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The Muscat Blanc Grape

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About Muscat Blanc

(Synonyms: Brown Muscat, Frontignan, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel rosé, Moscato bianco, Moscato d'Asti, Moscato di Canelli, Muscat blanc, Muscat Canelli, Muscat d'Alsace, Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat de Lunel, Muskateller, Rutherglen Muscat, Sarga Muskatoly, Sárgamuskotály, Tamianka, Tamjanika, Tamiioasa Romaneasca, White Muscat)


Muscat Blanc grapes Map of Europe showing Greece

The story of Muscat is complicated, chiefly because the ancestral grape is ancient—it was in common use by the Greeks (as Anathelicon moschaton and the Romans (as Uva Apiane), and has had numerous travels since. Actually, even that is a gross over-simplification, because it refers to the particular Muscat grape we are considering here, the Muscat Blanc (or, more fully, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, aka Muscat Canelli and a lot more—look up-page); the Muscat family of grapes comprises many more types with which we will not deal here. As best anyone knows, their origins lie in Greece.

As the name implies, Muscat Blanc is used to make white wines (as are most but by no means all Muscat grapes). The Muscat Blanc is pretty much universally considered to be not merely the easy champion of the entire Muscat family, but one of the dozen and a half or so of world-class white-wine grapes (those in boldface in the varietals list to the left of the page).

Traditionally, Muscat Blanc (like all the Muscats) has been used to make dessert wines, and as with several other grape types (Semillon, Petit Menseng, Malvasia, Corvina, and more), it is the eminence of those sweet wines that tends to include the grape types in "world's greatest" lists. Nonetheless, as with all the others, when vinified dry with some respect, it makes excellent table wines (and it is those that we deal with here—we do not deal with dessert wines).

Muscat Blanc is now grown in many locations, from its home in Greece (where dry examples are rare) to Italy, France, South Africa, Portugal, the U.S., and Australia, where it is usually called "Brown Muscat", or sometimes "Frontignan". (American-made Muscat Blancs can only be labelled "Muscat Blanc" or "Muscat Canelli".) But the primary sources of dry Muscats are Alsace and the northern reaches of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige).

As you will see below, descriptions of the wine tend to be brief and repetitious: grape-y, with overtones of orange plus the usual roster of floral/spice suspects. And, in truth, it's hard to augment that much. The essence of dry Muscat Blanc (as with dry Malvasia) is to retain the floral and fruity/spicy quality (especially in the nose), with a good acid balance; poorly made ones are either not all that "dry", or else have lost sublety. Good ones are (again, as with Malvasias) truly remarkable.

Factoid: Muscat Blanc is said to be almost the only grape whose wine actually smells and tastes like grapes.

Some Descriptions of Muscat Blanc Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "Young, unaged and unfortified examples of Muscat blanc tend to exhibit the characteristic Muscat 'grapey' aroma as well as citrus, rose and peach notes."

  • Jancis Robinson

    "This sort of Muscat is capable of producing wines with real finesse and a particularly pure, floral sort of grapiness. . . So much Muscat is planted in the south of France in fact that there has been a fashion for making it into dry white table wines, full-bodied whites with an eerily grapey aroma but hardly any perceptible sugar on the palate. Muscat du Cap Corse made from this particular Muscat in the far north of Corsica was for long one of the island's most impressive wines."

  • Professional Friends of Wine

    "Each muscat produces, with subtle variation, wines with the distinct, intense, aromatic, rosy-sweet, and easily-recognized scent of muscat and, unusual for most wine varieties, that actually taste like grapes. . . Fruit: fresh grapes, peach. Perfume: muscat (terpene). Floral: rose petal. Spice: coriander"

  • Anivin de France

    "The heady, explosive aromas of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains reflect the crisp flavors of the grapes. This varietal aroma of this grape is wild and musky, a slightly animal-like expression of rosewood and litchi. These notes are accompanied by fruitier touches –grapefruit, fresh-squeezed orange juice and exotic fruits - as well as floral notes such as jasmine, lemon grass and verbena. . . When its yields are limited, Muscat à Petits Grains Blancs has a high sugar potential with well-balanced acidity and intense flavors, at once powerful and delicate."

  • Wine Review Online

    There are many grapes in the Muscat family, but this one, also called Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, is the noblest of them all. Fine renditions are made all over the world and labeled under a bewildering range of synonyms, but when styled as a dry table wine, only a few wines from Alsace and the Austria's Wachau region can touch Styria's best. Soaringly fragrant but still light and fresh, they are superb partners for moderately spicy foods, and are amazingly durable in a cool cellar.

  • Wine Enthusiast

    "It's a varietal that can make fresh and exotic wines, eliciting aromas of peach, rose petal and sweet citrus."

  • Elloinos

    "The wines are often described as having bergamot (Citrus Bergamia) or lemon grass flavours that are powerful and delicate at the same time. In addition, sweet and spicy flavours are also present."

  • Tango Italia

    "The family of Muscat grapes is large, but all the members share a flowery, strongly aromatic character, like the smell and taste of Muscat table grapes."

  • Wine Monger

    "Grapey, and almost always quite perfumed (or aromatic, depending upon which word you prefer.)"

  • Wine Searcher

    "Dry varietal wines show a range of citrus, floral and spice aromas, with a full, dry palate."

  • Snooth

    "Characteristics of the grape: aromatic, orange, orange blossom, orange peel, white flowers, dried and fresh apricots, honey, musk perfume."

  • rhone-wines.com

    "Orange, Demerara, barley sugar and raisin are some of the flavours for which it is famous."

Some Muscat Blancs to Try

(About this list.)

There are not a few often-recommended "dry muscat" wines that turn out to be either partly or wholly some Muscat grape other than Muscat Blanc (or one of its common synonyms). They may, in light of the recommendations, be fine wines indeed, but, for focus, we have kept this list to wines that are 100% Muscat Blanc (as best we can determine, something that is not always easy, as the Juan Gil below demonstrates).

Looking for "dry muscat" is hard searching, but if one looks as well for "Muskateller" (or Goldmuskateller) or "Moscato Giallo" (or Yellow Muscat), the range opens considerably, as such wines are much more common in Austria and northern Italy than anywhere else.

Finally, one thing that becomes clear is that while there are a lot of dry muscats available in the U.S. market, it is such an unusual type here that very few are carried by more than one or at most two internet retailers (and probably not many local shops, either); lots of places have one or maybe two on offer, but each shop has its private favorite. The ones listed below are each offered by at least several retailers, though you will have to check several wine-search engines to find them all.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Juan Gil Moscatel Seco, $8 - $12.
    (While some sources refer to this as being from Muscat of Alexandria, others—most notably the winery itself—say it is 100% Muscat à Petits Grains.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [Bi-lingual page: scroll down to English] The wine is light golden and clean, with bright highlights and thin legs. On the nose it shows a medium-high intensity, with fruity sensations: it shows a lot of acid apples, with hints of peaches and pineapples. There are herbaceous aromas, and flowers (jasmine) and citrics. It has a strong personality. The palate is full of fruity sensations, and the finish is citric and long (the acidity is very nice). It's a white wine, but it has a very nice body and structure, and it's not light. It has insensity, but it's nice and very easy to drink. It's worth enjoying its expressive aromas slowly.

    [Google-tranalated from Spanish:] Nose is complex with hints of fruits like peach and apricot, citrus and floral tones. The palate is rich, harmonious, with a fine acidity that makes it very cool.

    ♣ Bacchus XIX Awards Competition (White Wines 2012), Silver Medal

    [Google-tranalated from Spanish:] Pale yellow. A glass pineapple, apricot and orange blossom. A cup is moved with fruity apricot and peach notes first tropical (pineapple) and a background citrus (grapefruit) with aromas of white flowers. The palate is sweet with notes of melon and pineapple and a slight acidity ending with a nice dry spot. . . A white excellent value for money it has improved.

    [Google-tranalated from French:] Its straw yellow color also gives some gold and even slightly green hues. The nose is intense freshness that feels spectacularly invades your nasal passages. On a background of tropical fruits such as pineapple, is grafted notes of citrus, peaches and also some floral touches. In short it is a festival of flavors that will transport you and take you far, far away, especially after tasting. On the palate, this wine is a harmonious combo since the nose / mouth is perfectly consistent. Firstly bites into a juicy pineapple, fresh tropical fruits floods your mouth, then there are citrus notes ending with a long finish somewhat herbaceous.

    [Google-tranalated from Spanish:] Visual appearance: tall, colorless limpid fluency / lemon hue. Olfactory notes of fruit (citrus, grapefruit, peach), floral notes (white flower) and saline point. Dry mouth with medium acidity medium / low structure bitterness edged light-bodied with aromas of peach, light hydrocarbons with a saline nuance, with an aftertaste in mouth half.

    [Google-tranalated from Spanish:] Straw yellow with greenish reflections; Aromas of tropical and stone fruits like pineapple with citrus and floral notes, Fresco, pleasant and fruity.

  • Bisceglia Terra di Vulcano Dry Muscat, $8 - $14.
    (Commonly offered, but few published reviews; maker is vague, but several retailers assert it's Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains.)
         ($8.34 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Bisceglia, Dry Muscat was quite intriguing with its pure notes of thyme and rosemary. I became rather hung up on just smelling the wine! . . The medium-strength nose reveals beautiful Muscat aromas which developed on the second night into delicately floral and fresh, thyme with rosemary. In the mouth the flavors followed the nose with a dry quality, stones, some ripeness, and drying tannins on the cheeks. ***

    This dry white wine opens with aromas of acacia flower, honey and stone fruit. The lack of sweetness holds back some of the aromatic intensity, and the wine is easy, fresh and zesty on the finish. 85 points.

  • Schreckbichl Colterenzio Pfefferer Moscato Giallo, $12 - $15.

    Some quotations and facts:

    The wine is light golden brown. Has a spicy aroma with hints of nutmeg and young travy [sic]. I meet elegant, fresh and fruity taste.

    [Google-translated from German:] [It] surprised as wine lovers with its elegant, lively and youthful especially fruity Art. The Pfefferer sprayed spring flavors! The flowery fruit flavors are peach, tangerine, raspberry dominates some mint and mineral notes. The Colterenzio Pfefferer also has a touch of nutmeg and rose petals. On the palate, this enthusiastic white wine from Alto Adige with a full-bodied, fresh and diverse taste. For us, the Pfefferer rings every year the start of the asparagus season.

    A tad more serene & stately than its Spanish [dry muscat] cousin (yes, these wines makes me prone to hyperbole), this haughty Northern Italian beauty is nevertheless brimming with exotic aromatics, tropical fruit and weighty palate.

    Delicate fleshy peach blossom, apricot, acacia honey. Beautifully dry, balanced, well made.

    End of summer white — crisp and balanced, peachy with a little white-pepper zing.

    Lovely, typical moscato aromatics with floral-lychee-lime elements. Palate is lime and melon and a base of solid, crisp, almost crunchy fruit and really stiff acids. Clean as a whistle finish.

    Delicate white, with some green apple and citrus character. Clean and simple.

  • João Pires Dry Muscat (Terras do Sado), $12 - $16.
    (Don't confuse this with their more expensive "Vinho Regional Muscat White Wine".)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is a perennial favorite and, outside of Vinho Verde, probably the best-known white of Portugal. Floral aromas bring to mind scents of lemongrass, lime and orange blossom, while the flavors brim with tangerines and tropical fruit, yet finish crisp and clean. It’s dry, light and mouthwatering, making it an ideal apéritif. 88 points.

    This surprisingly dry white wine from the Terras do Sado/Setúbal region in south-central Portugal near Lisbon had all the fruit typical of the Muscat grape but none of the overt sweetness. Floral and pineapple notes in the nose, João Pires possessed a rich mouth feel. Its bold flavors of grapefruit, peach and pineapple shine through as it is made with 100 percent Muscat grapes and aged in stainless steel.

    Few know that dry Muscat is one of the world's greatest food wines, but if you try this with almost any lightly spicy dish appropriate for white wine, you'll be converted forever. Lovely floral aromas lead the way into flavors that are full and satisfying but impeccably dry.

    A delicate and floral white that is crisp, clean and dry. With a nose of peaches and melons, it is very aromatic and expressive. There are slight notes of spice on the palate and a dry finish.

    Pale gold. Very good muscat nose. Not bad. Some length. This is a decent, fresh, dry muscat. Very Good. 88/100

    A leaner wine from Portugal that offers excellent value is Joao Pires Terras do Sado Muscat.

    One of the most common flavors in fine white wines is what I call "dry honey," for lack of a better term. This Portuguese wine is packed with that flavor, along with tastes of mineral, straw and peaches. Crisp and dry, the wine starts off slowly but builds to an impressive finish. Serve with seafood for best effect.

  • La Sirena Moscato Azul, $14 - $34.
    ("Muscat Canelli", which is to say Muscat Blanc; from the Napa Valley.)
         ($13.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Pale, almost to the point of tinted water in color. Fresh and tropical on the nose with notes leaning toward pineapple and papaya. Dry, tight, and brightly acidic initial flavors wash through your mouth. Then tropical notes splash about a bit, but in a restrained way behind the tight acidity and dry presentation. Pleasant green apple character closes this mermaid's swim across your palate. (Sirena means mermaid, but you likely guessed that by now.)

    Very light straw color in the glass with an explosively floral nose of mango, pineapple, orange blossoms and lychee. Light and clean on the palate with tropical fruit and citrus flavors finishing bone dry with good acidity. A truly unique white worth seeking out that would be an excellent match with brunch fare.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2012), 90 points

    I will give you the unsurprising teaser that Heidi Peterson Barrett's La Sirena Napa Valley Moscato Azul is fantastic, and was the only bottle of scores that I tried that two of us had no problem finishing in one night. . . La Sirena is a Muscat for wine lovers, not necessarily for Moscato lovers, who might wonder where the sugar is. It's bright and fruity, has some complexity and fantastic balance and just keeps tasting more delicious. I love the blue bottle, I like the logo, but mainly I just love this wine.

    Heidi [Peterson Barrett] makes one of the finest dry Muscat Canellis in all of California, and her 2007 Moscato Azul, which is essentially dry, offers a gorgeous fragrance that smells like a fruit cocktail, light-bodied flavors, and wonderful freshness. It screams 'aperitif' from the beginning to the end of its aromas and flavors.

    This fully dry wine is made from Moscato Canelli and is marked by spicy aromas and a lively acidity. It's a terrific aperitif or a partner to seafood.

    The best California Moscato I’ve tried is Heidi Barrett’s La Sirena Moscato Azul, made from fine Muscat Canelli grapes. It’s fairly dry and very flavorful, but also retails for at least twice the price of most Moscatos d’Asti.

  • Cooperative of Samos "High Peaks" Dry Muscat, $16 - $17.
    (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains; in Greek, "Moschoudi".)
         ($15.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Pale, with yellow-green hues and astonishing brilliance, Psilés Korfés is the latest creation of the Union. As its name, Psilés Korfés (High Peaks), denotes, it is crafted from grapes of the most select mountain vineyards of the island that are perched on their stone terraces 600-800 meters above sea level! It has a character replete with finesse with the floral and fruity aromas typical of the Muscat expressed here in a delicate manner. It may be enjoyed on its own and as an aperitif and compliments perfectly poultry dishes, fish dishes, pasta, vegetable dishes, etc..

    Pale yellow with greenish hues. Grapey nose with lime and white rose. Light-mid bodied, refreshing and crispy with nice fruit and balancing acidity. Medium finish. A very pleasent and typical dry muscat to accompany light dishes or to be enjoyed as an apperitif. Fairly priced.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (2012), 90 points

    ♣ Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, Belgium (2012), Silver

    …typically an utterly charming wine with distinction and character, plus, of course, those pungent Muscat aromatics. In its youth, this is quite brawny and vigorous for this bottling, with serious persistence on the lingering and very flavorful finish. I’ve come to expect this persistence from this bottling and it sure doesn’t disappoint this year. Balanced and well integrated, this displays its Muscat heritage proudly, but is always harmonious and sunny with fine acidity...

    OK, Gewurztraminer, step aside for a minute so that this dry and effulgently aromatic off-white can grip me by the nose.

    This is their dry Muscat and presents as a very typical Muscat wine, with strong aromatics and lots of herbal flavors. I really enjoyed this wine.

For a Splurge

You don't even have to spend a lot—you just have to do a lot of heavy hunting, for the Navarro Anderson Valley Muscat Blanc (c. $19).

This is an amazing wine. It’s bone-dry and very high in acidity, one of the most distinctive white wines in California. The racy quality supports intense flavors of steely minerals, orange and lime zest and apricots, wrapped into a rich, oily texture. It accomplishes the magic of tasting honey-sweet but finishing thoroughly dry. Will age, too. A 2001, tasted alongside, was terrific.
   —review of the 2006 vintage by Steve Heimoff for Wine Enthusiast

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