One of the world’s most ancient and widely travelled grapes, Muscat goes under many monikers
You say Muscat, I say Moscato, you say Moscatel, I say Muskateller. Or Moschoudi. Or Muskuti. Or Moscadella. Or Muskotály…
When Juliet asked Romeo, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ she might as well have been talking about the Muscat grape. This is one of the most fragrant and sweet-smelling grapes going, with distinctive grapey aromas and hints of peach, orange and — yes — roses. It makes some of the world’s finest sweet wines too, but also some delicate dry wines worth getting to know. And as one of the world’s most ancient and widely travelled grapes, Muscat also goes under very many monikers.
Beloved in ancient Greece, we’re pretty sure it was for vines of the pale and small-berried Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains grape that the Romans hiked to southern Gaul. From here it travelled north to Germany, east to Hungary, and west to the Americas. In South Africa’s Cape, Klein Constantia shrivels the grapes for an iconic recreation of the 18th-century Vin de Constance, a late-harvest sweet wine that ages with glorious complexity. In Australia’s Victoria, a dark-skinned mutation, Brown Muscat, gives the age-worthy sweet nectar that is Rutherglen Muscat.
Along the way, this small-berried Muscat Blanc crossed with other grapes to create related varieties. Most significant is the larger-berried, less-finessed Muscat of Alexandria which turns up in the Iberian peninsula in local sweet wines like Moscatel de Setúbal (south of Lisbon) and in Andalusia. In Jerez, Valdespino uses it to bring bright, citrus notes to its wonderful Oloroso-based Vermut (€30, Blackrock Cellar), while in Alicante, Pepe Mendoza Casa Agrícola handles it beautifully in delicate, bone-dry, gorgeous single-varietal expressions (Pureza, €32) and blends (Bianco, €25). In South America, Muscat of Alexandria is distilled into pisco in Chile and Peru, but also produces delicate dry wines such as today’s from the Itata Valley in southern Chile. It also crossed with the local Listán Prieto grape to give us Argentina’s Torrontes grape, of which Susana Balbo’s crisp, fragrant Crios Torrontes (€16.70, winesdirect.ie) is a fine example.
Confusingly, besides the many related crossings of several hundred distinct varieties with ‘Muscat’ in their name, DNA shows many are unrelated. Still, they’ve usually been named ‘Muscat’ because they produce a wine with similar grapey, floral, orange and stone fruit notes — so, from a casual wine lover’s perspective, the name is a useful clue. Today’s round-up shows how those characteristics can express themselves in a diversity of styles.
Kamara Pure Blooming Mountain Pet Nat 2021, Thessaloniki PGI, Greece, 12pc, €28.90
A blend of Muscat with a touch of local pink-skinned Moschofilero, this cloudy, pale amber ‘pet nat’ is an unfiltered, organic and naturally sparkling wine produced sustainably in northern Greece. Fermented with 10 days’ skin contact and in amphora for 30 days, it has that subtle tannic grip that is so food-friendly, and fragrant aromas of mandarin and orange blossom. (Open carefully and direct from the fridge, as Kamara’s pet nats can be lively.) Wines Direct, winesdirect.ie
GD Vajra Moscato d’Asti, Piemonte, Italy, 5.5pc, €18.95
Low in alcohol and lightly effervescent Moscato d’Asti makes a gorgeous pick-me-up. Sweet and peachy, the best have great freshness — and Vajra produces a fine, mineral-edged example. Perfect for an afternoon tea of cake and savoury nibbles. Selected independents, including 64 Wines and The Corkscrew
Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial Moscato 2020, Limari Valley, Chile, 8pc, €10 (€8 for March)
I tasted this paired with a custard tart made by chef Cúán Greene at a Santa Rita wine dinner, and was charmed by its light effervescence, delicate aromas of rose petal and jasmine, white peach and ginger, and the welcome acidity thanks to Limari Valley’s cool climate. Dunnes Stores
Chambers Rosewood Rutherglen Muscat, Victoria, Australia,
17.5pc, €18-€20 (37.5cl)
Produced with late-harvested, fortified and oak-aged Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge, this is lusciously sweet yet a fresh finish makes it moreish, as do aromas of rose petals layered over raisins, figs, caramel and vanilla. 64 Wine, Blackrock Cellars, Red Island Wine Co, Wicklow Wine Company, wineonline.ie
Terroir Sonoro Cerrucco Moscatel 2021, Itata Valley, Chile, 13pc, €35
Using dry-farmed Moscatel de Alejandría from the Itata, and a most unusual method of ‘sonic batonnage’ that involves the talented guitarist winemaker composing music for each wine, to be played in speakers within the barrels, this is weighty and textural with juicy peach skin and rose-petal character. Searsons, Monkstown