What is Moscato?
Moscato is a sweet dessert-style white wine, typically lower in alcohol, and usually lightly sparkling. It’s a taste that Millennials seem to be digging big-style (but we’ll get to that in a minute)!
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (to give Moscato its full name) is part of the Muscat family of grapes. There are a bunch of different types of Muscat, with varying tastes, and hues of color. It can be found growing all over the world, and is used to make everything from super-sweet fortified wines in Australia, right the way through to raisins.
What’s the difference between Moscato and Muscat?
In the same way Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris, and Syrah / Shiraz see a change of name based on where they’re grown, Muscat is traditionally called Moscato in Italy. There will, of course, be some variations in taste depending on where/how in the wine is made.
Italian Moscato is traditionally made into a frizzante style. The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is about 5-6 atmospheres, or about twice the pressure found in a care tire. Moscato contains usually between 1-2.5 atmospheres.
If you see wine labeled as Muscat, it usually isn’t sparkling, is sweeter in style than Moscato, and occasionally fortified.
How long has Moscato/Muscat been around?
Forever! No seriously. Forever! Muscat is thought to be the oldest grape varietal on the planet!
So what’s all the recent fuss surrounding Moscato?
I have no idea. This recent surge in the popularity of Moscato came recently from a random source. Rappers!
I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m looking for wine advice, I look to Lil’ Kim for inspiration:
”Still over in Brazil/Sipping Moscato/You must have forgot though/So Ima take it back to the block, yo!”
or occasionally Trey Songz:
“Its a celebration/ clap clap bravo/ lobster and shrimp and a glass of Moscato”
So it undoubtedly seems that rappers have shifted their focus from Champagne, and moved on to Moscato, and have taken a large number of their followers with them. To give you an idea of how many followers, Gallo alone saw 2010 Moscato sales increase by 124% last year!
Considering it’s sparkling, is Moscato made in the same way as Champagne?
Nope! Champagne, traditionally (and by French law) MUST be fermented in the bottle. Moscato is made in a much simpler style. Let’s get a little wine-sciencey!
Grapes naturally contain sugar. Sugar (with a little help from yeast) can be transformed into alcohol (and CO2). With drier styles of wine, the sugars are fermented all the way out until they’re more-or-less gone, but with Moscato fermentation is stopped halfway. This leaves a wine with a fairly low alcohol level, but a fairly high amount of residual sugar.
If drinking wine is deemed to be good for you, will a glass of Moscato a day keep the Doctor away?
Unfortunately, no. You see, wine gets the majority of its beneficial nutrients from its skins, and since white wines don’t usually spend much time in contact with their skins during fermentation, you don’t get the added benefits. The other nail in the health-coffin for Moscato is the sugar level.
The calorie count on Moscato floats between 130-150, depending on the brand. Red wines are usually under 120. I’ve always said though, you should never-ever drink wine purely for the perceived health benefits. You need to make it a part of your lifestyle for any benefits to be gained.
Nope. Since Moscato (Muscat) is the grape itself, you can grow it anywhere. Saying that, since the whole Moscato craze, Californian producers have been very quick to respond, pumping out often very poor quality juice, and then slapping Moscato on the label.
It’s widely assumed that the best Moscato hails from the Northern Asti region of Piedmont, Italy, but I’ve tasted some great examples from Lombardy, also.
Moscato d’Asti is just “Moscato from the Asti region of Italy. Italians tend to do that with a lot of their best known wines i.e. they label the grape first, and then where it comes from 2nd. Barbera d’Alba, Brachetto d’Acqui, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Greco di Tufo, to name but a few. Grape first, place second.
So is Moscato just for the newbie / amateur wine drinkers?
Kind of. My job is to help connect people with wine. If you’ve never tasted wine before, I will normally suggest you start sweet, and work your way drier from there. I’ve found that new wine drinkers can relate to Moscato quite easily, as it’s quite close to their childhood beverage of choice: soda i.e. sweet and fizzy.
Saying that, when I sat the first level of my Court of Sommelier exam, I do remember, Master Sommelier Virginia Philip telling the class that Moscato was one of her favorite wines. This should dispel any rumors that Moscato is for newbies, or amateurs. If it’s good enough for a Master Somm, it’s good enough for you!
What are my personal thoughts on Moscato?
I’m glad you asked! For me, there are a couple of ways of looking at it…
The Moscato-Madness phase that we’re seeing the wine-drinking market go through right now is a fad, a fashion; and as we all know, fashions come and go very quickly. The one thing I will say is that I’m happy people are drinking wine, but I think Moscato should be viewed as a gateway that you pass through into the world of wine. Totally fine, as long as you don’t spend years loitering around the sweet-stuff, drinking only Moscato
The place of Moscato is as an aperitif, or with dessert. It shouldn’t ever be dismissed as being too sweet, because it’s never really been categorized as anything other than a dessert wine. It’s like taking a bite of cheesecake, and declaring it to be unexpectedly sweet!