Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

January 10, 2001 - Muscadet

One of my shining moments as Cave Dweller came last year about this time. Monsieur Jean invited me down to his cave for a p'tit verre, I contributed a bottle of Muscadet sur lie that my friends from Nantes had brought me the week before. Jean was very impressed with the Muscadet. He said it was très délicat et très fin. As we were praising this bottle, Gilbert came by and he was also impressed with it. Gilbert who is usually in a hurry to get back to work asks for another glass. When you don't want too much wine you lift your glass to lift the spout of the bottle. Gilbert did something that I have never seen before. As Monsieur Jean was pouring, he looped his forefinger over the spout of the bottle to keep him from stopping the pour. This very delicate wine from Nantes created a festive atmosphere and resulted in a prayer from Monsieur Jean. While lifting his glass above his head he recited his mass: Il est clair; il n'y a pas de dépôt; tu n'en veux pas; toi non plus. Amen à boire. It's these sorts of moments that make wine more than a beverage.

I generally find that wines of a specific region taste better when you are in that region. A rosé from Provence is not near as good when consumed in the colder climates of the north of France. A gamay from the Touraine wouldn't be right on the beaches of the Mediterranean and you wouldn't want to drink a Bordeaux in Burgundy. Wines reflect the terroir of their regions and always taste better in their proper atmosphere. The one wine that might be an exception is Muscadet. It can be found on every wine list in France and it is even available in the States. Its terroir is connected to the sea so every menu with seafood is complimented by the Muscadet wine. It is the most popular white wine in France. Over 100 million bottles are sold each year.

The best of this wine is the Muscadet sur lie. It is made by leaving it in the barrel with its dregs. Normally wine is separated from its dregs at least three times by drawing off the wine in the top of the barrel and allowing it to age in clean barrels. By leaving the wine in the barrel on top of its dregs(lie), the best and most natural wine is produced. It also allows early bottling which produces a light carbonation in the form of microscopic bubbles that give the wine a special freshness.

Like many good things in France, there is an ancient tradition behind the sur lie method of making wine. When a wine maker's daughter became engaged to be married, he would set aside a barrel for the wedding called the barrique de noce. This barrel was set aside for the wedding guests and allowed to ferment on its lies. The wine turned out to be so good that this method became a tradition with the Muscadet wines.

It has been AOC wine since 1937 and is made with a grape called melon de Bourgogne. It is a hardy variety of grape that is well suited to the regional terroir and the rugged climate of the nearby Atlantic Ocean. About half of its production is exported. As I glance down at another glass of muscadet and admire its pale yellowish gold that picks up reflections of green as I swirl it in my hands I can't help but remember and smile.

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January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 -Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, Thanksgiving
November 8, Pouse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 Provence: All Good Things




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