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Contents of this issue of
The Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine

  • Article: Muscadet, Why I Love It
  • The Poor Man's Guide's Wine Reviews

Muscadet, Why I love It

When I first started learning about wine, I got the impression that Muscadet was just a simple wine, something not to take too seriously, sometime light and refreshing at best, but nothing more. I was also given the impression that it was meant to be drunk young and would not age well.

While all these things may be true for the large majority of Muscadet produced, Muscadet can be so much more than that. The region, in the western-most part of France's Loire Valley, is large and produces oceans of wine. The large majority of it is plonk, coming from vineyards and winemakers which are not capable of quality. A river of this thin, flavorless, watered down liquid spews forth every year. It is this unfortunate wine that has given Muscadet a bad rap. However, judging the entire appellation based just on this underachieving juice is not fair. After all, the greatness of other regions is not judged based on the average wines produced there but rather on the glory that is capable by the best producers from the best vineyards.

To start off, Muscadet is a wine made from only one grape, the Melon de Bourgogne. While, as the name implies, it was first found in Burgundy, it has become practically synonymous with the wines of Muscadet. Its resistance to frost makes it a good candidate for growing in the often cold western Loire. The lowly Melon does not have a great reputation, mostly for the reason discussed above regarding Muscadet as a whole. The vineyards of Muscadet vary but often contain a high proportion of rock in the soils with gneiss, orthogneiss, granite and schist showing up frequently.

You will notice that most Muscadet has the terms Sur Lie written on the label, which means it was aged "on its lees". Lees are the particulate matter left over in wine after fermentation which slowly fall to the bottom of the barrel. Leaving the wine to age on its lees creates a creamier, more lush, texture and adds some aromatic complexity. While sur lie aging is not exclusive to Muscadet, it is so broadly used there that it has almost become synonymous with the appellation.

Great Muscadet, made from the best sites by producers who are dedicated to quality, is one of my favorite wines for three reasons: 1) It is unique, with a strong character which expresses the terroir of the cold, rocky appellation, 2) it has an intense, almost salty, and mineral-laden acidity which makes it refreshing and a great pairing for many foods, particularly many seafood dishes, and 3) it is downright cheap! In fact, Muscadet can be one of the best values in wine anywhere as even the best bottlings rarely go for much more than $10!

Now I'll admit, Muscadet can be somewhat of an acquired taste. Most wine drinkers look first for rich body and ripe fruit in a young wine. While good Muscadet can be quite dense at its core, it has a lighter body and it is anything but ripe. In fact, the cold weather and rocky terroir of Muscadet means that the grapes tend not to be high in sugar, producing slightly lower alcohol, more acidic wines. However, what Muscadet lacks in ripeness, it makes up for in minerality. Muscadet practically tastes like rock juice, as if you squeezed a boulder of granite and got out this magical liquid. Tasters looking for big fruit will be disappointed. The complexity of great Muscadet is an Earth, rock, salt and citrus based complexity, not a fruit complexity. However, this core of minerality can be quite intense, flavorful and complex. It produces wines that are steely, bright and refreshing which are great alone on a hot day and are the perfect foil for raw oysters on the half shell as well as other lighter seafood dishes.

Fans of great white Burgundy, which also can have an intense core of mineral-like flavors and texture, often draw a parallel to Muscadet, particularly for the wines of Chablis, in Burgundy's northern-most, and coldest, region. While white Burgundy, made from Chardonnay, tends to have bigger body and riper fruit, purists will see a similarity in the steely, mineral and acid balance of the wines. However, with Burgundy prices continuing to soar, and the fear of premature oxidation in white Burgundy, more and more lovers of stony, food-friendly white wines are looking to Muscadet and spending much less. The best Muscadet can also age quite well, improving for at least a decade or more if well stored.

Will the best Muscadet stand up in a blind tasting alongside the best white wines of Burgundy, Alsace, Savennieres, Germany or Austria? Some yes, some no. A Muscadet may be no match for a great Montrachet, but you'll also pay 10- to 100-fold times less for the Muscadet. In the end, enjoying wine is not about comparing winners and losers. It is about enjoying the variety of unique and characterful wines available from so many sources and appreciating the natural beauty in each. At least it is for me!

So where should you look for great Muscadet? Don't just buy randomly, for the reasons explained above; there is just such a massive amount of bland, innocuous wines made that your batting average for finding a good Muscadet will likely be bad. Stick to the great producers. In last month's issue of the Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine™ I reviewed a single-vineyard, old-vine bottling from one of my favorite producers. The Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Olivier) Clos des Briords Vieilles Vignes is a great wine in most vintages and is a steal at less than $15. I stocked up on the 2006 because it is my son's birth year! In this issue I review two other excellent Muscadets, another from Pépière and one from Domaine Tourmaline. Some other well respected producers include Luneau-Papin, Michel David, Domaine de l'Ecu (Guy Bossard), Chateau de la Preuille, and Claude Branger, to name more than a few.

So before all your warm weather is gone this summer/fall, go grab a few bottles of Muscadet! Part of the fun is that they are cheap enough to experiment a bit (being disappointed by a $100 bottle of wine is much more painful that being disappointed by one that only cost you $8!). And that is what the Poor Man's Guide to Fine Wine™ is all about!


The Poor Man's Guide's
Wine Reviews

Wine Ratings Explained:
Zero Stars A wine I don't particularly recommend.

One Star
Well made, simple and tasty wines that I recommend.

Two Stars
Excellent quality. Worth an extra effort to search out and enjoy.

Three Stars
Outstanding wine of the highest caliber.
Either a wine that is close to deserving a higher score or a wine that may not be showing that much but with the potential to move up in quality with further aging. A young wine that may be closed up or shows potential for significant improvement. Assuming it opens and improves with additional age, it may merit a higher rating.
??? Flawed bottles or wines that are difficult to assess for any number of reasons. Judgement reserved.

Sparkling Wines:

Prosecco Frizzante
Drink Now-2010 $22
I've really enjoyed this producer's Proseccos since discovering them a couple years ago. This is the Frizzante, a lightly sparkling Prosecco. They also make an excellent Spumante which has a higher pressure and more body. Both are excellent and I've found them to be an excellent foil to slightly spicy Indian food amongst other things.

This one is super fresh with honeydew melon and salty minerals, a touch of melon sweetness balanced by minerals. Delicious and fun. One Star Plus. Importer: Vitis Imports, Inglewood, CA.

Gaston Chiquet
Cuvée de Reserve
Champagne d'Aÿ
Drink Now-2023 $50
Chiquet is an excellent small grower in Champagne in the village of Aÿ. This wine is a non-vintage blend which typically blends two recent vintages.

This just simply flat out has a great nose, one that shows why I love Champagne. Rich, yeasty and truffley, you could sniff this for hours. But alas, you must finally put it in your mouth! And I am glad I did. Deep and meaty, rich and chewy, this is an old-styled Champagne which is alive with character. It could definitely use a few years to settle down and integrate but this is a winner. Two Stars.

White Wines:

Jean-Marc Brocard
Saint-Bris 2005
Drink Now-2011 $12
Situated in Chablis, Brocard makes mostly Chardonnay from the vineyards of that region. However, nearby is an appellation which has recently been recognized, St. Bris. While it is technically part of Burgundy, St. Bris is the one appellation which is allowed to grow Sauvignon Blanc rather than Chardonnay or the other rarer white grapes of Burgundy.

If I had to compare it, I'd say this wine is somewhat reminiscent of a Sancerre, just turned down a notch in terms of intensity and depth. Fresh and linear, this is definitely refreshing and a simple, straightforward aperitif or seafood wine. While not as deep as a good Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, you can't find those for $12! One Star. Importer: Martine's Wines, Novato, CA.

Tokaji Dry Furmint
Drink Now-2014 $8
The first of two Hungarian dry wines reviewed in this issue, this one comes from the classic Hungarian grape variety, Furmint, which is traditionally used to make the super-sweet dessert wines of Tokaji.

The aromas here seem much like a sweet Tokaji (pronounced Toe-Kai) with honey and botrytis notes. Some noble rot is detectible on the flavors as well but has interesting complexity of herbs and a fresh, lively dry finish. One Star. Importer: Grand Cru Imports, Mercer Island, WA.

Jousset Trait d'Union
Montlouis sur Loire
Zero Stars Drink Now-2010 $15
Montlouis is on the Loire river near Vouvray and is 100% Chenin Blanc. Having had some nice, inexpensive dry Montlouis lately, I was excited to try this. However, this one sadly did not perform that well.

The nose gives up a bit of simple but pretty honey. The mouth is even more simple with only the slight off dry residual sugar giving it flavor. Drinks easily and isn't cloying or flawed, just lackluster. Zero Stars.

Pépière (Marc Olivier)
Muscadet 2007
Drink Now-2015 $12
I was super impressed by Pepiere's 2006 Clos du Briords VV Muscadet which I reviewed in the last issue. This is an outstanding estate, arguably one of the top few in the region. This wine is their regular Muscadet from 2007. By "regular" I mean it is their standard Muscadet whereas the previously reviewed wine, is a single vineyard wine made from old vines in the Clos du Briords.

This Muscadet (made from the Melon de Borgonge grape) is very similar in all respects to the Clos de Briords reviewed here but has less depth, intensity, complexy, minerality and body. That being said, this is still a shining and happy wine with granite and salty minerality. It is easy and fun and less cerebral than the Clos du Briords. However, for a truly great wine experience, the Briords VV is definitely worth the extra dollar or two that it costs, making it an even better value. One Star.

JJ Prum
Wehlener Sonnenuhr
Auslese 2006 #16
Drink Now-2026 $45
I have made no attempt to hide my admiration for the wines of JJ Prum from the Mosel river valley in Germany. The Rieslings coming from this estate are amongst the finest in the world and just about ever bottle you come across is at least very good and potentially fantastic. While they are not cheap, they are a relative value for their extraordinarily high quality.

This wine, from a ripe vintage, just exudes a regal, well-bred air that cannot be denied. Flinty red and white rocks dominate the nose. This is like liquid gold, shimmering and brilliant yet bold and ripe. While profound, this is more forward than some more classic and less ripe vintages. However, this plush baby fat of fruit is well balanced by a solid core of acid and deep, rocky minerals. This may easily move into Three Star range with a little time in the cellar. Highly recommended. Two Stars Plus.

La Sibillia
Campi Flagrei
Falanghina 2006
Drink Now-2011 $12
I've been a fan of Falanghina ever since my trip to Napoli and Sorrento a couple years ago. The best can have a depth and complexity that is striking and super duper with food.

Unfortunately, this one was not the best I've ever had, but is a good value nonetheless and worth your attention. Interesting aromas of avocado, melon and peach open up to a wine with a nice oiliness to the texture while remaining focused with a hint of pine-like brightness. One Star. Importer: Oliver McCrum Wines, Richmond, CA.

Szöke Mátyás & Zoltán
Màtra Pinot Gris 2006
Drink Now-2010 $11
Wow, look at that name! Hungarian wines tend to have scary looking names, but they can also be quite good. Beyond the classic Tokaji which has been famous for years, they are also making many excellent dry whites like this one.

A unique, fresh nose that I can't quite pin down. Spicy, reminding me of Indian food but also with some botrytis, apple and honey aromas you might expect from a Hungarian wine. If you are wondering where the flavors fall in the spectrum of Pinot Gris, this one is somewhere between the richness of an Alsatian Pinot Gris and the light, freshness of an Italian Pinot Grigio (the same grape). Tasty and gets an extra point for its uniqueness as this does not taste like a French Pinot Gris or Italian Pinot Grigio. One Star Plus. Importer: Blue Danube Wine Co., Los Altos Hills, CA.

Domaine de la Tourmaline
Sèvre et Maine
Drink Now-2020 $13
Another Muscadet. In case you haven't noticed, I like these wines. The Pepiere Clos de Briords I reviewed in the last issue was stunningly good for the price. This one is not far behind.

Soaring aromas of fresh, salty honeydew melon make me crave seafood. The granite of Muscadet underpins the structure of this wine with a fine white granite-like minerality, vibrant, salty grapefruit, stone fruits, zest and pit. Delicious and pure. Another unbelievable quality to price ratio! Two Stars.

Rosé Wines:

Mas Champart
Saint-Chinian Rosé
Drink Now-2010 $12
From the small appellation of Saint-Chinian in France's Languedoc region in the south, this is one of the better producers. Their reds are outstanding, showcasing the dark, meaty and spicy aromas and flavors of the region. This is their rosé.

I thought someone had served me a ripe, freshly cut watermelon when I popped the cork on this one. Fresh red fruit aromas like a watermelon jolly rancher jumped from the glass. Crisp and refreshing, the strawberry and watermelon continue into the flavors, bolstered by some typical southern French sea brine. While not that deep or complex, the purity here is very pretty and lively. One Star. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, CA.

Red Wines:

Logis de la Girandière
Anjou Rouge 2005
Drink Now-2020 $22
Baumard is known for their great white Chenin Blanc based wines from the Loire Valley's Anjou region, making great Savennieres and Coteaux du Layon. You can see several reviews in past issues of this newsletter. However, they do make a bit of red as well which comes as a surprise to many people! This is mostly Cabernet Franc with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon blended in.

A really unique wine which can only come from the Loire Valley. So distinctive, this wakes you up from the doldrums of modern, internationally styled wine. Chewy and spicy aroms of plum, cherry, rich, healthy earth and basil aren't hidden in the slightest by new oak aromas. In fact I don't think this saw any oak, letting the fruit and terroir speak through directly. Earthy but bright fruit flavors definitely have a bit of typical Cab Franc vegetal and spicy notes, but in a good way, adding complexity and nuance. This speaks so much of the soil of Anjou, I can't imagine it coming from anywhere else. A natural wine. Highly recommended if you can find it and have an open mind to natural, pure wines with character. Two Stars. Importer: Ex Cellars Wine Agencies, Solvang, CA.

Le Jardin de Charlotte
Pinot Noir Borgogne
Drink Now-2015 $17
Borgogne is the basic appellation of Burgundy and the grapes can come from various sources. For this reason, basic Borgogne can vary considerably, from bland, thin examples to some that are quite good despite their "lowly" origins. As with all Burgundy reds (outside of Beaujolais which is Gamay) this is 100% Pinot Noir.

Sweet, ripe red fruits, gardenia and rocky, turned earth all combine to make a nose which is much more complete than most Borgognes. The palate doesn't disappoint either, giving a ripe flavor but staying light on its feet with a silky texture and bright finishing acidity. Simple, but delicious, well balanced and underpined with Burgundy minerals, this is a great value for inexpensive red Burgundy and really is a credit to its appellation! One Star Plus. Becky Wasserman Selections.

Martilde Pindaro
Oltrepò Pavesse
Rosso Riserva 1996
Drink Now-2016 $17
Martilde is a great family-run estate in northern Italy's Oltrepò Pavese region. The beautiful art labels are all painted by Antonella, one of the owners. The wines also happen to be made organically by the couple that owns and runs the estate! This wine is a blend of 50% Croatina (also known as Bonarda), 40% Barbera and 10% Uva Rara. The wines from Martilde are generally released relatively late and you can often find older vintages such as this on the market which means that they are both a great value as well as offering some of the characteristics and complexity of more mature wines.

A deep, aromatic nose jumps from the glass and fills the room with delicous, spicy and herby fruit and hints of volcanic rock and smoke. This is a dark and rich wine but it remarkably remains jovial, bright and lifted due to excellent balance. Combining the fruity fun of a young Barbera or Dolchetto with the depth, meatiness and richness of a fine Barolo! Yum. Fun. Living. Breathing. Life wine. Two Stars. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

Enzo Mecella
I Lavi
Rosso Cònero 2004
Drink Now-2012 $16
This Italian wine is from the Rosso Cònero region in the Marches. It is made primarily from the Montepulciano grape.

At present this wine is quite hesitant, not showing much on the nose except a dusty, earthy aroma. The mouth is a bit more forward with a meaty and velvety texture to the dark fruit. Excellent with Italian fare. One Star. Importer: Vitis Imports, Santa Monica, CA.

Polesio Poderi San Lazzaro
Sangiovese 2006
Le Marche
Drink Now-2011 $15
This Sangiovese from the Le Marche region of Italy really shined in its aromas. This was almost exotic with spicy aromas of nutmeg and curry. However, the flavors fell a bit short, being simple. However, it was nonetheless very tasty and fresh, just simple, bright Sangiovese red fruits shining through. Good pizza wine. One Star.

Terra Sancta
Côtes du Rhône 2006
Drink Now-2010 $10
For those of you who don't know, Côtes du Rhône is an appellation in the Rhône valley in France. It is generally considered a lesser terroir compared to the smaller regions in and around it (such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, etc.). While there are some parts of the appellation in the northern Rhône, most of it resides in the southern part of the river valley. These wines generally consist of a blend of southern grapes, similar to a Chateauneuf-du-Pape with some blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and/or any number of others that can be grown there. There are some exceptions which are primarily one grape or another.

This Côtes du Rhône is simple. Simple to drink and simple to enjoy. Complexity? Not really, just good ol' bright red fruits that are refreshing and lively. Definitely not a contemplative wine, but one which is very drinkable and easy. One Star. Importer: Exclusive Importer, South Gate, CA.

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