Begging the pardon of those of you who are already keeping up with the monthly "assignments" in our Wine Tasting 101 project, I thought today would be a good opportunity to wrap up the variety we've been studying this month: Muscat.
Muscat is thought to be one of the most ancient wine grapes. It is probably the ancestor of the Pinot family of vines and may be the "Adam" grape from which all vitis vinifera wine grapes descend.
The grape's strong perfume and sweetness prompted the Roman author Pliny, in his "Natural History," to declare it "the grape of the bees." The French noted its musky character and called the grape "Musqué," a word that echoes today in its modern name. It's pronounced "Muhs-cat" in English, by the way, not "Moos-cah."
In the nature of the grape, Muscat tends to make fat sweet wines better known for ripe fruitiness than elegance. You'll rarely see them receive the kind of genuflective reverence reserved for great Sauternes or late-harvest Rieslings. But then, they typically cost only a fraction of these more sought-after dessert wines, and - like the three in today's report - they offer considerable pleasure.
One more Muscat - Quady Essensia from California - remains on my to-taste list. I'll send around a supplementary tasting report when I get to it soon.
Domaine de Durban 1999 Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($19.99)
This Muscat from the Southern Rhone shows a clear straw color in the glass. Fresh and delicious scents focus on pears and grapefruit with a touch of spice and honeyed sweetness, almost reminiscent of opening a can of fruit cocktail. The flavor is not as "sticky" as the nose suggests; it's very sweet, but medium body and almost steely acidity provide balance and texture, with a pleasant bitter-almond quality adding complexity in the finish. U.S. importer: Europvin USA, Emeryville, Calif. (Jan. 3, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Best as a dessert wine, of course, but you could almost get away with serving it with dinner ... with seared scallops in butter and lemon, maybe, or steamed lobster.
VALUE: Good value, noting that this was a 750 ml bottle. At this particular store, there was a significant markup for the same wine in half-bottle.
WHEN TO DRINK: Best while young and fresh. Drink within the year, before its fruit starts to fade.
WEB LINK: Winebow Inc., another of its importers, has a page on the property at
Trevor Jones Barossa Old Muscat ($36.99/375 ml)
This Australian dessert wine shows a clear, dark amber color with a reddish hue. Delicious nutty, orange-peel and burnt-sugar aromas lead into an intensely sweet bitter-orange flavor brought into shape by tart, "grippy" acidity; sweet and complex, sipping a glass is almost like dipping into a box of chocolates. Seems a bit more of a traditional Australian "Tawny Port" style than a classic Muscat, but however you classify it, it's an excellent dessert wine. U.S. importer: The Grateful Palate, Oxnard, Calif. (Jan. 10, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Sip by itself after a meal; better as dessert rather than with dessert.
VALUE: Excellent wine, but at $37 for a half-bottle it's hardly a bargain.
WHEN TO DRINK: Ready to drink, but will last - if not improve - for many years under controlled cellar conditions.
WEB LINK: Kellermeister Holdings, the Australian maker of Trevor Jones wines, has its Website at
La Spinetta 2001 Vigneto Biancospino Moscato d'Asti ($13.99)
Very light pea-green color, almost watery pale, with a distinct greenish hue. Appetizing scents of fresh grapefruit and peach in a burst of refreshing aromas. Sweet as fruit nectar but crisp and light, not "sticky," fresh-fruit sugar held up by a backbone of snappy, lemon-squirt acidity and a prickliness that's just short of fizz. Delicious quaffer, and its low alcohol content (5.5 percent, less than half the strength of most table wines) makes it a light alternative. U.S. importer: Marc de Grazia Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y., and other regional importers. (Jan. 20, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Great for summer sipping on the patio, but its frothy sweetness also makes it a surprising match with fiery fare: I served it with a spicy Thai chicken curry.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not for cellaring. Try to drink within 1 to 2 years of the vintage.
WEB LINK: The winery has a Web presence (Italian only) at
Wine Advisor's birthday
I can't resist taking a moment to note another landmark. Although it seems like only yesterday - or last month, anyway - this week marks the beginning of our fifth year of online publication for The 30 Second Wine Advisor. By coincidence, Friday's edition also marked the 500th edition we've distributed since the first Wine Advisor was published on Jan. 18, 1999.
That's a lot of words about wine, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Circulation continues to grow at a steady pace, with more than 25,000 readers now in more than 100 countries on all seven continents (even Antarctica!), and I'm particularly grateful to see how many of you who signed on in the early days are still with us.
Naturally, continued growth is good, and to that end, a quick reminder that word-of-mouth advertising means a lot. I hope you'll take a moment to invite your wine-loving friends to register for their own subscription, at
French Wine Explorers:
Join a tour for FREE!
Our friends at French Wine Explorers, who I joined last June for a tour of the Southern Rhone and Provence and with whom I'll link up again this coming May for a trip around Bordeaux, have come up with a special offer that sounds almost too good to believe:
If you can get together a group of 10 friends, relatives or colleagues to take a customized, private wine tour together with French Wine Explorers in 2003, you can come for FREE! Or just persuade SIX other people to sign up with you for one of French Wine Explorers' regularly scheduled tours, and once again, you come for FREE! This offer is good through June 2003 for all the organization's 2003 tours.
For details about this special offer, send E-mail to email@example.com. To read about French Wine Explorers and its tours, visit
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is currently distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Two good-value wines (Jan. 24)
Wine and the deep freeze (Jan. 22)
Charles Shaw: The tasting report (Jan. 20)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Spaghetti pancake (Jan. 23)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Monday, Jan. 27, 2003