Moscato is the wine of many people's dreams; sweet, soft and abundantly fruity. It has flavors reminiscent of fresh grapes, summer fruit salads and cotton candy. It is light and refreshing, typically low in alcohol and can be served well-chilled. Its friendliness and likeability has driven sales of Moscato in the US to #8 in the varietal category overall and the #4 bestselling white grape varietal. Moscato has become a favorite wine of celebrities, finding its way into songs and A-list events. However, what most people don't know is that there are over 200 different members of this grape's family! That's a lot of Moscato.
The Moscato that most people drink is actually a grape called "Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains" or the shorter "Muscat Blanc." This is a fancy way of describing the particular clone of Moscato responsible for making fine wines in France, Italy and around the world. In Italy, it is commonly known as Moscato di Canelli or sometimes, Moscato Bianco, a relatively small grape with a yellow-green skin that is responsible for making the sparkling Asti and the high quality Moscato di Asti. This popular style has leant its name to the wine that producers in California and elsewhere duplicate for the thirsty American wine consumer.
In France, Muscat Blanc grapes grow in the southern part of the country and are used in both dry and sweet wines. The dry wines retain the signature fruity grape aromas and flavors of Moscato but make a relatively full-bodied white wine with low acidity, which gives the wine a perception of richness and smoothness. Muscat Blanc is also one of the grapes used in the country's "vin doux naturels." These are fortified wines that are made from the Muscat grape juice in which fermentation is stopped by adding brandy to kill the yeast. This is done early in the fermentation process to preserve high levels of natural sugar and the grape's distinctive fruity character.
Famous wine writer Oz Clarke has suggested that the name "Muscat Blanc" or Moscato Bianco is misleading because even within this one clone, Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains, some color variations exist. Perhaps Mr. Clarke was thinking of his home country of Australia when he made that statement. In Rutherglen, Australia, vineyards are planted with "brown muscat," a dark skinned variant of the very same Muscat that makes Asti in Italy and the vin doux naturel in France. There, it is used to make the country's famous "sticky," an intensely sweet, fortified wine that is aged in barrels in hot rooms before being bottled and sold. The wine has complex flavors of apricot and honey, layered with caramel and toasted candied walnut that comes from its time spent aging in the barrel.
Another variety of Muscat, Muscat Ottonel is planted in California. Originally it was planted as a table grape. It has a yellow skin and a larger sized berry than the Muscat Blanc. As Americans developed a preference for eating seedless grapes, it became more common to make the Muscat Ottonel into wine. It primarily finds its way into inexpensive bulk white wines looking to add a bit of distinctive grape and honeysuckle flavor.
The list of Muscat grapes could on and on. Whether yellow or white or brown, Muscat based wines are sure to deliver the ripe, bright and fruity flavors that will light up your summer.
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