Muscat, old but new
Muscat grapes are used in a variety of wine styles, from off-dry to sweet to dessert wines. These Muscat grapes, with their mantle of snow, wait to be picked and made into ice wine for Washington State's Upland Winery.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TODD NEWHOUSE
The overnight popularity of Moscato wines caught many in the wine world by surprise, likely because the variety is not new, but one of the oldest around.
The Muscat grape is believed to be the most ancient of domesticated grape varieties, in part because there are more than 150 Muscat varieties and derivatives grown around the world.
But it’s new to the youngest category of wine drinkers—the Millennial generation—who just recently discovered the sweet, inexpensive wines that are made with Muscat grapes and sold under different names and styles, but mostly as Moscato.
The name Moscato comes from Moscato d’Asti (also called Asti or Asti Spumante), which is the Italian version from Piedmont. Asti is known for its low alcohol (5 to 7 percent), sweetness, and refreshing fizz.
The Muscat group of grapes is diverse in coloring, intense in aromatics, and versatile in its use.
Muscat Blanc (also called Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat Canelli) is white and often used as a blender in white wines and to make the Italian Asti style of sparkling wine. In contrast, the skin of Muscat Hamburg, also known as Black Muscat, is almost black. Muscat Giallo or Muscat Rose à Petits Grains is thought to be a rose-colored version of Muscat Blanc. Orange Muscat, as its name implies, has an orange flavor, and is used for dessert wines. Some Muscat varieties are used to produce sweet, fortified wines like port, as well as Pisco brandy, popular in Peru and Chile.
Muscat of Alexandria was the dominant raisin variety grown in California until the Thompson Seedless grape was developed.