Have No Fear...I'm Still Here

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s tends be a little hectic, and things have finally slowed down to a more manageable pace. Despite not having posted about booze in a while, trust me…I have been sampling plenty of good stuff and you deserve to know about it.

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So today I am keeping it very simple: here’s a three-bottle flight of French wines I have tasted since Thanksgiving that is worth your time, money, and effort to find in your local beverage depot. Three different styles from three different regions of France. Ready…go!

Domaine du Petit Clocher Anjou Blanc ($14): Chenin Blanc continues to be an underrated grape variety, and you get 100% of it here. Lemon curd flavors and a fleshy texture are countered by a zing of acidity to balance things out. A solid way to introduce yourself to the Loire Valley’s style of Chenin Blanc.

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Pascal Aufranc Chénas Vignes de 1939 ($16): The “Cru” level wines of Beaujolais have always been some of my favorite light reds as they have more substance than village-level Baeujolais and definitely more depth than the candy-like Nouveau. This wine is made from 80 year old vines, featuring violet aromas, vibrant strawberry fruit, and a stony/earthy character with gentle tannins.

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Chateau d’Arcins Haut-Medoc ($25): A 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot., this wine shows textbook blackberry and cedarwood flavors and aromas with noticeable tannin and acid that are synonymous with Bordeaux from the Left Bank. The wine I had was from the 2014 vintage, which is a damn fine year for Bordeaux, but you may need to let the wine air out a bit to soften (pour this into a decanter and let it sit for a couple of hours before drinking). With time, the texture becomes more plush, the blackberry fruit seems riper and more powerful, and a dark chocolatey note seems to come out on the finish.

Fun To Say, Fun To Drink: Muscadet

Wines from the vineyards near the river city of Nantes (pictured) are exactly what you need this summer.

Wines from the vineyards near the river city of Nantes (pictured) are exactly what you need this summer.

It's fun to drink

And it's fun to say.

It comes from France.

It's Muscadet [moose-cah-day]!

You know that I am an unabashed fan of wines from the Loire Valley of France, and with the heat returning to the northeast, I love them even more. There are so many dry, zesty white wines and fresh, lively red wines to choose from. However, today we focus on a white wine from the city of Nantes in the western Loire whose low alcohol, light body, and refreshingly simple flavor is perfect for this time of year. Additionally, it was a wine that my two older sons absolutely loved to say when they overheard me discussing my wine studies; it's clearly fun to say for kids, but they have over a decade to go before it can be fun to drink.

Muscadet is one of the unique protected production areas in France in that it does not refer to a grape variety or a geographic region. Wines made with this name are made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape (often shorted to Melon), whose tendency toward neutral flavors was ideal base material for Dutch traders to turn into brandy. This, along with the deep freeze of 1709, led to an increase in plantings of Melon. The name "Muscadet" is believed to have come from the supposed "musky" character that Melon displayed. Perhaps earlier clones of the variety showed this funk, but in today's examples there is no muskiness to be found.

Muscadet wine is produced from an area of roughly 32,000 acres, a significant swath of land for producing one type of wine, but still pales in comparison to Bordeaux's nearly 300,000 acres. Within the boundaries of the Muscadet zone, there are more specific terroirs and names that may be appended to the name of Muscadet on a label if the wine follows the production rules.

Map of the Muscadet production zones. Chéreau Carré is an important producer of Muscadet wines Image credit:  DeMaison Selections

Map of the Muscadet production zones. Chéreau Carré is an important producer of Muscadet wines Image credit: DeMaison Selections

Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine: this is the one we see the most often on the shelves; it is often the richest and most complex of all three sub-zones.

Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire: the northernmost region, where vintage variations are noticed the most out of the three sub-zones. Coteaux de la Loire tends to be the highest in acidity of the three sub-zones.

Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu: this didn't receive its own sub-zone until 1996, so prior to this vineyards were producing basic Muscadet. Soils are lighter and sandier, leading to delicate, light-bodied wines with floral aromatics.

In addition, these three sub-zones can all add "sur Lie" if they use a specific winemaking technique. In order to impart a creamier texture and give Muscadet a fuller body, fermented wines will sit in a tank or vat with the spent yeast cells (called the lees) from fermentation. The cellar hands need to stir the lees, which release sugars and proteins into the wine, leading to a richer texture. Temperature needs to be kept under control and lees need to be stirred, otherwise spoilage can occur in the wine. Additionally, if lees aging goes for more than a twelve months, it can lead to "off" flavors, such as rotten eggs in the wine (Yum!), unless serious care is taken in the cellar.

Muscadet wines are natural matches for seafood. Sea scallops and raw oysters are both phenomenal with Muscadet, as are mussels cooked in white wine with garlic and herbs. Keep the seafood preparations simple,and you will be in business. The other good news about Muscadet is that it does not break the bank, even on the higher end of the price spectrum. I have four wines for you to try, all of which show a progression from delicate and easy-drinking to assertive and complex.

Château de La Chesnaie Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie ($12): Briny and citrusy, this is an easy way to get yourself introduced to what everyday Muscadet is all about.

Château l'Oiselinière de la Ramée Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie ($17): More defined citrus fruits, such as grapefruit and lemon zest, are complemented by a subtle floral note A softer texture than the Chesnaie, but still has some bracing acidity to keep the wine from feeling flat in your mouth.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Les Gras Moutons ($23): Vines are 20-60 years old, so fruit concentration begins to increase when compared to the previous two wines. The range of citrus fruits show up in this wine, but now stones and earth start to show. The texture is richer than the two as well, and this is where you begin to see what happens when Melon is grown in more specific vineyard areas with organic farming techniques.

Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Clisson ($28): Organically farmed, "Clisson" is the first recognized "cru", or great growth of Muscadet. Pépière stretches the limits of lees aging by going to nearly two years on the spent yeast cells. Vines ages are anywhere from 50 to 110 years old, leading to very concentrated flavors. White peaches, apples, brioche bread, and a smoky/stony character make this one of the more complex Muscadet examples out there. I highly encourage you to try this wine if you can find it!