Melon de Bourgogne or Melon is a white grape varietal grown primarily in the Loire Valley wine region of France. It is best known for its use in crafting the white wine called Muscadet.
As its name makes reference; the grapes origins are in Burgundy and was grown there until its removal was ordered in the early 18th century, as other varietals proved more successful in the regions climate. Recent DNA analysis has revealed Melon de Bourgogne is a crossing between Pinot Blanc and Gouais Blanc varietals. It is now the most commonly grown grape in the Pays Nantais region of the Loire.
Grape growers were attracted by the grape's resistance to frost and its suitability for distillation. It is a naturally high yielding varietal that performs best on schist and granitic soils.
Today is it seldom seen outside the Pays Nantais, although there are some new plantings in its native Burgundy. In the vineyards around Nantes in the western Loire Valley, a harsh winter in 1709 destroyed many of the grape vines - (both white and red varietals). The severe frost causing wine barrels to burst in the cellars and even freezing the coastal waters. So a new varietal was needed, and the Melon de Bourgogne grape was deemed ideal and was introduced and has dominated the region ever since.
At the same time, it caught the attention of Dutch distillers further downstream, who needed large quantities of wine with which to make their brandy. The Dutch started planting Melon in vineyards near Nantes, the most convenient Port from which to ship their wines to Holland in the 17th century.
Since then it has been used solely in the production of the light dry white wine Muscadet, which is made entirely from the Melon varietal. The grape is now so connected and entwined with this appellation that the grape itself is often referred to as simply Muscadet.
Melon is often aged sur lie, or on the spent yeast cells left over after fermentation. This provides an extra level of creaminess that pairs nicely with the citrus and sometimes salty flavours found in Melon grown in the western Loire soils.
The grape varietal produces dry white wines with a distinctive mineral note, and the best examples of Melon come from the Muscadet versions such as Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. This is due to one of the most sublime of food pairings, that of Muscadet and fresh shellfish, particularly oysters - (especially the superlative Belon oysters, from the Belon River estuary in Brittany). The crisp and slightly salty Muscadet is a perfect match for the salty oysters, and are best consumed while they are young and fresh during an afternoon by the coast, plus any sunny location will work just as well.
Although originally it made rather neutral wine, Muscadet producers have refined their techniques in order to make wines with their own distinctive character. In particular, the wine can be designated as Muscadet Sur Lie, indicating that it has been left on the lees for the winter between fermentation in autumn and bottling in spring. This allows the wine to develop a fuller flavour and a slight carbonation that gives the wine additional freshness. For the most part, these wines are best enjoyed in their youth, but in exceptional vintages certain ‘Muscadet Sur Lie’ can be kept for several years and in rare cases, a decade plus. This summer, pairing with shellfish - keep a look out for a Muscadet.