AND TO DRINK.....
This month Richard Hemming examines the muscat grape variety
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.