Muscat (Moscato in Italy, Moscatel in Spain and Portugal) is the name given to one of the oldest grape families in the world. The grapes we know today as Muscat – which are believed to have originated in the Middle East – have been used in winemaking since the times of the ancient Greeks. However, a long history brings with it an equally long list of synonyms, mutations and crossings.
There is no one ‘true’ Muscat, but rather a great many incarnations, each with its own regional nuance and character. We are able to refine the list down to six key members of the family, one of which stands above the rest.
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Moscato Bianco in Italy) is the oldest and most highly valued of the Muscat family. It is grown throughout the Old and New Worlds in a range of styles as diverse as its synonyms.
Muscat Ottonel is the palest and ripens early, Muscat Hamburg is a black-grape variety that is often used as a table grape, Moscato Giallo is a yellow grape from northern Italy and Moscato Rosa is a pink-skinned version. Despite these brief descriptions, it should be noted that it is common for various Muscats to change the color of their skins from vintage to vintage.
The distinctive grapey aroma of Muscat is one of its chief properties, but the variety’s versatility also makes it an attractive option for winemakers. Drawbacks include low acidity and an inability to age more than about four years (with the exception of fortified Muscat). Muscat may be produced as dry, medium, sweet, sparkling or even dessert wine. Because of its strong grapey flavors, various Muscats are widely grown as table grapes around the world.
Italy produces more Muscat than any other country, the majority of which is Moscato Bianco, under the eponymous banner of Moscato d’Asti.
It should also be noted that, despite their similar names, Muscadelle, Muscadet and Muscardin are not members of the Muscat family.
Synonyms include: Moscato, Moscatel.
Food matches include:
Europe: Poached fish fillet with salsa verde (dry); apple pie (torta di mele) (sweet); chocolate and custard tart (sweet and fortified)
Asia: Yellow rice (nasi kuning) (dry); cashew nut curry (sweet)
Americas: Crêpes and caramel cream (panqueques celestino) (sweet); hot smoked salmon fillets (dry)
Australasia/Oceania: Seared scallops with fennel salad (dry); banana and vanilla custard (sweet)