Muscat: The Master of Disguise

Muscat blanc à petits grains Viala et VermorelMuscat has numerous claims to fame:

  • Possibly the world's oldest variety.
  • Its penchant for mutation - there are hundreds of varieties, both white and red. The most famous varieties?
    • Muscat a Petit Grains, the most famous and noble of the Muscat varieties, described in more detail below.
    • Muscat of Alexandria: This variety is known as a workhorse but can actually be used to make exquisite wines as well: In California for grapes, in  Peru for pisco, and in Spain for Moscatel, and in the Roussillon for Muscat de Rivesaltes, a stellar vin doux naturel.
    • Muscat Ottonel: AKA Hungarian Muscat, it thrives in Austria, Alsace and, of course, Hungary (where it is known as Moskatolly.
  • Its heady aromatics
  • Its versaility, making wines that run the gamut from bone dry to sticky sweet, sparkling, still and fortified.
Viticulture & Viniculture

Muscat is unlike the majority of it's vitis vinifera brethren in a number of ways:

  • Owing to Muscat's penchant for mutation, it is not uncommon to see different colored grapes on the same bunch. 
  • The grapes are small and the yields are generally low (not a recipe for a moneymaker).
  • It thrives in relatively fertile soils (most vitis vinfera varieties prefer a challenge).
  • It does, however, it thrives in a variety of climates from cold to hot.

Common Descriptors

  • Acidity: medium to medium plus
  • Alcohol: high
  • Body: Medium to full
  • Aroma & flavors: dried or fresh mango,  rosewater, lime blossom, orange peel, musk, and, of course,  grapey ;)(novel that something made from grapes tastes like grapes).
Places it is happiest
Oh boy! Where to begin? Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is one peripatetic little beast! Not only does this baby get around (if you know what we mean), but it seems to adopt a new name wherever it goes!
Old World New World
  • Italy: it is grown in the northwest in Piedmont where it is known as Moscato Bianco.
    • Moscato d’Asti (sparkling)
    • Asti Spumante (sweet, sparkling)
  • France: 
    • Alsace: where it is known as Muscat d'Alsace and produces dry to off-dry wines.
    • Cremant de Die: One of the blending grapes used in the sparkling wine of the northern Rhone.
    • Vins doux Naturels: Sweet fortified wines from the Roussillon. Most famous examples
      • Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise
      • Muscat de Frontignan
      • Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois
      • Banyuls 
  • Greece:
    • Responsible for the sweet wines of Sámos, Pátrai, and Kefallinía.
  • Germany: 
    • Known as Gelber Muskateller, where it makes beautiful dry wines.
  • Australia:
    • Rutherglen and Glenrowan specialize in Liqueur Muscat, which is based on Muscat ROUGE a petits grains (yes, different from the blanc, but close enough and worth a mention). Classified in 4 levels
      • Rutherglen
      • Classic
      • Grand
      • Rare
  • South Africa: 
    • The Constantia region has using late harvested Muscat a petits grains since 1685 to make its world famous sweet wines. Lit dorks take note: Jane Austen, Charles Dickens & Baudelaire have all immortalized its virtue.
  • California:
    • Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is used to make some of California's finest Moscatos....NOT! That is that lame pseudo doppelganger, Muscat of Alexandria all the way. Do not be fooled! Do not buy this latter day White Zinfandel. Go for something weird and funky and delicious and Muscat at its best!