In my Bristol Wine Blog a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in passing just how much Muscadet had improved recently. Look back 25 years and the 1997 edition of Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia was unflattering in its description of the Appellation: ‘bone-dry, light-bodied wines which, with very few exceptions, are ordinary wines at best and often lack balance’. The advice was ‘drink young’, although, on that basis, why would you want to drink it at all?
But, as I said, things have changed and a bottle I opened a few days ago confirmed that view in the most delicious way – although I suspect that few wine professionals would be able, with any real confidence, to pick Château Thébaud (Joie de Vin, £18.95) as a Muscadet. Dry, certainly, but with a richness and depth of flavour that is completely at odds with Sotheby’s comment. So, why the difference?
Our example dated from 2016 – 6 years old – so not a young wine at all and the label tells me that it had spent almost 4 of those 6 years ‘sur lie’. This is a process where, after the fermentation is complete, a wine is left in the cask resting in contact with the lees (the now dead yeast cells that caused the fermentation). These impart a savoury, spicy flavour to the wine and also give it ‘texture’ in your mouth. ‘Sur lie’ is normally just for a few months, occasionally up to a year, so to extend it to 4 years, as Château Thébaud have, accounts for much of the richness and character of this bottle.
We paired it with some seared tuna that we had marinaded in lime juice, honey and ginger – all quite potent flavours – but the wine matched perfectly showing lovely dried pineapple, honey and saffron and a really long complex finish.
I accept that this isn’t cheap at nearly £19 but compared to a good village Burgundy or white Rhône of the same quality, it starts to look like value for money – for a special occasion, at least.