This month Richard Hem­ming ex­am­ines the mus­cat grape va­ri­ety

Living France - - À La Maison -

No other grape va­ri­ety has a longer his­tory than mus­cat, which was prob­a­bly brought into France by the Ro­man Em­pire, and shares its name with the an­cient cap­i­tal city of Oman. Many cen­turies later it con­tin­ues to thrive, and while it takes on many dif­fer­ent guises, ev­ery mus­cat wine has one very dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tic: a flavour of white grape juice.

Say­ing that wine smells of grapes is usu­ally flip­pant – and usu­ally not true, either. Most wines take on many dif­fer­ent flavours, but never taste of ta­ble grapes. Mus­cat is the ex­cep­tion. As such, it has a re­ally user-friendly, easy-go­ing style that should ap­peal widely.

Most mus­cat in France comes from Al­sace, in the east of the coun­try. It can range from dry to lus­ciously sweet. The lat­ter style is usu­ally la­belled ‘late har­vest’ ( ven­dange tar­dive) or ‘no­ble berry se­lec­tion’ ( sélec­tion de grains no­bles), whereas the drier ex­am­ples tend not to men­tion any sweet­ness level on the la­bel. Else­where in France, principally in Langue­doc-Rous­sil­lon, dry mus­cat is la­belled as mus­cat sec.

The va­ri­ety is also an in­gre­di­ent in sev­eral for­ti­fied wines, known as vins doux na­turels. These are high in sugar and al­co­hol, and show off that char­ac­ter­is­tic grape juice flavour at max­i­mum vol­ume. The best known is Mus­cat de Beaumes de Venise from the Rhône val­ley, but I’ve rec­om­mended a slightly more in­ter­est­ing ex­am­ple be­low, along with two dry mus­cats.

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