The Wines of Brittany - The Muscadet Vineyards

Here at Brittany Holiday Guide we are regular visitors to the Muscadet vineyards. We love the (30 minute) drive out from Nantes towards Vallet and La Chapelle Heulin over the river Loire and what feels like a rickety old bridge into wine country. This is a region which has fallen out of fashion in recent years, as tastes have changed, perhaps influenced by the New World wines which push us to like fuller bodied, more mouth filling chewy and fruit juice styles of wine. That certainly isn't Muscadet but well made this is a delightful white wine, fresh, full of flavour and the perfect accompaniment to cut through the rich seafood meals of the region. Try plump Brittany oysters with a glass of Muscadet - a winning combination and if you can still hold onto the stem of the glass at the end of the meal then you are not trying hard enough!

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Muscadet wine of Brittany France
Muscadet wine

The Muscadet vineyard stretches almost from the coast, south of St Nazaire to well inland. It is inland that you will find the best examples, most notably in the Sevre et Maine area, particularly around Vallet. Sevre et Maine is one of the 3 areas which allows the wine makers to make "Sur Lie" wines. The others being Cotes de Grandlieu and Coteaux de la Loire. This process literally meaning "On the Lees" ages the wine over winter on the yeast sediment (the lees) in the barrel or fermentation tank and then bottling the wine straight from the tank without filtration. Sur Lie wines have a slight bready, yeasty flavour and more often than not a very slight spritziness which perfectly complements the crisp acidity and adds complexity to the wine. The toasty, bready flavours found in Champagne come from the same source, though through a different method, that of ageing in the bottle. Whilst Muscadet is the flagship wine of the region, most "viticulteurs" will also grow a range of other grape varieties. We have tried and bought Pinot Noir, Gamay (as used in Beaujolais), Gros Plant (never exported) and Cabernet Sauvignon whilst on tour; purely in the name of research of course.

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Muscadet is a pretty serious wine growing region and so the tourism there is welcomed and relaxed. No pressure selling and owners are always keen to meet tourists. Granted, finding places is difficult with some of the smallest signs possible indicating where the property is. Relating fields of vines (of which there are a lot) to the property where the magic is done can be a challenge but exploring is fun and the scenery stunning: neatly manicured ranks and files of vines outlining distant church steeples and enveloping small towns like persistent ground cover. The owners are nearly always the winemakers, wine growers, handy men and hosts and are some of the most welcoming and interesting people we have ever met. Alternatively ask at the tourist offices in Vallet or La Chapelle Heulin or any of the main towns and they will advise. For foodies there are some first class restaurants around here, serving Loire Sandre (Zander) with a beurre blanc sauce and of course frogs legs and other delicacies.

When buying direct from the grower we would suggest that you try the wines on site. No two years are the same and as wine ages it changes so differences between when we buy it and when you buy it may be huge. That said our two current favourites are:

  • Chon et fils. We have bought from the family for a decade now and this is stunning Muscadet in a good year, bready spritzy perfect example of the style with a crisp acidity which is just right making it refreshing and not mouth puckering. For those of you who enjoy an aperitif (why not we do), this Muscadet is our absolute favourite with Crème de Cassis to make a kir. They also do an elegant soft blackcurrant edged Pinot Noir, aged in oak giving it gentle tannin dryness.
  • Moreau. His 1st class Muscadet Prestige de l'hermitage 2009 was superb. Slightly softer, rounder mouthfeel than the Chon equivalent but suitable with a wider range of foods. We found it went well with cheese as well as the more traditional seafood based recipes. He also did a Cabernet Sauvignon which was a surprisingly light, quick drinker (well we drank it pretty quickly) with a gentle forest fruit aroma and lightly summer fruited taste. Not particularly tannic. We also tried a Chardonnay he produced but slightly less impressed with that. Worth trying in a different year perhaps.

Muscadet is something that I think will come back into fashion. The winemakers there have had a hard time recently with the great Western price squeeze that is going on. They have been making great wine there for hundreds of years and the style, that of a light, refreshing, crisp wine with a little complexity added by means of the Sur Lie ageing but being reasonably low in alcohol about 11.5% average is one that seems to be a wider developing trend.

A great way to spend a day as part of your Brittany holiday.


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