Wednesday, June 4, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Wine Q & A

Searching France for oyster wines

Q: I was away on a vacation and so have been reading your columns that I missed. In regard to oyster wine, haven't Chablis and another French one whose name escapes me (I think it is in the Loire and begins with the letter m) also been considered good with oysters? Do you think they should be ice cold?

A: Wow, this is kind of like charades! French word, three syllables, beginning with m — hmmmm. Meeska, mooseka, muscadet! You are absolutely right when you say that Chablis — true, chardonnay-based Chablis, from the region of the same name in northern Burgundy — is the other classic oyster wine. But muscadet, a steely white wine from the Loire Valley, is beyond a doubt the quintessential choice.

The town of Nantes, on the Atlantic coast, is justly famous for its muscadet and its mollusks, which are a match made in heaven. Not to be confused with muscat or muscadelle, which are grapes, Muscadet is a region. Its best-known wine, the muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, is made from a grape called melon de Bourgogne (just to make it really confusing!).

The melon is, by itself, a rather dull white grape that was originally planted centuries ago to be distilled into neutral brandy. But when properly grown and aged sur lie, wherein the young wine rests for an extended time on the dead yeast cells, it acquires a textural richness that complements the briny tang of the local oysters. "Servir frais" (serve chilled) is the phrase used by the winemakers themselves on their muscadets, so by all means, bring them down to a nice cool temperature. But ice cold may be overkill; I'd aim for about 30 minutes in the fridge.

Why did I not mention either of these oyster-friendly wines in the column, you wonder? Simply because the West Coast Oyster Wine Competition is exactly that — a venue for West Coast winemakers to showcase their best oyster wines. One year, I would love to see it go international, just so we can prove that our homegrown oyster wines are as good as any in the world.

Paul Gregutt answers questions weekly in the Wine section. He can be reached by e-mail at

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