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Home | White Varieties | Muscat - The original grape?




Muscat - The original grape?

Often credited with being the first grape ever used to produce wine, Muscat has a simplicity of flavors that makes identification easy, yet a nomenclature derived from its geographic and mutational reach that will make your head spin.

Although there are over 200 varieties of Muscat, most wine is made from one of three different Vitis Vinifera varieties.  The first is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, a white grape whose name translates to Muscat White with small berries.  This variety is the most common of the three, and is known for its intense grape flavors and floral aromas.  Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is also known as - are you ready -  Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Moscato Bianco (Italy), Muscat de Frontignan (southern France), Muscat de Lunel (southern France), Muscat d'Alsace (France), Muskateller (Germany and Austria), Moscatel de Grano Menudo (Spain), Moscatel Rosé and Sárgamuskotály (Hungary) and Muscadel (South Africa).


The second variety is Muscat of Alexandria. Larger and often darker than Muscat Blanc, this variety is commonly used for table grapes and raisins.  Muscat of Alexandria produces wines high in residual sugar and is often used in sherry.  Like it's siblings, Muscat of Alexandria is not at a loss for other names - Moscatel, Moscatel Romano, Moscatel de Málaga, Muscat Gordo Blanco, Hanepoot (South Africa), Lexia (Australia), and Zibibbo(Italy), just to name a few.

The final variety is Muscat Ottonel used almost exclusively for dessert wines in Romania, Bulgaria, Austria, and Slovenia.

Where Does Muscat Grow?

The better question might be where doesn't Muscat grow?  Muscat enjoys warmer climates and is grown as far south as Tunisia and Morocco in the Northern Hemisphere.  The largest plantings are in Italy where it is the fourth most widely planted grape variety.  Italy is followed by Spain, France, Chile, Bulgaria, and Moldova all of which have over 12,000 acres of vineyards.  But Muscat doesn't stop its road trip there; significant planting also can be found in South Africa, Australia, California, Washington, Australia, Germany, Austria, Portugal, and Greece.  Many of these regions have a distinct style for their Muscat, taking advantage of the different varieties, and large variations that climate, soils, and vinification practices can make in the final wine.

Australia – Rutherglen in Northeast Victoria is home to Muscat a Petits Grains Rouge, a dark skinned grape known locally as Brown Muscat.  Here the grapes are allowed to remain on the vines well into the fall, concentrating sugars to the point of nearly reaching raisin status.  The grapes are fermented and allowed to age in old oak barrels to insure that the fruit flavors dominate in the finished product.  These fortified wines have alcohol levels approaching 20%, and are categorized as Classic, Grande, or Rare based on increased aging and residual sugar.

Australian producers to look for:  Pfeiffer, Stanton & Killeen, Campbells, R.L. Buller & Son.

France – The French have two distinct styles of Muscat.  Perhaps the best known is the Vins Doux Naturels (Natural Sweet Wines - VDN), produced in the Appellation Controlees of Frontignan, Lunel, Mireval, Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, Rivesaltes, Beaumes de Venise and Cap Corse.  The second style is from the Alsace region, primarily a dry rendition, rich with floral and citrus aromas.  The Alsace region is home to Grand Cru Muscat.

French Producers to look for: Domaine du Moulin de Dusenbach (Alsace), Domaine Ernest Burn (Alsace), Gerard Bertrand (Languedoc-Roussillon), Les Vignerons de Muscat de Lunel (Languedoc-Roussillon).

Italy - Muscat (Moscato) grows throughout Italy in various forms. In dessert form it is either passito or fortified. It is used in the sparkling wines Asti and Moscato d'Asti. 

Spain – Most of the Muscat wine produced in Spain is fortified.   Muscat (Moscatel) is produced in Andalusia, the Valencian Community, Navarre, Aragón and Catalonia, and the Canary Islands.

Spain producers to look for: Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega,

United States – Rumors abound that the U.S. market for Muscat is booming because of references by rapper to the wine and the younger generation is giving it a try.  Whether this is true or not, Muscat consumption is on the rise although it still represents a tiny fraction (4%) of U.S. wine purchases.

U.S producers to look for: Chateau St. Michelle, Robert Mondavi, St. Supéry, Columbia Crest.

Muscat Styles

Muscat can be vinified from dry to very sweet or fortified styles; however the most common by far is sweet.  Peruse most wine shops and you will find the Muscat in the “Sweet Wines” section, and you'll have to be in a better stocked store to find a dry variety.  The concept of a single style for Muscat is nonsensical, as there are over two hundred members of this grape family ranging in color from white to a deep red that approaches black.  If there are elements of style that persist across the myriad of varieties they would be musky, grape flavored, low in alcohol and perfumed.  Muscat is frequently vinified as a sparkling wine – Asti Spumante, Barbera d'Asti, Muscat d'Asti in Italy and Alita in Lithuania.  If you are looking for a particular style, you would be well served enlisting the assistance of your wine shop manager to help you navigate to the wine that best matches your wine profile.

Regardless of grape variety and origin, serve Muscat well chilled.




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