Body: May be light (Frizzante and Sparkling), medium (Table Wine) or full (Dessert and Fortified Wines).
Dry / Sweet: Can be dry, medium-dry or sweet depending on how the wine is made.
Age: Drink while young and fresh.
Aka: There are a great many synonyms for Muscat and a list of the most important is shown at the end of the Description section below.
Other: Do not confuse Muscat / Moscato with Muscadet, which is a different grape variety included in the Crisp style.
Muscat (MUHS-ka) represents a very large family of vines that are thought to be the oldest in the world and were well known to the Greeks and Romans, having most probably originated in the Middle East. They make wines that range from dry table wine to intensely sweet dessert wine and sparkling wines. While most of these wines are white, Muscat can be used to make rosé or even dark fortified wines as different varieties – and sometimes even the same variety – produce grapes that range in colour from yellow through green to pink, red and brown.
The dominant characteristic of Muscat is its remarkable perfume of rose petals and orange blossom. It is one of the few grape varieties to actually taste of grapes, with wonderful flavors of fresh, juicy green grapes and can display notes of peach, pear and apricot, as well as fresh herbs. Given its typical “grapey” flavor it is often cultivated as a simple table grape (i.e. for eating).
Nonetheless, Muscat is a high quality grape that has long been out of fashion as a table wine but is now starting to attract more attention given the recent phenomenal success of Moscato (the Italian for Muscat), which is slightly sparkling, generally light in body, with low levels of alcohol (anywhere from 5% to 10%) and medium-dry to sweet – see more on Moscato below.
Amongst the few hundred varieties of Muscat only a small number are important in terms of winemaking. Chief among these is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (literally: White Muscat with Little Berries – there is also a Rosé Blanc à Petits Grains variant) which is the oldest, noblest and highest quality of all the varieties. Although it can be difficult to grow, at its best it produces elegant wines with wonderful aromas that can be quite complex. It is responsible for the great dry Muscats of Alsace, the light frizzante Moscato d’Asti of Piedmont, the famous sweet wines of Samos in Greece and the great fortified wines of Rutherglen in Victoria, Australia.
The second most important variety is Muscat of Alexandria which, as the name suggests, it thought to have originated in Egypt. Not as delicate or refined as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains it makes wines that are sweeter, heavier and less complex but they still display typical Muscat aroma and flavour characteristics. This is the dominant Muscat variety in Spain, Portugal, Australia and South Africa with much being cultivated for the production of table grapes or raisins. In Chile and Peru it is distilled to make Pisco Brandy.
Muscat Ottonel is a cross variety developed in 1852. It is hardy and easy to grow, but on the downside it lacks the quality and character of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, being lighter in flavor and aroma. It began to take over from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains in Alsace but now that trend has been reversed, although it is quite common for both varieties to be blended together. It is also grown in Austria to produce dessert wines and is the dominant Muscat variety in Hungary and much of Eastern Europe.
A less important variety for table wine production is Muscat of Hamburg, which is black skinned and often goes under the name Black Muscat. It is grown in Eastern Europe, Australia and the United States and, while generally grown as a table grape, it can make very interesting sweet and fortified wines. It is worth mentioning that the famous fortified Muscats of Rutherglen in Australia are made from a red variant of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains which, confusingly, is also referred to as Black Muscat.
Moscato Rosa (or Rosenmuakateller in German) is another dark-skinned variant that can be found in Alsace, Austria, Australia and Portugal. It is generally used to make sweet Rosé or gently sparkling wines.
Moscato Giallo (also called Yellow Muscat and Goldmuskateller) is, as the name suggests, a yellow-skinned variant that is mainly grown in northern Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region. It usually makes medium-dry to sweet wines, but can also make fine dry wines.
Orange Muscat is a white grape believed to be unrelated to the Muscat family, although it does share some characteristics, and is most noted for its strong aroma of oranges. While it may have originated around the French town of Orange it is now mainly grown in Australia and California where it make wines that can be dry, medium-dry or sweet.
Dry Muscat is only produced in small quantities, but this is increasing in Europe and the New World. The aromatic dry Muscats of Alsace in France combine a heady perfume with thrilling flavors. In Austria they are light and elegant with lovely flavour profiles. Australia also makes excellent dry Muscats, which tend to be more full bodied than those of Alsace. As the natural acidity of Muscat is low these wines do not age well, so it is best to drink them when they are young, fresh and exuberant.
It is not easy to find dry Muscat wines, although that is beginning to change, but they are well worth seeking out and offer an excellent and interesting alternative to the more mainstream grape varieties. Given their pronounced aromatic quality they are an excellent accompaniment to Asian cuisine and a great addition to your cellar, as well as expanding your wine repertoire. Be careful not to confuse Muscat with Muscadet, which is a different grape variety and is included in the Crisp style.
Moscato, as mentioned above, is the Italian for Muscat and is synonymous with the light, sweet, low alcohol and slightly sparkling (frizzante) wines made in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy; the most well known of which are Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumante) and the more superior Moscato d’Asti. In recent years Moscato has soared in popularity, especially in the United States, when it became fashionable after hip-hop artists adopted it in place of Champagne. This was welcome attention for a high quality and much forgotten grape variety.
However, in the wine industry’s rush to meet this new demand, quantity has become more important than quality and new plantings of Muscat are now taking place in every major wine producing country. Many of these new Moscato wines are mass-produced to hit a retail price point and are nothing like the original from Piedmont. While most people will be introduced to the Muscat grape through “new Moscato” it is well worth seeking out a good bottle of Moscato d’Asti to truly appreciate the appeal of this grape when made into light, sweet wine, which is low in alcohol and just slightly fizzy.
Synonyms for Muscat
The following is a list of the most important synonyms for the Muscat grape and its main clones:
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains: Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat of Frontignan, Muscat Lunel, Muscadel, Muskateller, Moscato, Moscato Bianco, Moscatel and Moscatel de Grano Menudo.
Muscat of Alexandria: Muscat Gordo Blanco, Moscatel, Moscatel de Alejandría, Moscatel de Málaga, Moscatel Romano, Lexia, Hanepoot and Zibibbo.
Muscat Ottonel: Muskotaly.
Muscat of Hamburg: Black Muscat, Black Hamburg and Moscato di Amburgo.
Moscato Rosa: Rosenmuakateller.
Moscato Giallo: Goldmuskateller and Yellow Muscat.
Orange Muscat: known only by this name.
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