Betty's Wine Musings

The Long, Rich History of Muscat

This past Sunday, we celebrated National Moscato Day. YUM! Moscato is the Italian name for Muscat. Moscatel is its name in Spain. In this article, I’ll stick to the word Muscat. Today, we’re going to talk about the rich history of Muscat.

This amazing grape is one of the oldest around and is likely the great great great (keep going) grandparent of most of the other wine grapes we know and love today. Jancis Robinson says it well: “The Muscat grape may not be thought of as one of the great international classics, but its history is many times longer than that of such newcomers as Cabernet Sauvignon for example. It was almost certainly the grape variety referred to by writers in classical times as being particularly attractive to insects for its heady smell and impressive ripeness.”

The Long, Rich History of Muscat Has Resulted in a Lot of Diversity
The Long, Rich History of Muscat Has Resulted in a Lot of Diversity

About Muscat

Muscat comes in a variety of styles:

  • Sparkling and still – for sparkling, you probably know the Italian names Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante.
  • White, pink and red – to achieve pink, winemakers add a tiny bit of Merlot. The name for Red Muscat is actually Black Muscat.
  • Off dry, sweet, very sweet and fortified – OMG, would I love to try a fortified Muscat.

Virtually all Muscats have a noticeable floral aroma with musky, grape notes. The name Muscat comes from the grape’s distinctive muskiness. It’s the one wine (and grape) that you can legitimately say smells like grape.

Besides its wonderful taste, a big plus for the Muscat grape is its high concentrations of antioxidant flavonoids, in quantities as high as many varieties of red grapes. This means that the beneficial effects of red wine consumption are likely present in Muscat wines.

The Rich History of Muscat Has Led to a Lot of Diversity

Because the grape is so old, more than 200 different varieties of the Muscat family exist today. The most commonly known varieties of muscat grapes are:

  • Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, which is also called Muscat Blanc, Muscat Canelli and many more names
  • Moscato Giallo and Moscato Rosa – thought to be the colored versions of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
  • Muscat of Alexandria (also called Moscatel, Zibibbo and many other names) – used to make sherry
  • Muscat Hamburg (also called Black Muscat)
  • Orange Muscat – used for some wines in California

The Grape’s Geographical History

Thank you to Uncork for its wonderful explanation of the history of Muscat. Their focus was on how Muscat found its way around the world. Here is the long and short of it:

  • It is believed that Muscat originated in Greece, but perhaps the independent sultanate of Muscat in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula had something to do with it.
  • A Roman soldier or Phoenician trader likely brought it through Italy into Roman France. It was definitely in France during Charlemagne’s reign.
  • After this, the Romans took the variety further through France and Germany.
  • The Greeks took it to Crimea in the Soviet Union.
  • The Egyptians sent cuttings south to what is now South Africa.
  • Muscat was officially introduced into Australia through James Busby, a viticulturalist from New South Wales who studied in France. Interestingly, many of Australia’s early vine cuttings also came from South Africa.
  • America received Muscat wines from its early Spanish and Italian immigrants.

Pairing Muscat with Food

Muscat pairs nicely with a wide variety of foods, including desserts, spicy Chinese, Indian and Thai dishes, fruit dishes and sweet potato dishes.

If you have more information about the history of muscat, I would be grapeful if you would share. Cheers!

As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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