Muscat: A sip for summer
Since the time of the Greek and Roman empires and probably before, the Muscat grape in many varieties has thrived around the Mediterranean, where its strong perfume prompted the Roman author Pliny, in his "Natural History," to declare it "the grape of the bees." The French noted the grape's musky character and called it "Musqué," a word that echoes today in its modern name.
Muscat wines come in many styles, from the fizzy and toothache-sweet Italian Asti Spumante to noteworthy Australian (Liqueur Muscat) and South African (Constantia) dessert wines, some of which boast historic reputations and command startling prices. France's Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is a delicious fortified wine with a delicious aroma of oranges. Andrew Quady's "Essensia" is a justly popular California dessert wine in the Beaumes-de-Venise spirit; his "Electra" conveys similar aromas and flavors in a lightweight low-alcohol rendition. Many other U.S. producers make similar wines; I've recently enjoyed a sweet, refreshing California Moscato from St. Supéry.
When summer's heat starts to settle in like a blanket, however, the style of Muscat I find most appealing is the Italian Moscato d'Asti and its California cousins. Sweet but light, comfortably low in alcohol and carbonated just sufficiently to be refreshing, these wines breathe ripe, heady fruit aromas ... often resembling peaches and apricots ... that are the trademark of Muscat. No one would mistake these wines for the great classic table wines of Western Europe, and they're frankly better suited for casual sipping than deep contemplation. But where is it written that every wine requires contemplation?
Muscat-based wines should be easy to find in almost any good wine shop, but if you would like to try seeking them online, I invite you to visit our new advertising partner, Wine.com. Try searching for Muscat using Wine.com's simple Wine Selector. Just click "Category" and then choose "Muscat" under "White wines," and you'll find more than a dozen, ranging from less than $10 to more than $50.
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A delicious Italian Muscat
Fresh and just slightly fizzy (the Italians call it "frizzante") this light wine comes in at 5.5% alcohol, a little less than half the strength of traditional table wines, making it a good candidate for a thirst-quenching aperitif or a companion with picnic fare. Its tight-fitting standard cork comes out with a pop and reveals a pale greenish-gold wine that foams up briefly in the glass before falling back to just a few tiny bubbles that line the glass. Its delicious scent of fresh peaches invites a taste; and the flavor is light and crisp, definitely sweet but not cloying. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Cincinnati; A Marc de Grazia Delection. (May 28, 2000)
FOOD MATCH: It worked well enough to wash down turkey breast roasted with Asian spices, but it's probably best as an aperitif (before dinner) or served ice cold like a cocktail on a hot summer day.
California "First Growths"
Now our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth proposes a more democratic process, involving not merely merchants but the wine-loving public, to create a series of "First Growths" for other wine-growing regions around the world, based on a popular vote for wine producers in each region that have established long and stable track records for quality.
We begin with California. From time to time over coming months, we will publish similar polls for Australia, Italy, wine regions of France other than Bordeaux, and other major wine-producing countries around the world; at the end of the process, we will set all the top wineries against each other in a sort of World Series (or World Cup) of wine.
So, to begin the selection process, we invite you to drop by the Voting Booth and "choose five California 'First Growths'."
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Vol. 2, No. 19, May 29, 2000