France: Loire Valley

Around Nantes

Muscadet and the Vendée
By Jim Budd

This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2011
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Main wine styles

Dry whites

With Muscadet, Gros Plant and Vin de Pays Chardonnay or Sauvignon, this is the region’s principal style. Much of the wine is made to drink young, although the best cuvées from the leading Muscadet producers can age well and will benefit from at least a couple of years in bottle. The best technique for making Muscadet is called sur lie, which provides more body and flavour as well as a characteristic and refreshing prickle at the back of the palate. The wines are kept in vat or barrel on their fine lees until at least March following the vintage. Muscadet has to be bottled straight from the original vat or barrel so that the prickle of gas isn’t lost. For over a decade some of Muscadet’s leading producers have been working on ageing their wines for over a year sur lie before bottling. These have been called various names like Muscadet Troisième Niveau (3rd Level), Muscadet Villages, Muscadet Haute Expression and cru communale. An official name, however, has yet to be agreed. Unfortunately, as these wines are aged for more than a year sur lie, they are not allowed to put sur lie on the label because all sur lie wines have to be bottled by th end of November the year after the vintage. Completely mad – but that's French wine law for you! These wines are richer and fuller than most Muscadets and ideally should be drunk with fine fish dishes. Gros Plant produces austere lemony wine with high acidity – good Gros Plant is a perfect match with oysters. The easy-drinking Chardonnays are pleasantly lemony and sometimes show melony fruit to drink young.

Medium and sweet whites

The Malvoisies from the Coteaux d’Ancenis are usually demi-sec (medium), and the most memorable made in exceptional years may well be sweet, able to age well for several decades. Medium and occasionally sweet wines are also made from Chenin Blanc in the Fiefs Vendées.

Reds and Rosés

The Pays Nantais really is not red wine country. I can never remember any interesting Gamay or Cabernet Franc from the Pays Nantais. Most of what there is comes from the Coteaux d’Ancenis. The best are light and easy drinking, while the less good are thin and mean. However, these comments certainly do not apply to some of the reds from the Fiefs Vendéens, particularly those from Thiery Michon (Domaine St Nicolas). For example he makes remarkably deep coloured and concentrated Pinot Noir.  Negrette is also grown in the Vendée making deep coloured, attractive but slightly rustic reds.

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