The Muscat variety of grapes of the species Vitis vinifera is grown in many countries for wine, table grapes and raisins. Their color ranges from white to near black. Muscat nearly always has a pronounced sweet floral aroma. Muscat grapes are grown extensively throughout the wine growing regions of the world. The number of varieties of muscat suggest that it is perhaps one of the oldest domesticated grape varieties, with some experts believing that most families within the Vitis vinifera grape variety are descendents of the Muscat variety.
Moscato is the Italian word for Muscat. Moscato is a low alcohol wine which is often sweet and a just a little bubbly (spritzig). It can be made with any of the several varieties of Muscat, especially Muscat a Petit Grains.
Wine produced from the Muscat grape is characterized by smelling and tasting of the grape itself. Historically the grape has been used to make rich, luscious dessert wines in varying degrees of sweetness and fortification. Sweet Muscats exhibit the taste of raisins, toffee and oranges. More recently, Muscat grapes are being made into dry, aromatic table wines in the style of those of Alsace. In many countries, Muscat grapes are also used to produce lively, refreshing sparkling wines also known as Moscato.
There are a large number of Muscat grape varieties, the six most commonly used are:
Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains: (also known as Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat Frontignan, Moscato Bianco, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d'Alsace, Muskateller, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel Rosé, Muscat Lunel, Sargamuskotály, Moscatell de gra petit and Yellow Muscat) This grape is thought to be the oldest known variety with the most concentrated grape flavors. It is used to produce the sparkling wine Asti Spumante. When producing Spumante, the grapes are crushed and kept cold in tanks. As they are needed, the juice and crushed grapes are warmed and the fermentation is allowed to begin. The product is sealed in large tanks where the carbon dioxide is trapped in the wine. As the perfect alcohol and sugar levels are reached, the wine is quickly chilled, stopping the fermentation process. The wine is then filtered, bottled and corked.
Moscato Giallo: also known as Goldmuskateller, and Moscato Rosa or Rosenmuskateller, varieties are similar colored versions of the Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains grape.
Muscat of Alexandria: Which goes by many different names including Moscatel, Moscatel Romano, Moscatel de Malaga, Muscat Gordo Blanco, Hanepoot, Lexia, Moscatel, Gordo, and Zibibbo is used to make sherry and other liqueurs. This grape is thought to date back to Egyptian times. Because these grapes are low in acid and high in sugar, they tends to produce a lower quality wine. Because of this, most Alexandria grapes end up being used as table grapes or raisins.
Muscat Ottonel: Sometimes known as Moskately, this grape is used mainly used to make dessert wines and grows best in cooler climates.
Orange Muscat: This variety has an obvious orange aroma, and is mainly used in California dessert wines.
The Muscat grape is considered by many to be the oldest recognized grape variety on the planet. It has been cultivated within the Mediterranean region for over 3000 years. Some wine historians believe it was the first grape to evolve.
There is strong speculation that it originated in Greece and was brought via Italy into Roman France. The Romans then took the grape through France and Germany and also the rest of Europe. Early records indicate that it was shipped from the port of Frontignan in southwestern France throughout the reign of Charlegmagne.
Muscat wine became a favorite of the Avignon Popes. Pope Clement V, a wine lover, had a 70 hectare Muscat vineyard planted.
Today over 200 different varieties of the Muscat grape family exist and it is planted in nearly all of the significant wine regions throughout the world.
Muscat grapes are best suited to temperate climates, and can be found in many grape growing regions throughout the world with the major producers being:
France: Muscat is best known for producing Vins Doux Naturels (Natural Sweet Wines) in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, Lunel, Mireval, Frontignan, Cap corse, Beaumes de Venise and Rivesaltes. Muscat d'Alsace, which is usually dry but can also be made in sweeter styles. Alsace is well known for its dry Muscats.
Spain: Fortified Muscat, known as Moscatel in Spain, is produced in Andalusia, the Valencian Community, Catalonia, Aragón and Navaree, and the Canary Islands.
Italy: Muscat, also known as Moscato, grows throughout Italy, and is used to produce various wine styles. In dessert form it is either passito or fortified. It is used in the sparkling wines Asti and Moscato d'Asti.
Greece: In Greece Muscat dessert wines (moschato) are produced on Patras, Rhodes, Samos and Cephalonia. Lemnos produces Dry Muscat table wines.
Austria: Austria produces Muscat wines ranging from dry to very sweet. The grape is mostly grown in Southern Styria as “Muskateller”.
Hungary: In Hungary Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is grown mostly in the Balaton, Matra and Tokaj wine regions under the name of Muscat Lunel or Sargamuskotaly (Yellow Muscat) in Hungarian. Yellow Muscat wines can range from light and dry, to late harvest sweet or even botrytized dry or sweet wines.
Portugal: (Moscatel) Portugal makes the much-revered Moscatel de Setubal and Moscatel de Favaios among others.
Australia: In Australia quality Brown Muscat is produced in north-east Victoria's Rutherglen district. High quality Muscats are also produced in other mainland states. Riverina producer Miranda wines makes a raisined Muscat in passito style.
United States: You can find Muscat and Muscat hybrids growing across the United States, with California being a large producer of both bulk and fine wines.
South Africa: Muscat in South Africa is known as Muscadel or Hanepoot. They produce high quality fortified Muscats, while Constantia is well known for fabulous late-harvest Muscats.
Wines produced using Muscat can be anything from dry to sweet dessert style wines. They can be fortified, or sparkling. The taste, and food pairing will depend on the style of Muscat wine choosen.