Muscat – A Lot of Options for Texas
Varieties of Muscat represent some of the oldest and most widely planted grapes in the world. It is estimated that over 200 different grapes claim the name, or at least a heritage related to the primary members of the Muscat family. Only a few of these grapes are widely used for wine production in the world’s major wine regions, primarily Muscat blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Fleur d’Oranger, Moscato Giallo, Muscato di Scanzo, Muscat of Hamburg and Muscat Ottonel.
Before describing each of these variations, it should be noted that Muscat blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria, and Muscat Fleur d’Oranger all flourish in hot, arid climates, and have thus found a favorable home in the state of Texas. Most of the wines made from or using Muscats in blends are derived from these three varieties.
Muscat grapes and wines made from them are considered to be very aromatic. This is primarily due to the characteristic floral, grapey aromas that derive from a relatively high concentration of monoterpene compounds. These monoterpenes include citronellol (citrusy), geraniol (geranium), linalool (floral, spicy) and nerol (lemongrass, rose). Most tasters can readily recognize these “musky” aromas and, as a result, will characteristically assume that the wines are sweet even before tasting. However, fortified and aged Muscat wines, especially those that have been aged in oak barrels, tend to be very dark in color due to oxidation with aroma notes of coffee, fruit cake, raisins and toffee.
Muscat blanc à Petits Grains is really the primary variety that produces the most wine with the most attractive and distinctive aromas and flavors. This variety, which produces tight clusters of small (petite) grapes, is also known as Muscatel, Moscatel, Frontignac, Muskateller, Moscato, Moshcato, and Muscat Canelli, depending on the country and wine region. Most of the Muscat-based wines from France, Italy and Greece are derived from this variety. These wines range from dry to very sweet, and include still, fortified and sparkling versions. The famous muscat dessert wines from the Rutherglen region in Australia are also made from Muscat blanc à Petits Grains.
Muscat of Alexandria, as the name might suggest, has a high tolerance of heat and drought conditions. It grows well in Spain (for Sherry and Malaga), Portugal and South Africa (called Hanepoot; used for fortified wines and brandy production). In Chile, this grape is used to make the distilled spirit "pisco". Muscat of Alexandria is also popular as a table grape and for raisin production.
Muscat Fleur d’Oranger, or Orange Muscat, is a cross between Chasselas and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. Because this grape does well in hotter, more arid regions, it is widely grown in California to produce sweet and fortified wines, and has become popular in Texas for the same reasons. There are also significant plantings in Washington State and Australia for the production of sweet wines.
Moscato Giallo, or Yellow Muscat, and Muscato di Scanzo are primarily grown in northern Italy for the production of sweet and fortified wines. Plantings of Moscato Giallo are beginning to show up on the Texas High Plains.
Muscat of Hamburg is known as Black Muscat for its darkly colored grape skins. It is often used to make sweet red wines, and is a popular source for raisins and table grapes. Perhaps the best known U.S. wine made from Muscat of Hamburg is Quady’s sweet, dark dessert wine, Elysium, made from grapes grown in California’s Central Valley.
Muscat Ottonel is believed native to France’s Loire Valley. It seems to grow best in cooler climates, and is widely used for both dry and sweet wines in Alsace (France), Austria, Hungary and most other eastern European wine regions.
Muscat grapes have become an important part of the Texas wine industry. Although sweet or semi-sweet wines are most often produced, there are dry versions available at many tasting rooms. Even if sweeter wines may not be your “cup of tea,” being aware of and informed about the important Muscat family of grapes has value to all who appreciate wine.
Mother Muscat, a blog post by Jane Nickles, The Bubbly Professor, 25-Nov-2014
Wikipedia, Wine & Spirits, Wine Spectator, and Winemaker Magazine