Learning, Wine Tasting, New Tastes

Muscat Love

The Muscat grape family inlcudes white (green), red and pink-skinned versions, hence the wide variety of colors found in wine. Often, the color comes from added coloring in the cheaper wines. From  wikipedia .

The Muscat grape family inlcudes white (green), red and pink-skinned versions, hence the wide variety of colors found in wine. Often, the color comes from added coloring in the cheaper wines. From wikipedia.

By now, most of you fellow imbibers are aware of a wine called Moscato. The name itself covers many different styles of wine, from pink, sweet and bubbly to wine spritzers that have additional flavors like coconut, pineapple, and even vanilla.

All of these wines have one thing in common: They’re made from a family of grapes found in the Mediterranean and Western Europe called, Muscat. The Muscat family has over 200 varieties, but about five or six main grapes that produce wines of high quality.

Moscato is simply the Italian name for the grape, and I suppose that the wine industry thought it was a sexier way to sell it to the masses: So that's the name you'll see most often.

In the past two years the beverage industry has gotten behind this grape and pushed real hard to make it the next big thing in wine, mostly because it can be grown anywhere and made into almost any style. Plus, it’s naturally grapey, musky and sweet like Welch’s grape juice, which is very amiable to the American palette.

The wine has taken off in the US. Just look on the store shelves and it’s pretty obvious we’re all in, “Muscat Love” (sorry for the 70’s pun).

The Moscato we Americans are most familiar with is a sticky-sweet white or pink wine with various colors and fruit flavors added to it. In fact, it’s gotten pretty out of hand: My opinion is that this two-dimensional, confectionary approach is a very shallow representation of what the grape can do.

A typical scene during harvest in Alsace.

If you’re interested in what Moscato looks like when she removes the makeup, false eyelashes and the Spanx, it’s even more beautiful than you could imagine. They’ve been making it for centuries in the region of northern France, near the France-Germany border, known as Alsace-Lorraine. It’s also used to make Asti Spumante (sparkling wine from the north of Italy).

In Alsace, winemakers almost always make dry wine: Alsatian Muscat is no exception. Cool nights in these low, rolling hills cause the grapes to ripen slowly and retain lots of acid, which makes the wines lean, mean and sharp. Alsatian producers use little to no oak in their wines, which means no tannins or soft, buttery flavors here. What you’re getting is a direct representation of the grape’s flavor with no interference from secondary influences.

A beautiful example of what Muscat can do when you treat it with love and respect… from Trimbach.

The example I have here is from Trimbach, one of Alsace’s premier producers. It’s a 2009 vintage, which means it’s had some time to mellow in the bottle. Still, even after five years, this beauty is racy, with lots of mineral aromas (think flint and wet slate) that gives way to yellow grapefruit and chamomile. As it warms in the glass, more herbal tea-like character comes out and a bit of that grapey, musky attitude reveals itself.

The deceptive, lemon-lime aromas can mislead you to think it’s going to be a sweet wine, but alas, this Muscat is bone-dry. It hits you like a cool breeze, wakes you up, and then leaves you with a lingering finish of fresh citrus.

I think a wine like this would go well with a fruit appetizer, or seafood, probably light white fish and shellfish that have been dressed with lemon or lime. Fresh ceviche and shrimp scampi would jump to life in the presence of this wine, and it would probably compliment a roasted ham with pineapple, very nicely. If you’re feeling adventurous, try it with a slice of key lime pie, although that combo might prove too tart to handle.

If you’re keen to explore even further, look to Germany, where they often call it “Gelber Muskateller” and produce it in the sweet style, or in the north of Italy from Asti, where it’s used to make the sparkling wine Asti Spumante. The grape is also used worldwide to make late-harvest dessert wines that are super-sweet and unctuous.

What is your experience with Muscat/Moscato? Have you tried the dry European styles before, and if so, do you prefer the old school approach, or the new?

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