Wednesday, January 21, 2015

MUSCAT: One for the Ages

Vineyards of Asti, Piemonte

Label images began to populate the app's storage once it was downloaded. The smart phone application was to help visualize what I drank, and perhaps keep a few notes as a refresher. Recently, Vivino presented its top 100 rated sub-$50 wines, confirming a few drinking trends, and offering a few surprises. Sure there was Chardonnay and Pinot Noir represented, but more than 25% of its list rated red grape blends.  At least six(6) of the rankings were of the venerable white grape, Muscato Blanc, so that everything that was old was new again. Once dismissed as being grapey and ubiquitous, old Muscat is making a comeback. As a result of the widely distributed survey, it appears that our wine consumption trends where everything is new again, currently is one for the Ages.

Muscat itself is a very large family, known by many local synonyms, and has a documented history that goes back at least three thousand years! Countless clones and variations are part of its lineage, which is perhaps something expected from a very old grape vine that has literally traveled the world. Know as Anathelicon moschaton by the ancient seafaring Greeks, Muscat traveled too with Roman conquests, eventually making its way beyond the Mediterranean with the exploration of the New World. As Muscat was reliable and adaptable, it found itself the as a base principal of many emerging styles of wine around the globe.

Rutherglen vineyards of Australia
Vigorous Muscat historically is a workhorse of sorts, producing wines of no residual sugar(dry), semi and sweet, as well as fortified and even sparkling styles. Old World ships eventually brought Muscat to the tip of Africa, there partially fermented in Constantia to travel sweet and celebrated to the far away European courts. More than a century later, early 19th century English vine plantings in Australia saw fortified Muscat wines back sent to anticipation in the UK by 1854. Today, Muscat vineyards of the Rutherglen region of SE Australia continue to produce some of the worlds finest sticky, fortified, barrel aged and celebrated wines(Liqueur Muscats).  Additionally, the unique brandies of Peru and Chile, know as Pisco, as well as Metaxa, a grape brandy from Greece, have historically been produced from long cultivated Muscat grapes.

As with every large family their is a hierarchy and a prominent member. For Muscat Blanc, the grape that turn wines that taste like the grape itself, makes a wine known for opulent aromatics of orange blossom, honeysuckle and stone fruits, and offering complementary taste that is typically viscous and high in acid, it is the variety Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. In northern France near the end of the Roman trade route, an Alsatian regional and food-friendly dry wine is widely produce here from this golden orb variety. And, in the south near its origin, the white grape Muscato Canelli is the basis of a range of wine styles including the increasingly popular sparklers, Moscato d’Asti(frizzante) and Asti Spumante.

Still or sparkling, dry or sweet, and even fortified, Muscat Blanc is the world traveler that today produces quality wines for every occasion, every palate, and importantly every budget. Fueled by the younger culture of neophyte winos, its accessible pricing, and ever-popular range of styles, ubiquitous Muscato is today enjoying a consumer Renaissance. Our affinity for the grapes reliable character and its unparalleled functionality truly make it One for the Ages.