30 Second Wine Advisor: Muscadet for summer and shellfish 30 Second Wine Advisor: Muscadet for summer and shellfish

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Muscadet for summer and shellfish

With summer heat in these latitudes rising almost daily to the upper 90s F with no end in sight, it’s no time for sipping Port, and even robust reds are a little iffy unless you want to crank up the air conditioning.

A cool glass of lean, minerally Muscadet, however, hits the spot at any time of year, served with a selection of oysters on the half shell or a chilled vegetarian plate or even sipped alone, perhaps from a Riedel O glass on the deck while you watch the shrimps sizzle on the barbie.

My 2005 dissertation on Muscadet still covers the ground:

If you love Chardonnay because it's soft, low in acid, tropically aromatic and lush with butter and spicy oak, you may find that you hate Muscadet. But if your idea of a great white wine is lean, minerally austerity with pure fruit laced with the kind of tart, almost searing acidity that sings with food and hits an operatic high C with seafood and fish, then you might want to give Muscadet a try. Add a plate of perfectly fresh chilled oysters to the mix, and you may discover that you suddenly have a new favorite.

It's no coincidence that Muscadet is a classic seafood wine, as it's grown and made in the Nantais region, around the town of Nantes, where the Loire River tumbles into the cold Atlantic. The local cuisine takes advantage of the river and the sea's bounty of both freshwater and saltwater seafood and fish, and the local wine has evolved to match.

A couple of label tips: You'll see a lot of just-plain Muscadet, and it can be a crisp and cleansing simple table wine that shouldn't reasonably demand more than a single-digit price.

The regional designation Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, named after two tributaries of the Loire, covers so large a sub-region that it makes the lion's share of Muscadet's bottled wine. Muscadet is made from the Melon (“May-lawN”) de Bourgogne grape, a variety that - as its name implies - is thought to be native to Burgundy, although it's no longer grown there.

Finally, many Muscadets are made in a somewhat unusual way that involves leaving the young wine to age on its yeast sediment (called "lees"), a process in which a chemical reaction called "yeast autolysis" adds flavor and complexity to the wine. In Muscadet, these yeasty flavors, combined with the Loire's natural stony minerality, can create intriguing and haunting flavors that some Loire-heads memorably describe as "crushed seashells." Wines so made are labled “sur lie” or “sur lies” ("on the lees").

In all fairness, not all Muscadet is of equal quality. A lot of it is made quickly and simply for quaffing with food, and while there's nothing wrong with that, the quest for wine of real flavor interest may take some research; and neither “Sèvre et Maine" nor “sur lies” on the label offers any real guarantee of preferred status. My advice is to follow the advice of wine writers or merchants you’ve found reliable, and once you’ve found a lable you love, make a note of it.

You’ll find my note on a good one, Le Fils des Gras Moutons 2009 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, below.

We're just wrapping up a month of exploration among Loire white wines as July’s Wine Focus in our WineLovers Discussion Group. Join us as our friendly international crowd of wine lovers share our thoughts, questions and tasting notes on Muscadet, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fumé and other Loire whites. To participate, simply click to the topic "July Wine Focus: Loire Whites."

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Today's Tasting Report

Le Fils des Gras Moutons 2009 Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie ($13.99)

Transparent straw color, with a short-lived haze of pinpoint bubbles that fill the wine when poured but quickly disappear, leaving just a prickly touch of carbonation on the tongue. Fresh white fruit, subtle honeydew, with a "stony" nuance on the nose and palate that's typical of good Muscadet, all laced up with snappy, food-friendly acidity and a civilized, food-friendly 12% stated alcohol. U.S. importer: Vintage 59 Imports LLC, Washington, D.C. (July 16, 2011)

FOOD MATCH: Muscadet makes a classic match with oysters on the half-shell, and it goes very well with fish and shellfish in general. It was splendid, too, with a gently spicy Panang-style Thai curry made with Asian eggplants from our garden, onions, green peppers and tofu with Thai green curry paste and coconut milk.

VALUE: It’s a good buy for $15 or less, and my local price in the lower teens is in the mid-range. Wine-Searcher.com shows some sources at a few pennies under $12, so online buying may be an option if you want to buy it by the case.

WEB LINK: San Francisco retailer K&L Wines offers this interesting discussion of Le Fils des Gras and its producer, Claude Branger.

Look for vendors and check prices for Le Fils des Gras Moutons Muscadet on Wine-Searcher.com.

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