Although not as recognizable as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat is one of the most important wine grapes on the planet. A backbone variety to early viticulture, Muscat’s roots likely date back to 3000-1000 BC. Today, over 200 grape varieties make up the Muscat family of grapes, which are used in wine production and as table grapes.
On the vine, Muscat grapes can range from yellow to pink. Generally speaking, wines produced from Muscat are highly aromatic and are marked by a sweet, floral-tinged bouquet. The most popular form of Muscat is Muscat blanc à Petits Grains, which is widely cultivated across the south of France for fortified wine production, and is the same grape used in Piedmont’s famed Moscato d’Asti production. This same variety has also found a home in Australia’s Rutherglen region, where it is used to produce the area’s famed Liqueur Muscat. In Spain, South Africa, and the south of France, Muscat of Alexandria is another famous variety from the Muscat family, where it is commonly used in fortified wine production.
Theories surrounding the origins of Muscat’s name are numerous. Some claim that the variety got its name due to the musky aromas that the ripe grapes take on. Others believe it to come from the Italian word for fly (mosca), as the wines’ high sugar levels have been known to attract fruit flies. Another theory is that the grape was named for the city of Muscat, located on the Gulf of Oman, or possibly the Greek city of Moschato.
In the glass, wines produced from Muscat are known for their sweet and floral aromatics, as well as “grapey” notes. When oxidized, Muscat takes on a very dark hue and shows flavors of toffee, dried fruits, and baking spice. Muscat is not to be confused with France’s famous Muscadet wine, which is produced from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, or the Bordeauxvariety of Muscadelle.