Bonjour! Let’s talk about the best French white wine out there… which is, of course, Muscadet (not to be confused with Muscat). I know, I know, wine is highly subjective, but if you’re a fan of crisp, dry white wines, then you need to know about this standout white wine. Muscadet is produced just a short drive from where I live in the Loire Valley. Let me tell you why it’s worth a taste.
Muscadet: The best French white wine under $20
Wowzas, I’ve been blogging here since 2012 and I don’t think I’ve ever written a post on the best French white wine out there. Oops. Better late than never. Sorry, Muscadet, you deserve better.
First, let me repeat that wine is highly subjective and I know people are very opinioned about what constitutes a quality bottle. A “good” wine to you might be undrinkable to me and vice versa. We all bring our individual preferences to our wine palate. The important part is finding a wine that we love and that complements our meal. So to each his (or her, or their) own.
For the record, if you’re wondering what would fall into the undrinkable category for me, well that would be a sweet white, overly tannic red, or demi-sec or sweeter sparkling wine. These categories would be off limits and are not wines I enjoy at all or ever drink.
As you might have guessed, super dry white wines are where it’s at for me. Think chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, and that sort of thing. I like some of the more famous French white wines as well. I’m lucky I live in a wine-producing region that heavily focuses on those! For me, the drier the better and that’s where Muscadet enters the picture.
To be honest with you, Muscadet is a wine I had never even heard of before moving to the Loire Valley, let alone the melon de Bourgogne grape. It wasn’t on my radar at all back in NYC and I rarely drank wine back in the day. When I did, I stuck to popular wines. Oh, how times have changed!
I can say with 100% confidence that Muscadet is my go-to favorite wine. Dry sparkling wines like a crémant from my region are right up there too.
What is Muscadet wine?
Alright, let me give you some background on Muscadet, the best French white wine.
Muscadet is a dry white wine that hails from the Loire Valley region of France. The grape variety used to make Muscadet is called melon de Bourgogne, which is actually not originally from the Loire Valley, but rather from Burgundy. The grape was brought to the Loire Valley in the 17th century and it thrived in the cool maritime climate of the region. The rest was history.
Like most wines from the Old World, Muscadet is labeled Muscadet AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), and not Melon de Bourgogne for the grape variety that makes it.
Muscadet is known for its light, dry, and crisp taste. It’s a wine that’s meant to be enjoyed young, usually within a year or two of its vintage. Unlike other white wines that are aged in oak barrels, Muscadet is usually (not always though) aged in stainless steel or concrete tanks, which helps to preserve its fresh and vibrant character.
There are three main appellations for Muscadet:
- Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine
- Muscadet Coteaux de la Loire
- Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu.
Of these, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is the most well-known and widely produced. I’d also argue it’s the best. This appellation is located in the western part of the Loire Valley, near the city of Nantes. The soil in this region is composed of a mix of granite, gneiss, and schist, which gives Muscadet Sèvre et Maine its distinct minerality.
The name comes from the Sèvre Nantaise and the Maine Rivers that snake through the appellation.
Something you’ll sometimes see on Muscadet labels are the words “sur lie.” This means the wine was aged on its lees, the wine sediment made of yeast cells. The lees accumulate at the bottom of the tank after fermentation.
It’s a winemaking technique that gives the wine additional flavor and texture. You’ll see it used for Burgundy Chardonnay and even Champagne, among others.
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What does Muscadet wine taste like?
While there’s a bit of variation within the Muscadet appellations, the wine tends to be very pale yellow in color, about as dry as they come with a strong minerality and notes of citrus and stone fruit. It’s a light wine that is realllly easy to drink.
Sometimes other whites like sauvignon blanc can be mouth-puckering, but you won’t find any of that here.
A bit more subtle than a sauvignon blanc, Muscadet will be a bit less in your face but will still have citrus notes. The minerality is more pronounced.
I enjoy a lot of other whites as well, but I feel like they’re less versatile and you have to pair them properly or be in a certain mood. Muscadet is my anytime wine. It’s never a bad choice.
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What do you eat with Muscadet?
One of the reasons why Muscadet is such a great wine is because it pairs so well with seafood. I love that too. The region of Nantes is located on the Atlantic Coast of France, so it’s no surprise that Muscadet is often paired with oysters, mussels, and other shellfish.
The crisp acidity of the wine helps to cut through the brininess of the seafood, while the minerality of the wine complements the saltiness. Muscadet is also a great match for other light dishes, like salads, grilled vegetables, and goat cheese.
I even drink it while cooking or for apéro. It’s good on its own too.
A few more Muscadet tips
Muscadet has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially among sommeliers and wine enthusiasts. It’s a wine that’s often overlooked in favor of more well-known whites like chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but Muscadet has a charm all its own. Its light, crisp taste makes it a perfect summer wine, but it can also be enjoyed year-round like in my house.
If you’re looking to try Muscadet for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, make sure you’re buying a bottle from a reputable producer. Muscadet is a wine that’s meant to be enjoyed young, but that doesn’t mean that all Muscadet is created equal. Look for producers that are focused on quality over quantity, and that have a reputation for producing great wines.
A good rule of thumb is to get one that has won a reputable wine award. This is denoted by a special sticker on the neck of the bottle or wine label. For the winners of Le Concours Général Agricole, for example, the sticker is white with a metallic leaf.
That said, let me repeat that wine is subjective and there are a bunch of great wines you’re sure to love that have never won any award.
Second, make sure you’re serving Muscadet at the right temperature. The ideal temperature is between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the wine is too warm, it can taste a bit dull, but if it’s too cold, you won’t be able to fully appreciate its nuances. I like mind on the cooler side, right around 45 degrees.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with food pairings. While Muscadet is often paired with seafood, it can also be a great match for other dishes. Try it with sushi, grilled chicken, or even spicy Thai food. Muscadet is a versatile wine that can hold its own against a variety of flavors.
In France, you can easily find Muscadet direct from the producer, in wine shops and the supermarket — especially here in the Loire Valley (not to be confused with the Loir Valley). Many bottles will be under 10 euros each. Even top-range Muscadet won’t run you over 20 euros/bottle. In the U.S. under $20 is still standard.
As you can see, Muscadet is the best French white wine under $20, hands down. :-))
I don’t have a single favorite Muscadet but I’ve been drinking a lot of the ones pictured below. I tend to stick to the Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine appellation.
I rarely try a Muscadet that I don’t like, so you really can’t go wrong. It truly is the best French white wine, in my opinion of course.
These are available in the U.S. if you’d like to give Muscadet a try:
What’s your favorite French white wine? Are you familiar with Muscadet wine? Let me know how you like it!
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