Grape Variety Profile – Muscat
This is the second in a series of varietal profiles by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, presented to aid students in preparing for blind tasting exams and gaining a global view of many of the important grapes.
Muscat is an aromatic, highly perfumed and exotic grape that is popular in still, sparkling and sweet versions. It is the world’s oldest known grape variety, and probably originated in Greece, where it is still cultivated today.
It is a wide family of grapes, the oldest and noblest of which is muscat blanc à petits grains. Petit grains means small berries, and this is one of the reasons the resulting wine is so aromatic and complex. Muscat blanc à petits grains is responsible for the softly sparkling low alcohol Moscato d’Asti and Asti (formerly Asti Spumante) from Piedmont, and the very sweet, intense Moscato de Pantelleria from the archipelago of the same name off the shores of Sicily (a passito version is also made here, which is even more intensely concentrated and sweet as a result of being made with pressed dried, or raisinated berries).
This variety is also found in what many consider the world’s most elegant sweet fortified version, the southern Rhone’s Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. In Alsace it is one of the “noble four.” grapes. Picked at harvest time, these wines are grapey, dry, and clean. The late harvest versions, however, have one of the most exotic flavors in the world. In California it is known as orange muscat, where it is generally produced in a sweet, dessert style. It is also responsible for one of the world’s famous dessert wines, Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia in South Africa where it goes under the name of muskadel. The famous liqueurs of Australia (brown Muscat) and the recently upgraded Muscat of Samos from Greece also demonstrate the range of this varietal.
Portugal’s Moscatel de Setubal is made with Muscat of Alexandria, a less interesting version of the grape. Chile distills most of its Muscat of Alexandria into the national spirit, Pisco. Most of the dry aromatic wines of the same name in Alsace are made with Muscat Ottonel, the palest of the variety.
- What are your markers for identifying Muscat in blind tastings?
- What are some of your favorite regions or producers of Muscat?