For many, the word ‘Moscato’ evokes thoughts of simple, saccharine-sweet, sippers for those new to the wine scene. Those easy, foaming honeyed whites that our collective grandmothers drink over ice. Even those of us who’ve been doing this whole ‘wine thing’ for a while have at one time or another dumped moscato… hard. But this is National Moscato Day and I think it’s high time this hedonistically rich, chameleon of a grape variety gets its day in the sun (ugh I hate puns).
Moscato is the Italian styling of muscat. And it’s in Italy where the grape takes on its most well-known style. In the hill town of Asti in the foothills of the Alps in Piedmont, Moscato takes on two forms known the world over. The first of these, Moscato d’Asti is the lightly fizzy (frizzante), partially-fermented, slightly alcoholic sparkler, with considerable residual sugar. I’m not gonna lie, these wines are pretty and perfumed on the nose, throwing out huge fruit aromas along with orange blossom and honeysuckle mixings. Well chilled, these wines go down as easy as a glass of water after mowing the lawn. These are brunch wines for sure. Or maybe even a late afternoon aperitif. Don’t knock them until you’ve fully discovered their versatility. Moscato d’Asti rules the roost in the States, oftentimes overshadowing the more serious, drier, fully sparkling Asti version the grape has to deliver. Often, when you walk into an ABC looking for a ‘bottle of Asti,’ Moscato d’Asti is what you’re searching for.
But what about everywhere else in the world? Nearly every single wine producing country of the world, from Chile to France, from Greece to Australia are making Moscato/muscat happen in a big way. It’s believed by many anthro-biologists that the very first domesticated grapevines were those of an early clone of muscat. And we shouldn’t be thinking of muscat/moscato as just the fragile sparkling wine of Northern Italy. One of the premier qualities of the grape is that it can take an almost draconian level of heat and sunshine. In parts of the Atacama Desert of Chile, Muscat is grown so ripe that it has enough sugar to supplement pisco production. Same goes for the ‘stickies’ of Rutherglen, Australia; where ‘brown muscat’ is grown into deliriously sweet wines that are fortified and aged in a solera system like sherry or Madeira. All over Mediterranean Europe, from Cyprus to the Southern Rhone, the grape is transformed into the lightly fortified vin doux naturels, alive with orange blossom and white grape notes. Well-chilled, the grapes naturally high acidity counter balances the syrup sugar within, making for the perfect early summer digestif.
Sure, does Moscato/Muscat have a few hundred clones? Yea. Sure, is it known for being sweet? Yea.. But these wines should not be thrown to the wolves as the ‘beginner wines’ they’re known for being. Right now, in Alsace, France, Muscat is one of ONLY four grape varietals considered for Grand Cru status. The wines here can be dry, half dry, sweet, or even dripping in botrytized magic. On this National Moscato Day, let’s all raise a glass to this underdog!
Wid Kever IV, Wine Consulant