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Beloved by many, hated by a few and misunderstood by most, moscato is certainly one of the most talked-about wines on the market. Fizzy, frothy and pleasantly sweet, it’s no surprise that this particular wine has skyrocketed in popularity. However, not all moscato is created equal.
The moscato that most people know and love is moscato d’Asti, the popular off-dry or sweet wine from northern Italy. When vinified well, these pleasantly effervescent wines are sweet and balanced, and they possess a good amount of acidity, which when coupled with their low ABV makes them seriously easy to drink. However, moscato’s viticultural potential goes far beyond just Asti.
The wines are produced from the moscato bianco grape, otherwise known as muscat or muscat blanc à petits grains. The grape is commonly vinified in southern France, the Alsace region and Greece (where the grape originated), each of which produces very different expressions of the grape. The three major styles of wines are moscato d’Asti, vin doux naturel and dry monovarietal expressions.
Moscato d’Asti is a popular wine that hails from Italy’s Piedmont region. The wine is generally off-dry to sweet and ranges in effervescence levels from frizzante to spumante. Moscato d'Asti begins its vinification like any other wine. The fruit is harvested and pressed, then begins fermentation. However, once the wine reaches about 5.5% ABV, the must (fermenting wine) is chilled to near-freezing temperatures, which causes the fermentation process to stop. This allows ample amounts of natural residual sugar from the grape juice to remain in the bottle. Moscato d’Asti does not go through a secondary fermentation process as Champagne and cava do.
Muscat as a VDN (vin doux naturel)
In France’s Languedoc region and on the Greek islands of Samos and Patras, muscat is used to create sweet vin doux naturel wines, also known as VDNs. Vin doux naturels are produced very similarly to port. The wines begin vinification like any other dry wine would; however, a neutral grape spirit is added to the must prior to its completion. This leaves excess residual sugar in the wine, though the ABV is significantly higher (minimum 15% ABV) than in moscato d’Asti, since addition of the spirit contributes an extra kick of alcohol to the wine.
Dry Muscat (from Alsace)
In France’s Alsace region, muscat is usually vinified on its own to create dry and highly aromatic wines. Dry monovarietal muscat is vinified as any other dry wine is, through the processes of fermentation, élevage and bottling.
Moscato/muscat-based wines tend to show pleasant fruit-driven flavors of honeysuckle, white flowers, mandarin orange, citrus and canned pears and pair beautifully with a variety of foods that go far beyond just dessert. Although moscato wines are pleasant with an array of fruit-based tarts, pies and cookies or biscotti, they’re also lovely with stir-fry, spicy dishes and a variety of soft cheeses.
These are six top bottles to try.
Arnaud de Villeneuve Muscat Vin Doux Naturels (Languedoc, France)
Arnaud de Villeneuve is a major pioneer of muscat in all of its many forms. Whether fragrant dry expressions or sticky sweet VDNs are more your style, the producer’s range offers something for every palate. The Arnaud de Villeneuve cooperative is operated by 300 growers with a combined total of more than 2,000 hectares of vines scattered across southern France. You’ll want to taste the range.
Trimbach Muscat Reserve Dry Muscat (Alsace, France)
This dry muscat comes from one of Alsace’s longest-standing and most legendary producers. Flavors of grapefruit, tangerine, white flowers, apple skin and salt burst from the wine’s lively and long-lasting palate. This wine is a steal for the price.