Updated: Jun 30



We’re traveling to Verona, Italy, in this post to discuss the wines of Valpolicella. I’m positive you’ve heard of Verona before . . .


Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

—William Shakespeare, Act 1, Prologue, Romeo & Juliet


Whether this passage reminds you of skimming CliffNotes before 9th grade English class or young Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio falling in love, we hope you’ll stick around to learn about the amazing red wines of Verona, in particular the wines of Valpolicella. I promise that will be the last Shakespeare quote. Let’s get back to wine. There’s a lot to unpack with Valpolicella so we recommend to go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.


Ok, I couldn’t resist one more Romeo & Juliet quote. But it’s a fitting quote for Valpolicella, which is confusing. Well, that is until you read this blog post!


If you’d rather watch Shen and I present the following information instead of reading, then please check out this video and subscribe to our Youtube channel, Teakwood Tavern:



Verona, Italy


Verona is both a province and a city located in Veneto, Italy. Veneto is a region located in northeast Italy. The city of Verona is the capital of the province of Verona.


© Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Famiglia Castagnedi


Valpolicella zone and subzones


The overall Valpolicella DOC extends roughly 16 miles from west to east and about 8 miles from north to south. The zone includes a complex system of valleys that flow from Monti Lessini in the north down to the plains in the south. From west to east, the valleys are: Fumane, Marano, Negrar, Quinzano, Avesa, Valpantena, Squaranto, Marcellise, Mezzane, Illasi, and Traminga.


©Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Veni


The historical production area of Valpolicella DOC Classico is comprised of the Fumane, Marano, and Negrar valleys as well as the townships of Sant’Ambrogio and San Pietro in Cariano.


Classico region © Brigaldara


Within the broader Valpolicella DOC is another area that was given its own denomination, Valpolicella DOC Valpantena. Valpantena lies east of Classico and directly north of the city of Verona. Its wines are generally distinguished by a greater freshness and elegance, but also great longevity.


Climate


Verona is located in the far west of Veneto. Overall, Valpolicella’s climate is continental, but it does vary depending on the location of the vineyards. In the north, cool Alpine winds are prevalent. In the west, Lake Garda provides a warming effect that creates a Mediterranean microclimate.


Soil


Since there are valleys, it only makes sense that there are mountains. The soil types vary depending on the altitude, which ranges between valley floors at 200 feet above sea level and mountain ranges around 2,100 feet. The hills are comprised of igneous rock (e.g., volcanic) and sedimentary rock (e.g., marl and chalk).


Chalk © Geology.com


Marl © Geologyscience.com


Grapes


If you want to drink wines produced from native grapes, then you should seek out Valpolicella wines. Approximately 97% of grapes grown in the greater Valpolicella area are indigenous varieties. Corvina, Rondinella, and Corvinone are the three major varietals, which together comprise about 94% of all plantings in the area.


Corvina’s moniker is the Queen of Valpolicella. An apt nickname since Corvina accounts for 60% of all plantings. Corvina, with its dark skin, provides aroma, tannins, structure, and acidity to the Valpolicella blend.


Corvinone provides many of the same qualities to wines as Corvina. The grapes themselves are physically larger than Corvina grapes. Interestingly, and confusingly, Corvina is not genetically related to Corvinone.


What Rondinella lacks in aromatics, it makes up in acidity and tannin. It too is a dark grape.


After the big three varietals, you’ll also find small plantings of Molinara, Oseleta, and Croatina.


©Recchia


Valpolicella blend


Italian law dictates what percentage of certain grapes can make up a Valpolicella blend. There are a few key rules to remember.


Corvina must make up between a minimum of 45% and maximum of 95% of the Valpolicella blend. There must be a minimum of 5% and a maximum of 30% of Rondinella in the blend.


Well, the laws changed recently and authorized Corvinone in the same 45% minimum and 95% maximum as Corvina. The same 5–30% rule for Rondinella applies when Corvinone is swapped in lieu of Corvina.


© Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Famiglia Castagnedi


Appassimento


In Italian, the word for the process of drying grapes is appassimento (aka passsito method). Grapes that were harvested between September and October dry out (raisin) until January or February. Traditionally, grape bunches were poured into racks made of water reeds or bamboo and stacked on top of each other in attics. Now, many wineries stack grapes in boxes made of plastic or wood. There is great care given to ensuring minimal handling of the grapes. Any damage to the grapes can result in rot or mold. Some wineries leave windows open to assist with the drying process. Other wineries store the grapes in special drying rooms equipped with A/C and humidity controls.


During appassimento, grapes can lose between 30-40% of their weight. Concentrated flavors and high sugar content are the byproducts of appassimento. According to Jancis Robinson, appassimento metabolizes the acids in the grape itself and polymerizes the tannins in the skin. I’m not sure what that means exactly. But Jancis is the boss, and it sounds cool.


Appassimento is performed more in Valpolicella than elsewhere in Italy. Three of the four styles of Vapolicella involve the process of appassimento in some manner.


Styles of Valpolicella


Now that you’ve mastered blends and learned about appassimento, it’s time to learn about styles of Valpolicella. Yes, you read that correctly, there's still more to learn about Valpolicella.

Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.


There are four distinct styles of Valpolicella. All four are made from the same blends that I discussed above. The four styles of Valpoilicella are as follows: Valpolicella DOC; Valpolicella Ripasso DOC; Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG; and Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG.


Valpolicella DOC


These are your basic Valpolicella wines. But not basic in taste. It is the only style that doesn't involve appassimento in some form.


We love these wines. Big sour-cherry flavor with sprightly acidity. Generally, there is no oak aging, and the wines are medium bodied. The wines are approachable in their youth, and many can handle a chill. Jancis Robinson has compared these wines to Beaujolais, and I see the resemblance.


These wines are super affordable for the quality. You should hop on the Valpolicella train before the prices increase. It’s especially important to buy now since the commercial success of Amarone, which we discuss below, has reduced average production of this style of Valpolicella in almost half between 2005 and 2013. The shortage of grapes being produced in this style will also send prices up.


Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG


I purposely jumped from Valpolicella DOC to Recioto della Valpolicella because the latter is a sweet wine. If you master Recioto, then Amarone and Ripasso are easier to remember and distinguish.


Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG is a historic sweet wine that is made using appassimento. Sweet wine has been made using the appassimento method dating back to the Romans. Yet, Recioto della Valpolicella didn't earn its DOCG status in 2009. Sadly, this historic wine is produced less frequently. That’s partly because sweet wines are a hard sell, but also because Amarone and Ripasso have stolen the show.


If you’re at a quality Italian restaurant, take a look at their dessert wine list. If they sell Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG, grab a glass. Or split a 375ml bottle amongst friends. These sweet wines burst with powerful red fruit flavors and high alcohol. If you’ve ever wanted a full-bodied dessert wine with tannins, seek out a bottle of Recioto!


Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG


Of all the wines we are exploring, this is likely the one that you are most familiar. It’s a staple on most higher end Italian restaurants as well as steakhouses.


Now take everything you read about Recioto della Valpolicella, and let’s apply it to Amarone della Valpolicella. In general, the grape growing and the appassimento methods mirror each other. The big difference between Recioto and Amarone is that, for the latter, the grape juice is fermented to complete dryness or off-dryness.


If you’re into Italian wine, it might surprise you that Amarone is not a traditional Italian wine. It was not commercially produced until the 1960s. Before then, Amarone was considered a flawed Recioto since it was a completely dry wine. Amarone della Valpolicella earned its DOCG status in 2010.


Wineries go through serious painstaking efforts when producing Amarone. Usually, the best whole bunches are selected from more mature vines. Since appassimento results in massive water loss, making Amarone requires more grapes than a typical wine. Wineries often age Amarone onsite for many years before releasing to the public for retail. All of these efforts are why Amarone comes with sticker shock.


These wines are full bodied with high alcohol. The tannins are generally medium to high. The wines are cherished for flavors of concentrated red berry and baking spices.


Valpolicella Ripasso DOC


We saved Valpolicella Ripasso for last because Ripasso is a lovechild of Valpolicella DOC (i.e., basic production) and Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. To understand the beauty of Ripasso is to appreciate what both Valpolicella DOC and Amarone bring to the blend.


Ripasso is produced by running Valpolicella over Amarone skins. Winemakers drain Amarone off the skins slightly before fermentation finishes. The Amarone skins, which are not pressed, are added to a vat of completely fermented Valpolicella. Yeasts, which are present on the skins, ferment the remaining sugar on the Amarone skins. That’s why it’s important to pull the skins before fermentation is complete. This extra fermentation aids the Amarone skins in providing flavor, color, and tannins to the normal Valpolicella wine.


The resulting wines are medium to full bodied with flavors and aromas of stewed red and black fruits. Tannins are medium to high and the acidity from the Valpolicella is still present. These impeccable wines are often called Baby Amarones because of the use of Amarone skins. They also cost a fraction of Amarone so they are worth exploring before making the splurge into Amarone.


And that’s it for the four wine styles. Phew, I need a drink. Or maybe four.


Wine tasting



Brigaldara Valpolicella DOC 2018


This bottle is everything I love about Valpolicella DOC. On the nose, bright strawberry and cranberry burst along with violet and lilac. On the palate, red fruits were still at the forefront but balanced with anise, eucalyptus, and black pepper. Acidity was medium plus and tannin was medium. The abv came in at 13.5%, and the body was medium. The finish was in the low 20s (number of seconds desirable flavors remain in your mouth after swallowing). This is a delightful wine that can be drank alone or paired with food. The fresh fruit flavors, high acidity, and medium tannin combine to form an easy drinking wine for all occasions. It’s both elegant and unpretentious. At $19, buy a case and drink often. No need to age.



Lenotti “Le Crosare” Valpolicella Ripasso DOC Classico Superiore 2015


This Ripasso packs a punch and reminds you that you’re not drinking normal Valpolicella. It still retains the acidity from the Valpolicella base, but the Amarone skins provide high tannin, high alcohol (14.5% ABV), and a full body. Aromas of smoke, chocolate, blackberry, and jalapeño are present. Flavors of red cherry, leather, mint, tobacco, and mushroom dance on the palate. Tertiary flavors are already present in this 2015 vintage, but there’s still plenty of aging potential to lay this wine down for a few more years. The finish was in the mid-twenties. At $32, this is a great introduction into the apassimento method. Again, Ripassos are a great value when compared to the price tag that Amarone charges.



Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Selezione Antonio Castagnedi Amarone della Valpolicella 2015


Compared to the Valpolicella and Ripasso, this Amarone had the darkest color—a deep, opaque ruby. On the nose, we found aromas of mushroom, violet, nutmeg, fig, and chocolate. On the palate, there were lovely flavors of black plum, coffee, wet leaves, and cedar. Acidity was medium plus, and the ABV was 15%. The tannins were high and the overall body was full. Shen’s immediate reaction to this wine was to call it chewy, not in a bad way. Just a different sensation on the palate. The finish was in the high twenties. If you love big, red wines with tertiary flavors, this would be a dream wine for you. At $50, this is a splurge wine to buy when making a hearty meal at home. You’ll likely pay quite a markup at a restaurant so we recommend buying Amarone at retail and determining whether you enjoy this style. It’s delicious and unique, but the cost is no joke. Still, this is a quality wine and a treat to drink for the right occasion.



Recchia “La Guardia” Recioto Della Valpolicella DOCG Classico 2015


This wine was incredible. It was full bodied with a 13.5% ABV. Aromas of fig, raisin, leather, and wet leaves leaped from the glass. The wine bursted with flavors of strawberry rhubarb pie, fig, tobacco, and dates. Acidity was racing. The finish was in the low 30s. We will buy this bottle again if we see it.


Last Call


I realize this is a lot of information to digest, but Valpolicella is worth learning about. You'll find great wines throughout all four styles, which is not something that many wine regions can boast.


While we enjoy all four styles, we really appreciate the elegance and approachability of Valpolicella DOC. This table wine might not receive the accolades of Amarone or Ripasso, but your wallet and senses will thank you. So grab yourself a bottle and enjoy! And when the time is right, explore the other three styles.


Sending unburdened love from which I don't sink,


John

P.S. If you made it this far, you earned this bonus:



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  • The Reynas

Updated: Jun 15



Since when did Texas wine country start making best wine travel destination lists?


As a Texan, I’ve always heard about people visiting wineries in the Texas Hill Country. But the wineries always played second fiddle to people visiting Fredericksburg, which is a super cute town in the heart of Texas Hill Country.


So have times changed? Is Texas wine worth seeking out?


Well, after a much needed vacation, which included investigative wine tasting, Teakwood Tavern is ready to report back. If you prefer to watch a video, please checkout (and subscribe to!) the Teakwood Tavern YouTube channel:



History


When you think of Texas, wine probably doesn’t come to mind. However, the history behind Texas wine will make you think again.


Texas is considered the home of the first vineyards planted in North America. Thanks to the Franciscan priests wanting communion wine, we had plantings as early as 1662. The vines thrived through the 1800s as more cuttings were brought from Europe, up until Prohibition ruining the entire US wine industry. (There's a constant theme in our postings about how much Prohibition screwed up things we love.)


Texas saves European wine!


Thomas Volney Munson, a viticulturist living in Denison, TX, made Texas a special place in the wine world. Perhaps you’ve heard of the phylloxera outbreak in the late 1800s that decimated vineyards all across Europe. The small aphid destroyed over 80% of French vines. Munson was an expert in grape botany and grafting techniques. He had access to hearty North American rootstock, which proved to be resistant to phylloxera. Munson grafted the European varieties to them and saved European wines as we know them today. You are welcome, France!


Munson's work was so influential that Denison, TX and Cognac, France became sister cities. In fact, the French Minister of Agriculture visited Denison during the phylloxera outbreak to learn firsthand from Munson about his scientific discovery. The French dignitary sent many bushels of the vines back to France. The new Texas root stock was then grafted onto the ailing French vines, and the vineyards were saved. And the rootstocks that Munson recommended to the French were Texas native grapes found in the Texas Hill Country!


Modern Texas Wine


‘Doc’ McPherson, a chemistry professor at Texas Tech, is credited for bringing wine back to Texas after traveling around U.S. wine regions. He planted his first vineyards in 1966 with 140 different varietals to understand what grew best in Texas climate and soil. By 1976, he opened what is now the largest winery in Texas, Llano Estacado. His son, Kim, produces one of our favorite wines in Texas, McPherson Cellars. Both wineries are located in Lubbock, a city we are partial to (Wreck 'Em Tech!), and focus on grapes grown in the Texas High Plains AVA. Surprisingly, the Texas pan handle not only grows the best grapes in Texas, but 80% of Texas grapes are grown here too. Still, most of the wineries and their tasting rooms are in the much more scenic Texas Hill Country AVA. Sorry Lubbock, you're not that pretty, but you have other sources of enjoyment.


Today, there are ~400 Texas wineries (according to wineamerica.org) contributing to 60k jobs around the state. The total impact on the economy is estimated to be $13 billion. Texas is the 5th largest wine producing state with great growth potential. We ride on #4 New York’s heels and are hopeful to pass them in the near future.


Texas wines substantially contribute to tourism in the state. But we are finally attracting more experimental wine makers with our low cost of land and less regulation than most other states. The industry is young and adventurous, exploring Spanish, Southern French, and Italian varietals, instead of the classic Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot) and Burgundy (Pinot Noir & Chardonnay) varietals that sell well.


The environment


Since Texas is about the size of France, there are many different climates and soil types around the state. Overall, Texas has a warm continental climate similar to Spain, Italy, southern France (ahem, Rhone Valley), and Portugal. However, heat is not what keeps grape growers up at night. Spring frost, hail, and drought can cause catastrophic damage to vineyards. The varietals that grow best miss the frost by budding later and don’t require a lot of water or a long ripening season.


AVAs

©Texas Public Radio


There are over 4,000 acres of vineyards covering 8 different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). The two largest and most notable AVAs are: Texas High Plains and Texas Hill Country.


Texas High Plains


With the elevation between 3000 and 4100 feet, this area is a bit cooler than the rest of Texas. Covering much of the Texas panhandle, this region produces 80% of the state’s grapes. This region shows the most potential with a more temperate climate, which is similar to Napa. The cooler weather allows for the grapes to ripen longer, which balances ripe flavors and acidity, a necessity for quality wine. The soil drains well and the wind helps prevent against disease. Drought is the biggest issue, therefore requiring irrigation.


Texas Hill Country


Larger in size and hosting the vast majority of wineries, Texas Hill Country is thought to be the heart of Texas wine. Located north of San Antonio and west of Austin, there are beautiful rolling hills with an elevation maxing out at 2100 ft. There is more rain and humidity than the high plains, but with that comes more heat, forcing the grapes to be harvested as early as July.


Teakwood Tavern does Texas Hill Country


With the world opening back up again, it was Hye time Teakwood Tavern hit the Texas wine country. We reached out to a few sommelier friends and compiled a list of wonderful options. With only one day, we wanted to make the most of a few special wineries instead of the olden days when we visited as many as 7.


William Chris


Our first stop in Texas Hill Country was William Chris. William Chris prides themself on being the largest 100% Texas grape winery. By law, Texas wine only has to be 75% Texas grapes to claim Texas on the label. This was required in the past because production stability and consistency could not keep up with demand. As more grapes are planted and we understand the environment better, Texas winemakers, including William and Chris, are looking update this requirement to 100%, like California and Oregon. This allows the state and its individual regions to create their own terroir.


William Chris toped our list. Their Pet-Nat is a Teakwood Tavern favorite. And their tasting room in Hye, TX, did not disappoint. We did the food pairings, which were four small bites each served with a different wine from the tasting, plus a few bonus wines.



I appreciate the focus on moulvedre, which does particularly well in Texas. You will also find hearty varietals grown in both the hill country and high plains likes tannat, malbec, grenache, tempranillo, zinfandel, picpoul, and sangiovese. Many of the wines we enjoyed were lower in alcohol, which we prefer. This allows the quality of the wine to shine through without the burn of alcohol, and hey, you can drink more wine.


Ab Astris


Ab Astris was recommended by a friend and had a more laid back vibe. There is no reservation required at this family-owned, boutique winery also in Hye, TX. They planted their own estate vineyard in 2018 to produce tannat, souzao, clairette blanche, petite sirah, and montepulciano.

Ab Astris has a giant sparkling new patio and outdoor bar set-up. An overall a solid experience at the kind of place we want to support. Mama was pouring our wine and sent out the attorney turned winemaker son-in-law to come speak with us after we started asking lots of questions. They even had recently started making a pet-net as well!


The French Connection


What can we say, we love Rhone style wine? Once hearing the winemaker from Calais, a well-regarded winery in Texas Hill Country that focuses on Bordeaux style wines, opened a sister winery showcasing Rhone varietals, we had to check it out. The French Connection proudly sources 100% of its grapes from the High plains AVA and west Texas, capitalizing on the longer ripening season thanks to diurnal shifts, which means high variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures.


The balanced acidity and complexity of the wines made them the best damn Texas wines I’ve ever enjoyed. The French Connection also produces Rhone style whites from viognier and roussane. And wow, the chartcuterie board and hilly view that accompanied the tasting was amazing!


Last Call


Everything about this experience was exceptional, proving that no, you don’t have to go to Napa or Bordeaux for a great wine tasting experience, once again. Please get out there and support your local(ish) wine community!


Cheers,

Shen


#texaswinecountry

#texashillcountry

#texashighplains

#williamchriswinery

#abastriswinery

#frenchconnectionwines

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  • The Reynas


On July 20, 2020, I wrote an article about Chenin Blanc wines from Loire Valley, France. In that article, I articulated not only my love for Loire Chenin Blanc but also how Shenandoah and I had planned to honeymoon in Loire last year. Of course, COVID-19 changed that.


Well, I’m back with another wine region within Loire where we planned to honeymoon­—Pay Nantais. Pays Nantais is the name of the region around the city of Nantes, which is located on the Loire River near the Atlantic. In the wine world, it is known for a singular grape, Melon de Bourgogne (“Melon”), and its wine, Muscadet.


If you'd rather watch Shen and I present the following information instead of reading, please check out this video:



Melon de Bourgogne’s history


Melon de Bourgogne’s origin is in eastern France. Melon was common in the former region of Franche-Comté, which was named after the Franche Comté de Bourgogne (Free County of Burgundy). Franche-Comté separated from Burgundy in the fifteenth century. Based on its Burgundian origins, it should come as no surprise that Melon is related to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.


On February 5, 1556, Phillip II of Spain and Henry II of France signed the Treaty of Vaucelles to end the war between their two countries. Under the Treaty’s terms, Phillip II was given the Franche-Comté region. Phillip and his crew despised Melon so much that they banned its cultivation in 1567.


The Dutch Wine Trade introduced Melon to Pays Nantais in the 17th Century. The Dutch, who were avid brandy drinkers, were seeking an alternative source of base wine for their brandy. The Dutch convinced the Nantais growers to switch from the black varietals to producing Melon instead.


In the winter of 1709, a catastrophic frost killed most of the vines in Pays Nantais. Louis XIV ordered that Melon should be planted in lieu of the remaining black varietals.


Currently, Melon is the most planted grape variety in the Loire Valley.


© Emeline Boileau


Muscadet wine


Melon de Bourgogne is the only grape used to produce Muscadet wine. The grape is also called Muscadet, which reflects how closely it is identified with the wine.


Back when I first started studying wine, there was one wine term that was synonymous with Muscadet, sur lie. Sur lie means “on the lees.” Lees are dead or residual yeast particles that appear directly after fermentation. For Muscadet to be legally designated sur lie, the wine must remain on its lees throughout winter and bottled between March 1st and November 30th.


Muscadet’s sur lie process occurs in traditional underground glass-coated tanks and stainless-steel tanks. The use of inert vessels like glass and stainless-steel are key to the lees adding beneficial textures and flavors to Muscadet.


While Muscadet marked as sur lie has often been the only version of Muscadet to seek out, that is no longer the case. Many of the best Muscadets are aged on their lees past November 30th; however, these wines can’t be marked as sur lie since the wines exceed the legally permissible period of aging on lees. Village Cru wines, which I discuss below, are often aged on their lees between eighteen to twenty-four months. Some of the finest Muscadet are aged on the lees for up to forty-eight months.


Muscadet’s appellations


There are four Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (“AOC”) for Muscadet. There is the gigantic AOC Muscadet, which encompasses the other three AOCs. The AOC Muscadet became an official AOC in 1937. Its grapevines reach from the Atlantic Ocean to the Anjou region. The other three AOCs are Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu.


© Vins de Nantes


Beginning at the Atlantic and heading east along the Loire, the first of the three regional appellations you'll encounter is the AOC Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu. This AOC was created in 1994. It is named for the Grandlieu lake—France’s largest natural plains lake—south of Nantes.


Next along the Loire is the AOC Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, which was established in 1936. It is one of France’s oldest AOCs. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is named after the two small rivers, La Sèvre Nantaise and La Petite Maine, which run through the region. The Sèvre and Maine are the two last tributaries of the Loire before it reaches the Atlantic. Roughly 77% of all Muscadet’s vineyards are located here.


The eastern most regional AOC is Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire. It is also the smallest regional appellation in Pays Nantais. It is situated northeast of Nantes, along the sloping banks of the Loire.


Muscadet’s Cru Communaux


In 2011, three Cru Communaux (Village Crus) were established: Clisson, Le Pallet and Gorges. These Village Crus were created to showcase establish areas of excellence where Muscadet was at its best.


Today, there are ten Crus. Look for these names: Clisson, Le Pallet, Gorges, Goulaine, Mouzillon-Tillières, Monnières-Saint-Fiacre, Château-Thébaud, Goulaine, La Haye Foussaière, and Vallet. These names come from local villages, but boundaries were drawn based on underlying geology rather than a road map.


To be designated as a Village Cru wine, the wines must adhere to strict standards. These wines use the extended lees-ageing process mentioned above. They are made from a certain selection of grapes (e.g., from old vines) and grown on the village’s best plots with specific soils.


These wines are receiving high praise for their ability to age.

Soil


The Pays Nantais is situated on the southeastern tip of the Armorican Massif, which is an ancient massif dating back to the Precambrian Era. A series of geological events resulted in the formation of plutonic rock (granite and gabbro) and metamorphic rock (including gneiss, orthogneiss, mica schist, amphibolite and serpentinite). The chemical composition of these rocks, which form the subsoil of the Pays Nantais, significantly differ from one another, resulting in soils with a wide range of characteristics and behavior.


AOC Muscadet’s subsoil is a mosaic principally composed of igneous and sedimentary rock including gneiss, mica schist and gabbro (black volcanic rock).

Gabbro


Muscadet Sèvre et Maine has various soils of gneiss, granite, schist, and gabbo.


Gneiss


Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire has steep slopes of schist or granite


Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu has sandy, stony soils closes to the Atlantic


Muscadet’s poor reputation


In the 1970s and 80s, Muscadet was a popular, inexpensive wine. However, the big négociants and cooperatives tarnished the wine’s reputation. Négociants are merchants who buy grapes, juice, or finished wine from growers, then bottle and sell them on the market wholesale. Cooperatives are a group of winegrowers who purchase the grapes in bulk, vinify the grapes, and then handle the sales. The négociants and cooperatives took advantage of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to produce large quantities of basic white wine. It was a high-volume, low-margin business model and the resulting wines suffered. In the early 90s, Muscadet’s exports fell by almost half their 80s' quantity. Vineyards also shrunk dramatically over the next two decades.


The new era of Muscadet


While big négociants still account for 75% of Muscadet production, Muscadet’s future has never been brighter. Many smaller producers have moved away from the use of chemicals and are farming much more conscientiously. They are harvesting healthier grapes and distinguishing between soils. The newest generation of winemakers have trained throughout France and the world and have returned home to showcase what Muscadet can be when Melon is treated with love. There is no better example of where Muscadet is heading than the wines from the Crus Communaux. But even non-Cru wines are improving. It is an exciting time to drink Muscadet!


© Emeline Boileau


Muscadet’s profile


Muscadet’s beauty is that it’s a textural wine. It hits your mouth in ways that very few other wines do because of the aging on the lees. There's a roundness and body that you'd expect from a wine with high alcohol, not a wine with 12% ABV. Muscadet is so good when it hits your lips . . . so good. Queue Frank the Tank:



You’ll often hear Melon referred to as neutral grape, which means it’s not overly expressive or a fruit bomb. Don’t let this deter you. If anything, it’s another reason why Muscadet is a unique wine. Rather than aromas of fruits exploding out of the glass, you’ll encounter minerality and saline. The minerality, which reflects the wine’s terroir, is more evident because the wine isn’t overpowering your senses with gobs of fruit. The saline is evocative of the nearby ocean.


The lees not only provide texture, they also provide aromas and flavors. Muscadet often showcases brioche and biscuit. If you enjoy those aromas and flavors in your sparkling wines, many of which also go through lees ageing, then you’ll appreciate it in a still wine.


Muscadet is a dry wine with high acidity. Alcohol levels hover around 12% ABV. Because of the wine's texture, the body is often medium to medium plus.


Food pairing



MUSCADET AND OYSTERS!!! WOOOOOO!!!


In the wine pairing world, this is as close to peanut butter and jelly as you can get. This is a classic representation of when oenophiles say “what grows together, goes together."


Earlier, I mentioned the salinity often found in Muscadet. That makes it a perfect pairing with all seafood. But it is especially delectable with mollusks.


Because of Muscadet’s acidity and texture, it pairs well with more than just seafood. It’s delightful with a beurre blanc sauce. Muscadet’s acidity and richer mouthfeel make it an incredible pairing with a cheeseboard and charcuterie.


Wine tasting



2017 Domaine Jean Aubron Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Cuvée Élegance


This dry wine showcased flavors and aromas of green apple, pear, honeysuckle, grass, lemon pith, flint, and underripe pineapple. Salinity was present. As was bread from the sur lie. Acidity was medium plus and alcohol was 12%. The body was medium minus. The finish was in the low-to-mid-twenties, which was solid for $16.



2013 Domaine Pierre Guindon Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire Sur Lie


This wine was the star of our tasting. It burst with aromas and flavors of brioche, almond, pear, chalk, mushroom, saline, orange blossom, wet stones, and fennel. The acidity was high and the alcohol was 12%. The body was medium to medium plus. The finish hit the high 20 second mark. Shen immediately commented that we need to go back and buy a case of this. I agree, this wine is exactly why I love Muscadet. An incredibly complex wine with delicious tertiary notes of mushroom and almond from aging in bottle. Yet, only $17.



2012 Hubert Rousseau Domaine Des Trois Toits Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie


This wine was mesmerizing, but it was also slightly past its prime. As you can see from the photo, this wine has oxidized. But it wasn’t vinegar. In fact, this wine confirmed what we had been reading from reliable sources—Muscadet can indeed age. On the nose were incredible aromas of toasted almonds, brioche, cheese, honey, butterscotch, and dried banana. On the palate were flavors of marzipan, cheese, toffee, quince paste, nutmeg, and orange pith. Honestly, if this had been a blind tasting I would have thought Manzanilla sherry. Even with all of these wonderful aromas and flavors, the wine had a short finish, which was disappointing. This is likely due to the oxidation. We will keep our eyes out for this wine again because even if this particular bottle wasn’t at its best, damn, this wine showed great potential.


Last Call


A few years back, Shenandoah and I were wine tasting around Central Coast, CA. We spent one night in Paso Robles and dined at Bistro Laurent, a French bistro. They had an amazing raw bar so we started with a dozen oysters and Domaine Michel Brégeon’s Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie. It was a lovely opener to a wonderful meal. As we departed, we said goodnight to the sommelier and the owner, who were hanging out at the host stand. The sommelier informed the owner of our Muscadet and oyster order, and the owner’s face lit up with excitement. He applauded our wine pairing selection and explained how much he loved that pairing.


Most restaurants have to stock wine that will move off the shelf without any effort so they can keep the lights on, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t gems on the list. These wines are often accompanied by a great story and true passion from the sommelier or owner. We knew the connection between Muscadet and oysters so we didn’t need the hard sale. But that didn’t make the pairing any less incredible. I’d enjoy that pairing any day of the week.


I hope that after reading these posts and watching our videos you become more adventurous in your wine selection and look for the wines that don’t seem to fit with everything else on the wine list. The wines you’ve never heard of or you can’t pronounce. Those wines are on that list for a reason. Ask your server or sommelier why. You might be introduced to a phenomenal wine and food pairing like Muscadet and oysters.


I’m confident that Bistro Laurent has paired Muscadet and oysters for numerous patrons who weren’t aware that they were about to try wine pairing royalty. But now they get it. Hopefully, they too are writing blog posts about it.


Sending perfectly paired love,


John

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