Aging Wine on Sludge: Muscadet Sur lie -vs- Sans lie

Last Monday’s EU Austerity Drinking Tour visited Clisson: home to Muscdet Sèvre et Maine. Before we left, we popped into their tasting room and found this:

Muscadet Sur Lie

I wouldn’t drink it with those neon lights.

Muscadet wine filled this barrel-with-its-skirt-lifted.  Neon lights lit the thing that makes Muscadet fantastic: sludge:


I wouldn’t grab a spoon just yet.

That sludge consists of months of sedimentation of dead yeast and particulates.  Called lie (lees), nearly half of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine proudly adds “sur lie” (on the lees) to its labels. But why?

To find out, we sample through twenty wines for free at Nantes‘ Maison des Vins de Loire:


The camera is sober.

Let’s begin with plain ‘ol Muscadet:



Château-Thébaud uses grapes from grower Poiron Dabin. Its pale gold color runs from the core to the rim.  Pure, strong aromas waft of honey, flint, smoke, and salt.  It feels dry, still racing with acidity, mild alcohol, a lightish body, and moderately intense flavors of tart green apple, grass, salt, and bees’ wax.  The length is only medium.  Yet five years old, this Muscadet remains fresh and clean cut. It is textbook, faultless, and very good (4 of 5).

So, what does that sur lie sludge add?

Pseudo-history pins the origin of lees-aging on “honeymoon barrels”: a year after not divorcing, shocked couples discovered that their wine-gift tasted better than last year.

Science tells us that lees layer the barrel.  They lock out oxygen.  Then enzymes release and add richness, thicker texture, and extra flavor complexity. These enzymes further protect the wine against oxidation.  Most wines would develop off flavors. But because Muscadet is so dull, lees-aging saves it.

But does it?

We try the same producer (Château Thébaud). Same region (Sèvre Et Maine). Same grape (Muscadet). The only differences are the grower (Vignoble Drouard), the name (Cuvée de Petit Trianon), and the vintage (2011).

But what really matters on this encyclopedic label is the “sur lie“:


Yes, this is the front label.

Youth shines through its clear, lemon-green color.  OK.  Then, precocious but intense aromas of oak, reminiscent of toasted vanilla, almond paste, and fresh lemon juice dominate.

It feels dry, with searing acidity, some tannin, mild alcohol, and a medium minus body.  Nothing new.  But lees add a viscous texture.  Then pronounced but softened flavors of lemon meringue with vanilla start it, building into zingy lemon juice, then nuts, with salt rising in the last quarter, finished by a slight pepper.  The length again is medium.  All this complexity makes this very good quality (4 of 5).

So Lees aging makes a more interesting wine.

But we’re in Nantes, so we buy this bottle (4.21EU) and pop into a small fromagerie:



Back at our basement homestay, we cut open Curé Nantaise: a soft cow’s milk cheese. It’s rind is washed with, you guessed it, muscadet:



Paired, the Muscadet’s lemon acidity pounces on and flattens the cheese’s sticky fat and glue.  The wine’s oak spice then syncs up with the nutty, yeasty funk of the cheese.  Richness upon richness both vie for the finish.  The result is pure, racing harmony.  Like doubles ice-skating, just when you expect them to crash, the lead grabs and vaults their partner into the air.

A regular Muscadet just doesn’t cut the Curé Nantais. It would refresh with its citrus and salt, but disappear beneath the nutty, yeasty funk of the local cheese.

Both Sur lie and sans lie make for delightful wines.  But here in Nantes, with their cheese, aging wine on that sludge carries the day.


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2 Responses to Aging Wine on Sludge: Muscadet Sur lie -vs- Sans lie

  1. robfrisch says:

    I am loving the comparison of Muscadet aged sur lie and not. And it blows my mind that the Chateau Thebaud packed in all that flavor for 4.21 euro. Quite a value!

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