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Head East, Young Drinker: For the best Moscatos, look to the Old World

In recent years, Moscato has emerged from relative obscurity to widespread acclaim. With huge gains in annual consumption, it’s now a wine to be taken seriously.

The problem is that most of what is labeled Moscato is not serious at all. Walk down the aisle at your favorite wine shop and the variety is amazing: red, white, pink and many fruit flavors. The good stuff, however, is found in the Old World, not a blend from the United States or Australia.

Moscato is the Italian name for the Muscat grape, which has been around since antiquity and written about since the 13th century. It usually is low in alcohol, less than 6 percent, fruity and floral, and is used as an apertif before a meal or with dessert. There are many clones, and each one picks up nuances from the region where it is grown.

Moscato d‘ Asti (Muscat Canelli) hearkens from the Piedmont region of western Italy, where rich, spicy Barbera is also made. This is a wonderful, easy-drinking white with flavors of citrus and aromas of white flowers. It makes for a good dessert white with fruity pastries, buttery shortbreads or biscotti dipped into a glass.

Down south in Sicily, the wine is known as Zibibbo (Muscat d’ Alexandria). Legend has it that the Greeks brought the grape from Egypt. In this warm island climate, the fruity white is zingy, and flavors of spice cover the tongue. But this is not the only version of the ancient quaff. Bottles labeled “secco” (dry) are a different style of food-friendly drink. This wine takes on an herbal, earthy flavor and a bouquet that is a reminder of how the Sicilian scrubland meets the sea. A dinner of rich seafood in garlic and fennel would be a perfect match.

The most northern region of Italy is Alto Adige, also known as the Sudtirol. Hard against the Austrian border, German is heard hrere almost as frequently as Italian. This Alpine paradise has its own wines and its own unique style of Muscat.

The high valleys yield a wine that is not only sweet and floral but a good match for the local cuisine. Moscato Giallo (Golden Muscat) is the grape responsible for a different take on a quaff often reputed to be light and fruity. In this most Germanic Italian region, the common name is Pfefferer (pepper). Indeed, one can smell the spice in the aroma of the wine in the glass. Alcohol levels are higher here, pushing 12 percent—but remember that we are in the Alps and not on a beach. This drink will match up with the food of the region such as sausages and cheeses and other delights that reflect a more northern influence.

Moscato is a very popular wine. But search out the best ones, which I feel are overlooked.

Keep sipping. Steve.

Author: Steve Juliana

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