Picture a warm afternoon, sitting under as shaded canopy, with an enormous platter of shimmering oysters before you. Now, what’s in your glass? The answer is Muscadet. Not to be confused with Moscato, the sweet Italian wine, Muscadet—pronounced [MUS-KAH-DAY]—is a completely dry, bright, incredibly well priced wine from France’s Loire Valley. For a long time, it was made in bulk, and not particularly good—but in recent decades, a small group of organically farmed family estates have renewed its reputation.
The name is actually something of a misnomer, or a nickname. It refers to white wine, made from the grape Melon de Bourgogne. Generally, Muscadet undergoes at least a few months of sur lie aging—when the juice sits alongside a mess of grape skins and dead yeasts called the “less”—which lends the wine a creamy, weighty character. But because of the cool climate, the wine retains zippy acidity. Muscadet paired with briny oysters is a match to end all matches.
One of the best things about Muscadet is its affordability and casualness. For Will Elliott, head bartender at Williamsburg oyster and crudo den Maison Premiere, which was recently awarded the James Beard Foundation “Outstanding Bar Program” accolade, drinking Muscadet embodies an attitude of relaxed elegance.
“We love the accessibility of Muscadet,” says Elliott. As opposed to some of the more extreme, funky natural wines that are trending at the moment, Elliott appreciates Muscadet for its “drinkability; the wine is not stealing the show. It’s a quenching wine.” Maison Premiere boasts an extensive selection of fantastic Muscadet bottles, including a “vertical” of one wine, meaning it spans across several vintages.
And there’s another reason Maison Premiere specializes in Muscadet: the soil in that region is “littered with oyster shells,” says Elliott. Obviously, a wine that’s made from grapes grown in oyster-laden soils will pair well with a fresh dozen.
If you’re having Muscadet at home, it’s great with a little chill—although white wine should never be served straight out of the fridge, as it loses its aromatics—and some seafood. Or, grab some friends or someone you’re crushing on and have an oyster fest in the garden sanctuary at Maison Premiere (reservations recommended) with one of these excellent, unpretentious, wallet-friendly bottles of Muscadet.
2014 Luneau-Papin “Clos des Allées” $10/glass, $40/bottle
From a family estate that vinifies each parcel of land individually, this wine is a cheerful, fresh, and bright expression of 45-year-old vines. It’s the perfect aperitif. And Maison serves it by the glass for a mere $10!
2014 Domaine de l’Ecu “Gneiss” $52
The metamorphic rock gneiss (pronounced like “nice”) is one of the principal components of soil in the Muscadet region, and this certified biodynamic estate makes a wine from gneiss soil that’s full of salinity, the minerality of crushed seashells, and refreshing peach and lemon notes
2013 Domaine de la Pépière “Clisson” $60
The granite soil of the Clisson vineyard lends extra minerality to this wine, from a producer who helped establish the reputation of Muscadet with American drinkers in the 1990s, before most people even knew what or where Muscadet was. The Clisson vines have between 50 and 100 years of age, and the juice spends 24 months on the lees, which conspire to produce a wine of depth and richness.
2010 Vincent Caillé “Clos de la Févrie” $42
It’s nice to try a wine like Muscadet, usually drunk young, with a bit of bottle age, to see how it has developed. When you see “Clos,” it means that it’s a walled-in, special vineyard with history. In this case, winemaker Vincent Caillé calls this his “Grand Muscadet,” as the terroir is excellent. The wine is sharp, bright, tinged with notes of apple and honey.
2007 Jo Landron “Fief du Briel”$95
Maison Premiere offers a chance to try some truly aged Muscadet, with a vertical of wine from the same producer, ranging from ’07 to ’09. The ’07 is a stellar bottle, and it’s relatively affordable considering its age. Winemaker Jo Landron lets this juice, from 40-year-old vines, sit on its lees for up to 24 months, lending florality and weight to the wine.
All photos by Kelsey Mitchell.