Tim Graham

Try them with or without the oysters.

June 05, 2017

If your trusted retailer is sold out of Instagram-worthy Forty Ounce Muscadet, here's a little trade secret: the wine inside is fresh and satisfying no matter what kind of packaging it comes in. In fact, Muscadet has been championed by sommeliers for years now not only as a classic pairing for oysters (or any bright and briny shellfish dish) but as a mineral-laden white of a quality high enough to rival the likes of Sancerre and Chablis. And a growing number of the region's finest examples are turning up in the U.S.

Muscadet country is known locally as the 'Pays Nantais'—the vineyard area surrounding the town of Nantes, where the Loire River dovetails into the Atlantic Ocean. There, the Melon de Bourgogne grape reigns supreme; it's what all Muscadet wines are made from. For decades, the category suffered from a reputation as saltwatery plonk, since many producers placed quantity over quality and sterile filtered their wines as they rushed them into bottle. These mass-market versions still abound, but a pioneering group of growers are paying close attention to their farming, emphasizing their unique set of soils and aging their wines the traditional way: sur lie (on the spent yeast cells that result from fermentation).

Another reason to try Muscadet this summer? Despite the surge in quality, prices have remained remarkably low. They're wines for the people. Zesty and thirst quenching yet complex enough to impress your wine-snobbiest friend. And most go for $20 or under.

Here, 7 Muscadets to try, with or without the oysters:

2014 Domaine de la Pépière 'Clisson' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($27)

Marc Ollivier's textural renditions of the Melon grape earned Domaine de la Pépière an early cult following in the U.S. He farms his prime old vines over the Sèvre river organically, ferments with native yeasts and allows the wines to slowly age sur lie, until around April or May of the year following the harvest. This bottling comes off a parcel of granite soil and ages even longer on the lees—almost two years.

2015 Domaine Luneau-Papin 'Clos des Allées' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($18)

Each of Luneau-Papin's Muscadets showcases the unique characteristics of the vineyard plot where the grapes grow. The Clos des Allées, from a parcel on schist, is as crisp as they come: mineral, mouthwatering and ribbed with lemon pith-like flavor.

2015 Domaine de l'Ecu 'Orthogneiss' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($23)

Fred Niger of Domaine de l'Ecu crafts lively, edgy Muscadets from his biodynamic vines as well as a collection of declassified Vin de France bottlings, some aged in amphorae. This is the broadest, most layered of his Muscadet bunch, with a characteristic smokiness it may get from the orthogneiss soil.

2015 Jo Landron 'Amphibolite' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($14)

Named for the metamorphic stone the vines grow on, Amphibolite is Jo Landron's lightest, raciest Muscadet—perfect for outdoor imbibing or apéritif hour. Landron turned toward organic farming as early as the 1980s and played a very active role in the resurgence of quality wine in the region. Also keep an eye out for his tart and zesty sparkling wine, called 'Atmosphères'.

2015 Louis Métaireau Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($18)

Louis Métaireau is credited as the first vigneron in Muscadet to leave his wines on their fine lees through the winter, establishing the tradition of aging sur lie. Today, his daughter Marie-Luce Métaireau oversees the 23-acre vineyard, which she tends organically and harvests by hand.

2014 Michel Delhommeau 'Clos Armand' Muscadet Sèvre et Maine ($21)

Michel Delhommeau is the third generation to farm the family property but the first to work it organically. This comes off a plot planted in 1945 on a volcanic soil known locally as "gabbro." It's ready to drink now for its citrus, herb, almond and mineral flavors, but it also has the acidity and stuffing to age.

2006 Domaine du Haut Bourg 'Origine' Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu ($20)

Brothers Hervé and Nicolas Choblet run this Muscadet estate in the Côtes de Grandlieu subdistrict—a hamlet that abuts a large lake and wildlife preserve. They bottle this powerful, saline white from 70-year-old vines after aging it 10 whole years in tank, making it an extraordinary value for its level of maturity.