Anthony Rose: 'What happened to muscadet?'


Remember that thirst-quenching, bone-dry white wine from the Loire we used to knock back by? What ever did happen to muscadet? Once all the rage, it went the way of Hungarian merlot, Romanian pinot noir and prawn cocktail. Why? What happened quite simply was that muscadet was washed away by the New World tsunami of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc because it couldn't compete on flavour.

It's more than a bit ironic, then, that in the face of tough economic times, the muscadet region is actually thinking of allowing its winemakers to grow chardonnay and sauvignon in their vineyards. You can hardly blame them if that's what it's going to take to survive, but such drastic measures, along with permitted higher sugar levels, would transform what's an essentially mouthwateringly crisp and tangy, seafood-friendly dry white into something considerably less so.

It would be a crying shame even if a lot of basic muscadet doesn't cut the mustard. Having tasted a number of growers' sur lie muscadets from the excellent 2012 vintage recently, however, I was impressed by their deliciously briney character, concentration and unique ability to match shellfish and seafood – or to be drunk on their own as an appetising apéritif. If this summer runs out of steam soon, many of these will keep happily for next year too.

At the entry level, the 2012 Taste the Difference Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie, £6.99, Sainsbury's, has the requisite fresh apple and pear fruit spritz. In a similar style, only with delightful lemony freshness, is the Domaine des Herbauges' Le Fiéf Guérin, Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie, £7.99, Waitrose.

I love the smoky aromatics and freshness of Pierre Sauvion's Château du Cléray, £8.99, buy 2 for £6.99, Majestic, the fragrance and lively apple fruit quality behind Jérémie Huchet's Domaine de la Chauvinière, £8.99, Avery's of Bristol (0843 224 1224), and the same organic grower's fragrant and full-flavoured Château de le Templerie, £6.50, The Wine Society (01438 741177).

Of course, 2012 was a terrific vintage across much of the Loire generally, so let's not overlook excellent sauvignon blanc either, such as Jacky Marteau's fine, smoky Domaine de la Bergerie Touraine Sauvignon, £7.99 – £8.94, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen (01502 727272), Marks & Spencer. Look out, too, for Florian Mollet's deliciously complex, classically flinty 2012 Roc de l'Abbaye Sancerre, and his equally stylish Pouilly Fumé L'Antique, both £15.99, Sainsbury's.