About Muscadet wine from The Nantais wine region of Loire Valley in France

December 21, 2010

About Wines from Loire Valley of France
Best wine supplier in Philippines discusses wine related topics

The Nantais
The Nantais is Muscadet country. This is the westernmost stretch of Loire vineyards, accompanying the river along its last fifty or so miles before it spills into the Atlantic, and the region also marks the most northwestern point of all France’s vineyards. Centred around the city of Nantes, the vineyards are only part of a sandy landscape which includes industry, fishing ports, tourism and parades of French bikers.
My first memory of the Nantais has me driving into the region along the N160 very late one Sunday night, probably past midnight. Having taken the route nationale as far as our printed directions instructed us to, we pulled off onto a string of country roads and crept our way towards our accommodation. The topography here is flat, the roads sinking just lower than the sandy, grass-laden expanses that stretch between them. These roads criss-cross the countryside here, many seemingly without any purpose or direction, other than for the entertainment of the local motorcycle gangs, who buzz around late at night, an activity no doubt just one small part of their own unique lifestyle. I never saw those gangs again; I suspect failure on my part to adventure out into the Nantais wilderness in the small hours of the morning was the reason. I did venture out during daylight hours, however, and that is when I realised that some of those grassy, sandy expanses are, in fact, vineyards. I had nocturnally stumbled through the vineyards of the Fiefs Vendéens, a VDQS region south of the Muscadet vignoble.
The Fiefs Vendéens is one of three VDQS regions here, the others being Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, running down to the coast, and the Coteaux d’Ancenis, sandwiched between the Muscadet vineyards and those of Anjou-Saumur. The central Muscadet vineyards, however, divided into four regional appellations, are the focus of the Nantais.

The Muscadets
The Muscadet appellations sprang into life in 1936, with the creation of Sèvre-et-Maine and Coteaux de la Loire that year, with the basic Muscadet appellation laid down in law the following vintage. The youngster in the gang is Cotes de Grand Lieu, which was only delimited in 1994. There are broad similarities between the four regions, but also differences. All specialise in a single style of dry white wine, using the indigenous Muscadet grape, also known locally as Melon de Bourgogne or simply Melon. The terroir is largely sandy, although importantly there are areas that feature clay, granite, schist and gneiss, a common metamorphic rock often associated with granite. The wines once held a reputation of being at best an early-drinking, neutral foil for seafood, at worst a bland, tasteless, light and watery drink. In many quarters such opinions no doubt still exist, but investigate Muscadet and it is possible to find truly dedicated vignerons whose passions for the vine match those found in any other of France’s many wine regions. They cultivate with great care, use biodynamic methods, turn out a selection of terroir-based cuvées and utilise the lees, batonnage and oak appropriately (which means with subtlety), the end result being interesting wines which remain characteristically Muscadet, but break out of the dull mould shaped by this grape. Some even age with confidence, producing wines with divine secondary characteristics. Is this the Muscadet you know?
Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine is the region many drinkers will be most familiar with, often qualified with Sur Lie, a notification that the wine has been aged on its lees prior to bottling, with the aim of engendering a little more flesh to the wine than it would otherwise possess. Frequently touted as the ‘best’ of the four appellations, many do not realise that this collection of vineyards, scattered between 23 communes around the confluence of the Sèvre and Maine rivers as they flow towards the Loire, accounts for a whopping 81% of the Muscadet vignoble. Thus in reality this makes the appellation fairly useless as a distinguishing characteristic, and many local vignerons have responded by banding together and essentially creating their own superior classifications, such as the Hermine d’Or designation, used by a group of quality-minded producers led by Guy Bossard. The INAO and the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Nantes have so far failed to table a better solution to sort the good from the bad and the ugly; there’s plenty of spin on the region’s official website inviting consumers to taste the ‘revalorized’ wine that is Muscadet, but I’m not sure anyone is listening. The appearance of commune names on some bottles is perhaps a start, suggesting that there is a regionality to Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, but it is hardly a convincing solution. Sales of Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine continue, at the time of writing, to fall year on year.
The other 19% is largely made up of the Côtes de Grand Lieu and Coteaux de la Loire. All these producers are also entitled to use the regional Muscadet appellation on the label, but very few do. Only those with land outside the appellation boundaries, often just by a whisker, tend to use this generic term, accounting for just a small proportion of that 19%. The vineyards of the Coteaux de la Loire lie along the right bank of the river, as it flows towards Nantes. These are regarded locally as the longest established vineyards, although the region as a whole claims to have been viticultural during the time of Emperor Probus, who ruled Rome in the Third Century. It is worth pointing out, however, that Melon de Bourgogne only arrived in the Nantais in 1635, and came to domination in 1709 after a severe winter sent many of the pre-existing vines to an early grave. The vineyards of the Côtes de Grand Lieu, delimited in 1994, lie to the west of Sèvre-et-Maine, and many local growers claim a stylistic resemblance between the two, distinct from those of the Coteaux de la Loire which are said to be leaner.
Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, and Friends
What can I say about Gros Plant? This isn’t a wine you are likely to spot on the list of many wine merchants, and in fact I don’t think I have ever encountered a bottle outside the Nantais. Some might consider this a good thing. Gros Plant is a vine looking for a reason to be. It has found such a reason, as an excellent source of neutral base wine, rich in rasping acidity, just perfect for distillation, and so the fruit is welcome in Cognac and Armagnac, just to the south. But here in the Nantais, it is cultivated and vinified to make wine; there are a few growers turning out decent examples, largely those turning out good Muscadet as well.
So why bother? That is the opinion of some local vignerons, who have replaced their Gros Plant with Chardonnay and other more saleable international varieties, which can be sold as VdP de Jardin de la France. But Gros Plant has been of great economic importance to the Nantais over the years, and a local saying “Gros Plant is my bread, Muscadet my wine” reflects this. So some will remain loyal to Gros Plant, although I think it will only be appreciated outside the region as a cultish oddity, a proud badge of honour worn by the same clique of wine drinkers who complain that Chinon isn’t as thinly acidic as it used to be and hanker after the latest Muscadet super-cuvée from local star-winemakers.
The two other VDQS regions, although not as expansive as the massive Gros Plant, deserve a mention. The Coteaux d’Ancenis runs along the left bank of the Loire, facing the vineyards of Muscadet des Coteaux de la Loire. Like Gros Plant this region was delimited in 1954, but unlike Gros Plant there are any number of different varieties grown here, from Chenin Blanc and Pinot Gris through to Gamay and both Cabernets. The vineyards of the Fiefs Vendéens, the backdrop to my first encounter with the bikers of the Vendée, play host to Sauvignon, Chenin, the Cabernets, Gamay and Pinot Noir, among others. The regional VDQS was laid down in law in 1984. The wines of both regions tend to be, with a kind heart, light, crisp and refreshing. They are about as likely to venture out of the region as the previously mentioned Gros Plant.
From the Nantais, it is a short journey east to reach the vineyards of Anjou and Saumur. If travelling by the N160, there is an excellent delicatessen on the right-hand side as you travel through Cholet. They sell the richest pain au raisin I have experienced anywhere in the Loire; I strongly recommend you try it!

Source: http://www.thewinedoctor.com/regionalguides/loirenantais.shtml
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