If Californian Chardonnay represents one finish of the white selection spectrum – structured, opulent, and really ripe – Melon de Bourgogne is the polar reverse. Saline, aromatic, and inevitably drunk younger, Melon de Bourgogne is a part of a noble household of light-bodied, fragrant varieties. Its closest family are Riesling, Sylvaner, and Aligoté, types that supply racy acidity, piercing minerality, and average alcohol. They’re often made with out oak affect and bottled very early in life. Some would describe these grapes as ‘easy’ or ‘one-note,’ but they’ve delivered pleasure to numerous gastronomes since time immemorial.
Guests to the attractive Loire area know what we’re speaking about: Melon de Bourgogne is accountable for Muscadet, one in every of France’s best white wines (sure, truthfully!). Compulsory with freshly-caught oysters loved within the afternoon solar, it’s unimaginable to trace what number of bottles are bought each weekend within the cities of Nantes and Excursions. Granted, Melon de Bourgogne won’t ever be thought-about in the identical league as white Burgundy or prime Chenin Blanc from Savennières – it has neither the construction nor complexity of these two viticultural icons. However by way of delivering uncooked, unadulterated pleasure, there are few varieties to match it.
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Historical past and viticulture
The function of Melon de Bourgogne has developed significantly over the centuries. Wine historians imagine it’s indigenous to the vineyards of Burgundy (therefore the moniker Melon de Bourgogne), the place it produced very tart and lightweight white wines. Cultivated because the days of the Western Roman Empire, Melon de Bourgogne was a lot appreciated by winegrowers, not least due to its capacity to yield a large crop. Its future in Burgundy’s vineyards was safe for a time.
Nonetheless, after the Dukes of Burgundy assumed management within the eleventh century, the area’s viticultural map and priorities started to alter. By the 1700s, a lot Gamay had been grubbed up because of the aristocracy’s intense dislike of the grape – ditto Melon de Bourgogne. The institution felt Melon couldn’t produce high-quality wines in Burgundy’s local weather, a pale and unremarkable shadow of Chardonnay’s greatness. Nonetheless, Melon de Bourgogne subsequently discovered a welcome dwelling within the western Loire Valley that very same century. Its arrival was most fortuitous: a horrible winter had killed off massive swathes of vines within the Loire. Money-strapped growers desperately wanted a sturdy substitute to face up to the inevitable frosts and chilly climate of early spring. Thus, Melon de Bourgogne was the reply to all their prayers.
Certainly, Loire Valley vignerons have been enthusiastic adopters of the grape, planting a formidable acreage within the area of Anjou. The grape’s capacity to outlive frost assaults even inspired growers to tear out long-established varieties and substitute them with Melon de Bourgogne. In the meantime, buyers from Holland had come to the Loire within the 1700s, intent on constructing a distillation trade unequalled in Europe. They began to plant Melon close to the port of Nantes – a really perfect location from which to ship their profitable export. It has dominated manufacturing within the Pays Nantais area ever since. By the late-18th century, rich Parisians regarded the idyllic panorama of the Loire as their de facto second dwelling. A number of ornate and splendid chateaux have been constructed throughout this era, lots of which survive at present.
Sadly, the arrival of phylloxera within the 1800s shattered this bucolic paradise. Within the early 1860s, growers seen a disturbing development of their vineyards: vegetation died shortly and with out obvious motive. The trigger was a lethal pest imported from the US known as phylloxera. Its toxic saliva laid waste to vineyards throughout France, though sure areas within the Loire didn’t report any outbreaks till the Eighteen Eighties. After a lot trial and error, winegrowers found that American rootstock had developed an inbuilt resistance to the illness. Consequently, a large-scale regrating program was licensed throughout the Loire, though sure vineyards by no means recovered. Côtes d’Auvergne and the higher Cher Valley are two examples of wine zones that have been deserted to their fates, as growers couldn’t be satisfied to return to viticulture.
Nonetheless, many have caught with Melon de Bourgogne over the previous few a long time, as it isn’t notably troublesome to develop. Furthermore, DNA evaluation has uncovered the grape’s parentage: Melon is the results of a genetic ‘marriage’ between Pinot Blanc and Gouais Blanc – the previous is native to the Alsace area. At dwelling within the metamorphic schist and granite terroir of the Loire Valley, Melon buds and ripens early, which affords nice consolation to producers within the occasion of a frost assault; vines will typically produce a second set of buds below these circumstances, saving the harvest. In good years, the rising season might be largely uneventful, save for the chance of fungal ailments, comparable to mildew, in moist climate. A even handed use of the Bordeaux combination (copper and lime combination) will save the plant from an excessive amount of misery.
But it’s straightforward to supply very mediocre and acidic wine from Melon de Bourgogne. Vigorous and vulnerable to delivering excessive yields, plant development should be strictly and diligently managed from bud burst to reap. Solely low-yielding vineyards will produce wines with character, fragrance, and balanced acidity. The choice shouldn’t be fairly: tart dross with all of the allure of a mosquito chunk.
Winemaking in Muscadet shouldn’t be as unsophisticated – and rushed – as you could have heard. Or at the very least not when discussing the easiest Melon de Bourgogne wines. Nonetheless, mass-market manufacturers (sadly nonetheless round) are made within the blink of a watch – the overriding aim is to protect the fruit from oxidation, ferment massive volumes of should, stabilize the wine, and bottle it ASAP. The one ambition is to supply a drinkable aperitif with some citrus fruit and sufficient acidity to refresh. If any greatness is achieved, it’s purely by chance!
Château de Saumur, Loire valley
Nonetheless, the identical can’t be stated for the highest labels of Muscadet. It typically surprises oenophiles to study that winegrowers within the area have been accountable for popularizing lees contact: lees are lifeless yeast cells which have multiplied in the course of the fermentation, settling into the underside of the tank the place they resemble coarse white sand. One of the best Muscadet wines are at all times bottled straight from the fermentation vessel (sur lie) after the lifeless cells have been stirred into the wine over a number of months – sometimes longer. This brings an additional dimension of weight, texture, and richness that comes alive on the mid-palate.
After all, there are some important levels that happen earlier than this occurs. Within the Loire, the same old observe is to undertake protecting winemaking in stainless-steel; sulfur dioxide will in all probability be added to the grapes within the press to forestall spoilage. After urgent, the juice will usually be clarified by way of cold-settling in tank or filtration. Subsequent, cultured yeasts are added to the stainless-steel tanks (some growers use previous oak barrels and even amphorae), initializing the first fermentation. The byproducts of this course of are the all-important yeast remnants, thought to be paramount to the Muscadet custom. Certainly, they’re a potent antioxidant, and there’s no doubt that they play a decisive function in retaining Melon de Bourgogne recent and crips earlier than bottling. In that sense, Muscadet shares sure parallels with Champagne: each areas place the best significance on these lifeless cells packed stuffed with amino acids, peptides, fatty acids, and proteins. But Muscadet is the one wine type routinely bottled unracked and unfiltered.
Overlook all the things you’ve been instructed about Muscadet. Sure, even the bit about that unbearably tart end (local weather change has softened Melon’s as soon as notoriously fierce acid line). Up to date wines from main growers are fruit-driven, fragrant, and, most significantly, at all times hand-crafted. Consequently, they provide a beautiful various to types like Pinot Gris and Riesling, notably when seafood is on the menu.
But Muscadet’s lackluster picture is partly the fault of these straight concerned. Seduced by the ephemeral attraction of a fast buck, wineries massively inflated their volumes within the Nineteen Eighties, damaging the class’s repute in markets like Germany and the US. It has taken a concerted effort from the rising technology to show issues round over the previous 5 years; in 2017, quality-focused growers arrange the group ‘Vins de Muscadet,’ devoted to selling Melon de Bourgogne as a premium various to New World Sauvignon Blanc. This collegiate method, mixed with improved viticultural and winemaking requirements, has set Muscadet heading in the right direction.
Furthermore, the encompassing countryside is achingly stunning. Touring upriver from the Atlantic, the primary grape you’ll encounter is Melon de Bourgogne, cultivated on each side of the river within the Pays Nantais area. There are roughly 8200 hectares below vine, break up between a number of appellations. Probably the most prestigious Muscadet vineyards have at all times been in Sevre et Maine, a subregion that carpets the hills discovered southeast of Nantes. Over 75% of Muscadet’s complete acreage is in Sevre et Maine, composed of densely planted vineyards that bask within the metamorphic schist, gneiss, and granite terroir. It’s stated that the villages of Vertou, Vallet and La Chapelle-Heulin yield the best wines: structured, refined, and really fruity. Sipping prime Muscadet from Sevre et Maine is one in every of gastronomy’s most delightful experiences when served alongside a plate of recent oysters or langoustines. Lunchtime diners have been identified to spend over 5 hours within the charming eating places of Nantes, refusing to be dislodged!
Elsewhere, Melon de Bourgogne produces racy wines on the steep slopes of Coteaux de la Loire. On the identical time, the district of Cotes de Grandlieu is famend for its heat sandy soils and concomitant larger ranges of phenolic ripeness. In the meantime, single-vineyard wines are growing a cult following amongst hipster sommeliers – Clisson and Le Pallet are two climats (winery websites) value paying a premium for. However most essential is the revolution in attitudes: producers understand that low requirements and apathy received’t reduce the mustard anymore in a crowded market. Consequently, they’re chasing low yields, harvesting riper grapes, distinguishing between completely different terroirs, and experimenting with maturation in amphorae. Does this all sound too good to be true? From one perspective, it’s; poor-quality wines and lazy growers haven’t been utterly vanquished from the vineyards of Muscadet. However, for the primary time in a number of years, they’re outnumbered by the great guys!
High producers of Melon de Bourgogne wines:
- Andre-Michel Bregeon
- Jeremie Huchet
- Julien Braud
- Michel Lelu
- Jean Sablenay