by Chris Mauch
A grape variety becoming more and more popular is a cross of the Schiava Grossa and Alexandria varieties of this grape. It is commonly produced as table wine but in California’s Central Valley it has been used in the production of dessert wine. One of the more versatile white wine grapes grown around the world for use in use in light and dry wines, low-alcohol sparkling wines and sweet late-harvest wines. Darjeeling tea is often said to have a flavors reminiscent of this grape, although it is purely coincidental as the tea contains no grape products.
What grape am I talking about…….. MUSCAT
Muscat, pronounced [MUHS-kat], is thought to be the oldest variety of grape in the world with a family of over 200 different varieties known today. The Muscat grape is sweet and fruity with a rich, musky aroma, just as its name sounds. The color ranges from white to almost black. Muscat almost always has a pronounced sweet floral aroma. The grape is grown around the world. Called Moscato in Italy and Moscatel in Spain. Muscat grown in Portugal and Spain, are typically sweeter and fortified.
Muscat grapes are one of the major varieties grown for table wine in Chile, and are a minor variety in California. In Italy, it is widely used in sweeter sparkling wines like Asti. The ‘grapey’ quality makes many wines made from Muscat easy to identify.
Moscato d’Asti is a lightly sparkling (frizzante) variety of Muscat, made from the Moscato Bianco grape of the Piedmont region of Italy. Many of you may remember the bombardment of ads in the early 80’s for Asti Spumante, the sweet sparkling wine from Piedmont in Italy. This wine is also made from Muscat grapes but we prefer its cousin, Moscato d’Asti, which is bottled within months of the harvest at an even lower alcohol level- as low five percent.
Fermented at cool temperatures and normally in stainless steel tanks, allows it to retain its delicate fruity flavors and aromas of apricot, peach, grapefruit, orange blossoms and ripe melons. This light, sweet, bubbly wine shows tons of peach, apricot and pear, and is an outstanding aperitif. Its low alcohol is also refreshing at the end of a meal. Muscat wines tend to be sweeter, but can be excellent white wines. The trick is to balance the sweetness with enough acid and dryness so the wine is not overpowering. While most Muscat are sweet dessert wines, you can get a dryer version if you look hard enough. Because of the low alcohol, Muscat is to be enjoyed young and not meant to be aged or cellared.
Muscat is successfully grown in California’s east-central Valley, where orange muscat and black muscat varieties form the basis of premium dessert wines. Muscat wine is also the basis for Pisco, a brandy-like drink made in Peru and Chile, and Metaxa, a brandy-like drink made in Greece. A blend of Muscatel wine and mead wine is called Muscadore. Muscats got a fairly bad reputation for many years as being the cheap college dorm wines. Today however, complex Muscat white wines are winning medals at wine competitions world wide
Six varieties of Muscat grapes that are most well known are…
1. Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, or Muscat Blanc for short,
2. Moscato Giallo, yellow Muscat
3. Muscat Hamburg, also called Black Muscat
4. Muscat of Alexandria, which goes by many different names, is used to make sherry and other liqueurs. It is thought to date back to Egypt. A majority of the cultivated Muscat of Alexandria end up as table grapes or raisins
5. Muscat Ottonel, used in making dessert wines and is grown in cooler climates. Hungary is a good example.
6. Orange Muscat, with its obvious orange aroma, is a variety mainly used in California dessert wines. As the name suggests Orange Muscat wines have a strong aroma of oranges. In some wines this is quite overpowering, and it gives the impression that the wine will be sweet. This is not always the case. Some Orange Muscats are quite dry, just as some aromatic Gewurztraminers are quite dry.
Muscat grapes have been found to have high concentrations of antioxidant flavonoids, in quantities as high as many varieties of red grapes. This means that the possible beneficial effects of red wine consumption may also be present in Muscat wines.
Muscat pairs well with light dessert dishes, fresh and dried fruit, crème brulee, soft cheeses and my favorite…. cheesecake. I have even heard that Muscat-flavored icees are being test marketed at Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants all over Japan. IF that is true, I better pack a bag.
Christ Mauch is now retired and living in Tennessee. His experience was when he worked @internationalwinemarkets.com
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