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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bargain Wine of the Week: Muscadet

There are certain bargain wine categories that rarely strike out. Aussie Shiraz. Spanish wines, especially Rioja. Chilean Carmenere, especially from the Colchagua Valley. On the other hand, it is hard to find good bargain white wines. And bargain wines from France of any color are as rare as a corkscrew in a dive bar.

Here are two that never seem to miss and they're both from the Loire Valley: Muscadet and Sancerre. The Loire River is in west-central France. It is less well known than Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. But it is relatively inexpensive and it mostly bottles white wines.

Sancerre, which is made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, is at the inland end of the Loire Valley. Pouilly Fumé is the other appellation that uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes and it is immediately across the river from the town and appellation of Sancerre. Lots of grapefruit and citrus flavors matched by acidity. They are very crisp and delicious white wines — slightly weightier than Muscadets. We buy Sancerre moderately often, but it tends to cost a bit more than Eat Well, Eat Cheap's $10 wine limit.

At the Atlantic Ocean end of the Loire Valley is the town of Nantes, home to the Muscadet appellation. Muscadet is so crisp, it is close to sparkling wine. Muscadet is made from the unknown Melon de Bourgogne grape, which is rarely grown anywhere but in the Muscadet appellation.

When we recently bought a case of wine at, we found a Muscadet for $8.95 that Robert Parker had rated 91. You don't see that combination often. It was a bottle of Domain du Haut Bourg 2009 Muscadet Cote de Grandlieu Sur Lie. The Sur Lie is a way of getting more flavor out of white grapes by leaving the wine after fermentation "on the lees," which includes sediment, grape seeds, yeast cells, pulp and stem and skin fragments.

The wine smells of lime, herbs, shrimp and the sea near its vineyards. It is a remarkable value and a great food wine as well as a good porch wine.

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