old Muscadet will still exhibit the same properties you bought it for abroad. Its also known worldwide as the Oyster wine. Which means the French have sold its image as the ideal accompaniment to fresh oysters! Think aphrodisiac!
Raise a toast. For you can now buy it here. Thanks to wine connoisseur Ranjit Chougule, who not only looks after the family company Chateau Indage, but also imports many famous international wines.
Muscadet has nothing to do with Muscat, the grape variety that is often called the sweet, gentle hero from Alsace, with its unmistakable orange and mandarine perfume and flavour. Muscadet comes from the opposite side of France, Nantes in the Loire Valley, very close to the Atlantic Ocean. In the 17th century, this region made wines that were thin, acidic reds. Then came the great frost wave of 1709, which froze not just the countryside, but also the sea. Vineyards, among other crops were wiped out. When the thaw took place, Dutch merchants who were the biggest buyers of French wines, encouraged grape growers to grow a variety that could survive cold weather. In came Melon de Bourgogne, a grape varietal from Burgundy. That’s why Muscadet is also known as Melon de Bourgogne.
What makes Muscadet really special is its tradition of being bottled sur lie, or ‘on the lees’. During the process of making a normal white wine, after fermentation in a barrel, the clear wine is drained off into a new barrel. The ‘lees’ or the yeast sediment that forms when the wine is fermented is left behind in the original barrel. In the case of Muscadet, the wine is bottled in the original barrel without this draining process, and hence picks some of the yeast with it. The yeast absorbs the oxygen and protects it from oxidation. This process keeps the wine fresh and gives it a slight spritz;
this distinction gives Muscadet its individual buzz. Of course , it does not have the same cachet of say a Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Flavours and faves in the wine world being cyclical, who knows, just as Viognier has come back into fashion, Muscadet might get its fifteen minutes of fame soon. Before it does, better educate your palate.
Lots of basic and cheap Muscadet are to be found in France. Usually they are green and unripe. Look for designations that say Sevre-et-Maine and producers like Audoin, Gilbert Bossard or what Indage is selling here, Chereau- Carre. It is a true summer wine.