Contrary to popular belief, not every world-class wine carries a hefty price tag. Sure, the best Burgundies and Bordeaux are now beyond the reach of anyone not willing to drop hundreds on a bottle, but there are wines of comparable stature that can be had for modest sums, and one in particular is ridiculously cheap for the quality that it offers. Domaine de la Pépière is generally recognized as the finest producer of Muscadet, a white wine emanating from an appellation of the same name located at the western edge of France's Loire Valley, hard up against the Atlantic Ocean. In a region that mostly turns out industrial-strength plonk, Pépière is a beacon of quality.
Winemaker Marc Ollivier is a fastidious farmer, who practices organic viticulture, hand harvests all of his grapes (Muscadet is made from a grape called Melon de Bourgogne), and uses only indigenous yeasts during fermentation. The Clos des Briords is a small vineyard that has the oldest vines in the domaine's possession, dating back to 1930. It yields Muscadets of uncommon complexity and depth, and the 2010 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Clos des Briords Vieille Vignes is a delicious example. It serves up an inviting aroma of lemon and a whiff of kerosene (don't be deterred – it's a very appealing scent in a wine). In the mouth, the wine is zesty and refreshing, but with an underlying richness that is rare to find in a Muscadet.
This stuff goes down easily, especially in the company of shellfish – in fact, there's not a better raw-bar wine on the planet. The Clos des Briords is also rare among Muscadets in that it can be cellared for a number of years and will take on even more complexity as it ages, which is the litmus test of a great wine. The challenge is having the discipline to actually do the cellaring: It is tough to hold off from uncorking the Clos des Briords. [$17; wine-searcher.com]