Muscadet and the Vendée
By Jim Budd
This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2011
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Château du Cléray, in the heart of Muscadet country near Vallet. © Mick Rock/Cephas.
After a 1000 kilometres the Loire finally reaches the Altantic Ocean and the vineyards at this last stage of the journey produce almost entirely crisp, dry white wine. Rarely flashy – they tend not to rack up high scores in wine competitions – these wines are often deliciously refreshing. This low undulating land is Muscadet country. With around 13,000 hectares Muscadet is easily the largest appellation in the Loire – in contrast Sancerre has 2,808 hectares. In communes like Saint Fiacre, you’ll find some of the highest concentrations of vines in France.
Muscadet is the perfect wine with fish and being close to the Atlantic this is available in abundance and wonderfully fresh. A young Muscadet is ideal with a seafood platter, while a grilled fish with the local beurre blanc calls for one with a couple of years of bottle age. Contrary to popular belief some Muscadet from good vintages and top-quality producers can easily be kept ten years. Although Muscadet dominates production there are other wines to discover, such as the Malvoisie of Ancenis and the wines from the Vendée.
There is, of course, more to the region than vines including the city of Nantes – an exciting blend of the modern and the historic. Also worth exploring, is the little known nature reserve of the Lac de Grand-Lieu, while not forgetting its Muscadet. The smaller vineyard area of the Vendée is a short drive away to the south with beaches not far away. Equally, the south Brittany coast is in easy reach.
The Pays Nantais is geologically an extension of the Brittany peninsula with the same hard impervious rocks – gneiss, schist, mica schist and granite in a complex makeup, with frequent changes of rock within very small areas. This leads some producers to make their wines strictly by rock type.
This is gentle, slightly undulating land cut shallow river valleys. The climate is oceanic – mild – winters are considerably warmer than in Sancerre close to the centre of France, while summer temperatures are a little lower than those further up the Loire Valley. Spring comes early here, so market gardening is an important industry. Being close to the ocean it is a little wetter than further east up the Loire, but, as there are no high hills here that would encourage the Atlantic weather systems to dump large quantities of rain, the difference with the rest of the valley is not marked.
Nantes is the region’s main city and can be reached from Paris by car in 3 ½ hours using the A11 motorway. From Calais, Paris can be avoided by taking the A16, A28 and A11, which takes around six hours. The TGV from Paris provides a frequent service, which takes about two hours. There are also TGV connections to Charles de Gaulle Airport, Lille and Lyon. Although Paris (Orly and Charles de Gaulle) are the nearest major international airports, there are an increasing number of flights to Nantes Airport from various European destinations including London City Airport, as well as domestic flights. Note that the completion of the A85 motorway has dramatically cut journey times for those travelling along the Loire. Sancerre to Nantes is now around four hours cutting two and half hours from the previous journey times.
Nantes Tourist Office, 3 Cours Olivier de Clisson, 44000 Nantes
Open Monday to Saturday 10.00-18.00
Vallet Tourist Office, 1 Place Charles de Gaulle, 44330 Vallet.
Open Tuesday to Saturday from September to June; Monday afternoon to Saturday midday in July and August; Sunday morning throughout the year.
Sables d'Olonne Tourist Office, 1 Promenade Joffre, 85104 Les Sables-d'Olonne.
Wines of the Loire information
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