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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 as 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.