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Think all Moscato is sweet, fruity and cloying? Think again. This highly aromatic wine comes from the Muscat family of grapes, which encompasses an incredible array of grape varieties that can yield pours from bone-dry to lusciously sweet.
The most famous of the Muscat grapes is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or Moscato Bianco, which is used in Piedmont’s Moscato d’Asti. This sweet and charming wine is semi-sparkling, or frizzante, meaning it’s more spritzy rather than full-on bubbly. Moscato d’Asti has been made for centuries, with records of the wine from as far back as the 13th century in the town of Canelli. Light, floral and low in alcohol, the wine is historically said to be the favorite lunch time sip for Italian field workers.
In southern Italy and Sicily, Muscat of Alexandria flourishes, where it is locally called Zibibbo. This version of Muscat traces its roots back to Egypt. The most well-known Zibibbo production is Passito di Pantelleria, which is a sweet wine made on a tiny island off Sicily’s southwest coast. It’s made by drying the grapes to remove excess water, concentrating the flavors and sugars to yield a delicious wine rife with marmalade and honey flavors. Elsewhere in Sicily, as well as in Calabria, dry styles of Zibibbo are rare but worth seeking out. These are delicate, light-bodied sips that play up the variety’s boisterous floral and fruity notes.
In Alsace, dry Muscats are typically produced using a blend of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat Ottonel. Together they make delicate wines that show the distinct floral and white grape notes, and are often perfect as an aperitif.
Outside of the Old World, Muscat has found a home in both the southern hemisphere and the U.S.’s west coast. Australia’s famous “stickies” from Rutherglen are made from Muscat à Petits Grains. These are unctuously sweet wines that can stand the test of time. In California you’ll find a host of low-alcohol, sweet pours made from the variety, often displaying great value.
Albert Boxler 2017 Muscat (Alsace); $46, Buy on Vivino. Salinity and a hint of sweet licorice root lead the nose on this wine. The palate is similarly solemn, with notes of pear and almond… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Benvenuto 2020 Zibibbo (Calabria); $24, Buy on Vivino. Ripe aromas of white grape, melon and papaya blend with jasmine and lily on the nose. It’s rounded and gentle on the palate… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Domaine Charles Baur 2019 Muscat (Alsace); $23, Buy on Vivino. Salinity meets almond and honeysuckle on the nose of this wine. The mouthfeel is light but voluminous, like whipped cream, complemented by searing acidity… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Donnafugata 2018 Ben Ryè (Passito di Pantelleria); $87, Buy on Vivino. Made with 100% dried Zibibbo grapes, this iconic dessert wine opens with aromas of mature apricot, acacia honey and orange jam… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Marenco 2020 Strevi Scrapona (Moscato d’Asti); $21, Buy on Vivino. Delicious and enticing, this smooth sparkling dessert wine offers delicate aromas of botanical herbs, white spring flowers and yellow stone fruit. The palate is a fantastic combination of vibrant, savory and sweet… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Chambers Rosewood Vineyards NV Rare Muscat (Rutherglen); $350, Buy on Vivino. Made from vines dating back to the early 1900s and from a solera blending system that goes back to the 1890s, this is a fortified to fall head-first into. It envelops the senses with notes of walnut paste, praline, date, chocolate and a woodsy whisper… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Salt of the Earth 2020 Rubino Moscato (California); $12, Buy on Total Wine & More. When the occasion calls for a sweet red wine that’s low in alcohol and high in fresh, fruity, floral flavors, this wine fills the bill… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Saracco 2021 Moscato d’Asti; $18, Buy on Vivino. This lovely, sweet sparkler opens with heady aromas of yellow stone fruit, spring blossoms and wild aromatic herbs. The savory palate delivers ripe apricot, creamy yellow peach, rosemary and sage… SEE SCORE AND REVIEW
Last Updated: July 12, 2023