Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meet Moscato - The Life of the Party

A party ain't a party until he shows up. He’s the catalyst; something about his vibe just brings fun into any room just like the character Magnitude from Community whose name is a combination of the words Magnetic Attitude. That’s Moscato. Who cares if he doesn’t always get his work done? When the clock strikes five and its time to loosen your tie or kick off your pumps, that’s when it’s most important to have a guy like him in your mix!

Moscato is the Italian name for the Muscat grape, one of the only few wine grape varieties (of the vitis vinifera species) that actually tastes grapey when made into wine. This is not to be confused with Muscadet from the Loire (made from a grape called Melon), the Muscadelle grape from Bordeaux, or the American Scuppernong grape Muscadine (which is a different species all together – no relation). Moscato is also the name of a wine style from the northwestern Italian village of Asti in the Piemonte region. What became popular in the 80’s and 90’s as Asti Spumanti – spumanti is Italian for sparkling – is now simply known as Asti. It’s the same sparkling, low alcohol, sweet Muscat wine. Moscato d’Asti is even lower still in alcohol and less effervescent. It’s usually sold in bottles that have a regular cork or screw top, unlike Asti and other fully sparkling wines that come with a mushroom shaped cork held down with a little wire cage. Pop Pop!

Muscat also makes a fabulous dessert wine, sometimes fortified to around 15% alcohol like the southern Rhône treat Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. These wines are often built to last long years and evolve into joyously mature bliss later in life. Meanwhile, in the south Australian region of Rutherglen, Muscat (known locally as Brown Muscat because it gives a high proportion of dark grapes) is a mainstay that is made into decadent mahogany colored stickies that could put the best Swiss dark chocolate to shame.

Flavor Profile
When your palate craves natural sodas and homemade sweets like tablet (a coconut treat from the French and Kweyol speaking Caribbean) or Greek Kataïfi, that is a palate that would appreciate well made Asti, Moscato and Muscat dessert wines. There is such a thing as dry Muscat, very popular on the Greek wine scene. It’s a bizarre bird indeed – you recognize the Muscat aroma, but then you get it in your mouth and it’s not at all what you expected. When your mind is on a cumin and fennel vibe, that’s a good time to reach for a dry Muscat.

Food Pairings
For a wine that is so simple, it can be a most difficult thing to pair with food. Truth is most Moscato/Muscat wines can stand alone. Have sparkling Moscato drastic as an aperitif to start your evening – at only around 5% alcohol; it’s a great way to ease into a lovely night. Finish a meal with a fortified Muscat from the south of France. As I dig deeper into my food and wine memory, I recall enjoying blue vein cheese with a good funk on it in the company of a non-fortified Muscat dessert wine. I can imagine one of those dark Rutherglen Muscats from Australia making a great connect. With a dry Muscat I like Mediterranean flavors like oil cured black olives, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes – think tapenade, humus, pita and grape leaves. It’s a party, and Moscato is on the scene!

Your Homework
Your homework for this week and weekend is to try a Moscato d'Asti, a dessert Muscat wine and, if you can find one, a dry Greek Muscat. There’s a world of Muscat wines you can get into. This trio is a good cross section – the sweet, the dry and the bubbly. Do Tweet your notes to @wineLIFE_, #MoscatoHW. Tell us which one was your favorite (please include the wine’s name, vintage and region), how much you paid for it and its best qualities. You can also post notes on the wineLIFE Facebook wall.

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