Today is Muscat Day so we’re going to tell you all about the world’s oldest grape as well as its wines and even a French spirit and a French liqueur made with it.
What is muscat?
Muscat grapes vary in colour from white to yellow to brown. They are used as table grapes but also in the production of white wines and a few spirits/liqueurs.
Origins of Muscat, the world’s oldest grape
The ampelographer Pierre Galet believes that the family of Muscat varieties were propagated during the period of classical antiquity (c. 800 BC to 600 AD) by the Greeks and Romans. However, archaeological analysis of ancient pots found in Greece that were over 3000 years old found traces of an alcoholic drink made with Muscat grapes.
Muscat grapes were first mentioned in the works of the English Franciscan scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus who wrote of wine made from Muscat grapes in his work De proprietatibus rerum written between 1230 and 1240 while Anglicus was studying in what is now modern Saxony in Germany.
What do muscat wines taste like?
In Australia when you hear the word “Muscat” you’re most likely to think either of a tawny port dessert fortified type or wine or the sugary Moscato wine. However, muscat is much, much more than just these two types of wines.
Muscat is the only wine grape that produces wine that actually tastes like the grape itself. As a varietal, Muscat wine has a wide range going from pale, dry white wines to sweet sparkling wines to golden-yellow perfumed dessert wines to fortified dark, mahogany-coloured treasures. Muscat flavours will vary according to the region where they are made, the wine making techniques, and the variety of Muscat grape used.
Muscat isn’t only used in wine..
Muscat wine is the basis for Pisco, a unique brandy made in Peru, and Chile, and Metaxa, a grape brandy from Greece.
The Greeks use Black Muscat grapes grown in the vineyards of the Thessaly to produce a grappa like spirit called Tsilili Hamburg Muscat Grape spirit.
Later in the article, you’ll also find a French spirit and a French liqueur both made from Muscat grapes.
What about the name muscat?
There are several theories about where the name muscat come from:
- The most commonly cited belief is the name is derived from the Persian word muchk. This is supported by similar etymology for the Greek moskos, Latin muscus and French musc.
- The Italian word mosca meaning fly is a possibility as fruit flies are commonly attracted to the sweet aroma and high sugar levels of the grapes
- It may have been named after the city of Muscat on the Gulf of Oman.
- Similarly, it may have been named after the Greek city of Moschato, located southwest of Athens in Attica with Moschato being a common synonym in Greece for Muscat varieties.
Other names for Muscat
Pierre Galet, world-renowned ampelographer and author of the Dictionnaire encyclopédique des cépages, describes more than 150 Muscat varieties.
Muscat is known by many different names but beware some names that sound similar do not refer to the same grape. Muscadelle for example is not related to Muscat.
Not all Muscat grape varieties are used to make wine.
Those that are include Muscat blanc à Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat of Scanzorosciate, Muscat of Hamburg and Muscat Ottonel.
Muscat blanc à Petits Grains is known by many names worldwide:
- Muscat de Frontignan and Muscat Lunel in France.
- Muscat Blanc in France and also the United States,
- Muscat Canelli in the United States,
- Moscato Bianco (white Moscato) in Italy,
- Muscat Frontignan in South Africa,
- Moschato in Greece,
- Brown Muscat in Australia,
- Muskateller in Germany and Austria,
- Muscat de Grano Menudo in Spain.
Muscat around the world
Muscat grapes are grown in every important wine-producing country in the world. They are used as table grapes, raisins and for wine production.
In Australia, Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains grapes are used to produced sweet fortified wines, mostly in Rutherglen and Glenrowan in northeast Victoria.
Australian tradition is to mature the Muscat in oak barrels (for 10-40 years or more). This long ageing concentrates and harmonizes the components of the wine and develops rich, smooth, soft flavours.
2 Australian Muscats were in the top 10 Best Muscats du Monde 2020 both from Morris Wines:
- Morris Classic Muscat -Georges Morris, and
- Morris Cellar Reserve – Grand Liqueur Muscat.
2 French Muscats were in the top 10 Best Muscats du Monde 2020 competition:
- Côtes de Thau IGP – Beauvignac – Muscat Sec – Petits Grains 2019
- Muscat de Beaumes de Venise AOP – Bois Doré 2015
In France, Muscat of Alexandria is most prominent as a blending component (with Muscat blanc à Petits Grains) in the VdN wines of Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC in the Roussillon wine region.
Muscat Ottonel is a relatively recent addition to the Muscat family, being bred in the Loire Valley wine region of France in the 1850s. It is also the primary Muscat variety grown in the French region of Alsace, where it is used to produce both dry and off-dry styles
Some notable French Muscat AOCs:
- Clairette de Die in Die in the Eastern Rhône is a sparkling White wine made from Muscat
- Muscat d’Alsace, a synonym for Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, is the oldest Muscat grown in Alsace. It is usually produced as a dry table wine.
- Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is said to be an outstanding Muscat wine which is considered to be the best of the South of France’s several vins doux naturels (fortified sweet wines). It has delicate, lovely aromas and flavours and can reach an alcohol strength of 21%!
- Muscat du Cap Corse is a rare, sweet wine with very intense fruit and flower flavors which is produced on the island of Corsica.
- Muscat de Frontignan, or Vin de Frontignan or Frontignan is considered to be the most important of Languedoc’s four Muscats.
- Muscat de Mireva, also from Languedoc is similar to Muscat de Frontignan.
- Muscat de Lunel is also in the Languedoc region. It produces wines with a highly distinguished character while retaining its subtle, delicate bouquet. The silica soil is said to contribute.
- Muscat de Rivesaltes in the Roussillon region, represents about 70% of France’s total Muscat production. Two types of Muscat are allowed: Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains and Muscat d’Alexandrie.
- Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minevois is said to be one of France’s rarest wines
Apart from France and Australia, muscat wines are found pretty much everywhere including:
Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Moldova, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States
WHAT TO DRINK FOR MUSCAT DAY
Airoldi Fine Wines
OFFER: Receive 20% off all orders from Airoldi Fine Wines with the code “Marseillaise”.
Daniel Airoldi from Airoldi Fine Wines chatted to us ahead of Muscat Day
Which Muscat would you recommend for Muscat Day?
I know that this isn’t a French wine but the estate had an association with France for a long time. This historical wine was appreciated by Emperor Napoleon during his exile on the island of St Helena among many other important historical figures. It’s a wine made from Muscat de Frontignan which is raisined. Which means that the grapes are dehydrated on the vines before being picked and vinified.
What would you pair with it?
A cheese plate or a lemon meringue tart.
Quel Muscat recommandez-vous? Le Vin de Constance de Chez Klein Constantia en Afrique du Sud.
Pourquoi? Je sais que ce n’ai un vin Français mais le domaine a longtemps eu une association avec la France. Ce vin historique était apprécié par l’Empereur Napoléon durant son exile sur l’ile de Ste-Hélène et parmi bien tant d’autre personnage historique. C’est un vin issue de Muscat de Frontignan qui est passerillé c’est-à-dire que les raisin sont déshydraté sur la vigne avant d’être cueillis et vinifié.
Avec quoi l’associeriez-vous? Avec un plateau de fromage au sur une tarte au citron meringuée
Other French wines, spirits and liqueurs from Muscat
Cyrano Wines specialises in wines from the Languedoc region where many Muscat wines are grown. Currently available on its website is the Sarrat de Goundy Jolie Mome 2018 Vin de Pays OC La Clape Muscat Sec Perlant
It is a wine made with 100% Muscat petit grain and is 12.0% Alc/Vol.
Jean-Francois of Cyrano Wines describes it as having a fruity nose with aromas of litchi, white peach and grapefruit. On the palate, it is dry and mineral finishing on a slight sparkling sensation.
He suggests pairing it with Apéritives, Seafood, Sashimis, Green asparagus.
Another way to celebrate Muscat Day is with a French liqueur made with muscat grapes.
This blue liqueur is named after the 16th century European dance of the peacock. It is made with small Muscat grapes from the Appellation d’Origine Controlee region of Frontignan, aged in oak casks and blended with Muscat eau-de-vie and orange blossom water.
You can purchase Pavan at Dan Murphy’s.
Spirits of France
Made by L’Atelier du Bouilleur, a craft distillery, located in the south of France, which is certified organic and organised as a cooperative, this 5 year aged spirit is made from muscat grapes and has a 45% alcohol/ volume.
What’s your favourite Muscat style? Happy Muscat Day
If you’re interested in French wine, you may also like to read our other wine related articles: