Muscat de Rivesaltes is an appellation for Muscat-based sweet wines from Roussillon, southern France. Its non-Muscat equivalent, Rivesaltes, is made from all three forms of Grenache (Noir, Blanc and Gris). Both of these sweet wines are example of a vin doux naturel.
Muscat de Rivesaltes wines are made from Muscat Blanc and Muscat of Alexandria. The two varieties are blended in varying ratios, according to the style desired by the individual producer. There is a move to increase the proportion of Muscat Blanc used, as Muscat of Alexandria is widely acknowledged to be the less characterful of the two. The local appellation laws now include a clause to ensure that all producers have at least 50% Muscat Blanc in their vineyards.
Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is used to bring aromas of exotic and citrus fruits, while Muscat of Alexandria brings a deeper bouquet of white flowers and ripe stone fruit. The wines show aromas of peach, lemon and mango, plus occasionally fresher, herbaceous notes such as mint. These all change with ageing (which takes place mostly in the bottle to preserve the fresher aromas) and the wines take on aromas of honey and baked stone fruits.
With their high levels of residual sugar (a minimum of 100 g/l) and alcohol (between 15% and 17% ABV), these wines are sweet and relatively viscous. They are pale gold in color, sometimes with a silvery-green tinge in their youth. As they age, the gold color deepens and moves towards orange, amber and eventually reddish-brown.
The technique used to produce these wines is one of several employed for sweet wines. Unlike botrytized wines or ice wines, vins doux naturels are made by mutage, a process of stopping must fermenting while there is still a high level of natural sweetness.
The official Rivesaltes and Muscat de Rivesaltes viticultural area covers almost 100 parishes, effectively the eastern (coastal) third of the Pyrenees-Orientales administrative departement. It also takes in the southernmost villages of the neighboring Aude departement, whose vineyards also produce dry red wines under the Fitou appellation. This makes it comfortably France's largest sweet-wine appellation, in terms of both area and volumes produced. It stretches right down to the border with Spain, and even includes the villages of Cerbere, Collioure, Port-Vendres and Banyuls-sur-Mer, where the characterful, sweet Banyuls wines are made.