muscat

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Moscatel de Setubal 2004 Jose Maria da FonsecaJokes in Canada
Someone once told me that receiving ice wine is a joke in Canada. Doesn’t seem like much of a punch line but in that quaintly Canadian way, even being the butt of a joke has an uplifting quality. Apparently though, ice wine is the most re-gifted present that exists in the frozen north. People just don’t open these rare treasures known as dessert wines.

Awkward Morning on Wednesday
I get it though – it’s high alcohol, they spoil easily and they’re really expensive. Even half a bottle of these dessert wines run pretty consistently in the $40-50 range. A nice present to be sure, although probably not what you’re opening on your own on a Tuesday with pizza, especially since finishing a bottle on your own could be pretty terrible for Wednesday morning.

Affordable Liquid Dessert
Being a great fantasizer about dessert wines of all kinds though, I am happy to identify that there are at least a couple of affordable, small bottles available. Moscatel de Setubal certainly qualifies – the bottle that I bought was $12 I believe. The empty bottle you see above is one that my brother and I polished off on our front porch in Chicago on a sunny day, the occasion for which I have long since forgotten.

Memories… of Men and Moscatel
This weekend reminded me of that time though as that brother, along with all of my siblings, parents and significant others, came to visit. And yes, we had lots of beer, treats and wines. Moscatel de Setubal of another bottle was drunk and we left the bottle similarly empty at the end of the weekend. Apparently, Canadians don’t invite their relatives over very often… or (more likely) their relatives refuse to visit because it’s Canada. Just kidding – we all love Tim Horton’s.

Taste
Apricot, candied, rich, long finish. Some bosch pear and wildflower honey. The other one we tried this weekend (not this brand identified) also had a cool tea finish to it.

Detail Up!
2004 Moscatel de Setubal DOC, a fortified dessert Wine by Jose Maria da Fonseca in Setubal, Portugal

Random Googles:
* There are 9 types of Moscatel currently recognized by Wikipedia: Moscato Bianco, Moscato Rosa, this Moscatel de Setubal, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, Black Muscat, Orange Muscat, Muscat Crocant and Moravian Muscat. Four down, five to go.
* Setubal is only 30 minutes outside of Lisbon – about the same as going to Sintra, the famous tourist destination thanks to Lord Byron’s poetry, just in the opposite direction
* Juan Maria da Fonseca also makes a really good dry red, Periquita. 🙂 for those who learned the word through slang in Brazil.

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Confusing Muscat
Muscat is really confusing. You think you know it because Muscat has that hear-me-roar smell that makes even aromatic wines like Gewurtz and Riesling bow in admiration. Truly, if there is a smelly wine king, Muscat is he.

Fecund as a Father, a Founding Father
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a king, Muscat is also incredibly fertile and has more offspring than Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson combined. And yes, this fecundity makes for very awkward family reunions. Worse still, Muscat is a mutant so image some shape-shifting virile Founding Father and you have an idea who this Muscat character actually is.

Someone told me there are nine Muscat families, presumably all somehow related and trading on Mr. Muscat’s namesake. On this blog, we’re up to Muscat #3 – Muscat of Alexandria. History buffs will already be able to tell where this grape comes from and which queen quaffed this grape before the asp had the last word.

Brewer in the Muscat Family
Muscat of Alexandria is apparently the unscented Muscat of the family who bathes often and refuses perfume like many of his brethren and sistern. He would be perfect to work at a sake brewery, where even the faintest hint of a smell gets into the sake. Muscat would not be in your sake.

No Mancloud of Muscat
As with most unscented men (Mr. Zapato excepted), he’s not that popular. Women like the tall, dark and scented men who wear Italian cut shirts and ferment each more in cologne. Men who love to ride elevators just to asphyxiate lesser mortals who haven’t yet developed the ability to travel in clouds of Acqua di Gio. Muscat of Alexandria spends most of his time at the table wine section, probably busing the tables of his more odoriferous Muscat relatives.

Allez cuisine!
Thankfully, with the right TLC from Mother Nature, there are regions where Muscat of Alexandria reigns supreme in regal dessert wine splendor. Setúbal, Banyuls and Malaga – three tiny regions that won’t be on your wine map unless your wine map is much better than the crayola-marked version hanging on my wall. Setúbal makes a dessert wine called “Moscatel de Setúbal” – spoiler alert, it’s Muscat of Alexandria. Banyuls is in France, literally spitting distance from Spain, and makes its dessert wine from Muscat of Alexandria – its wine’s name, being French, is the same as the location – Banyuls. Malaga takes its Muscat of Alexandria, swirls it with the sherry grape Pedro Ximenez, and punches out the third of the Muscat of Alexandria dessert wines. To the best of my knowledge, none of these have a picture of Cleopatra VII on their bottles.

Taste
This particular wine is from the Banyuls region and, true to form, is a sweet dessert wine. Thanks to the good folks at Claret Wine Bar in Sunnyside, Queens, which is easily the best wine bar in a three neighborhood radius, we know this featured wine is 70% Muscat of Alexandria and 30% Muscat Petit Grain (aka millions of other names). For this wine, we’re talking lots of apple smell, extremely sweet taste and a big taste of apricot and some other fruits that better tasters would be able to identify.

Detail Up!
Muscat de Rivesaltes “La Prieure de la Vin” 2009 from Banyuls in Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Random Googles:
* Muscat de Rivesaltes (confusingly made from two grapes also named Muscat) is a French dessert wine with an elfin cousin who only appears around Christmastime – Muscat de Noël.
* South Africans call this grape “Hanepoot” and somebody at Jo-burg thinks it’s a Pan-African panacea.
* Wisconsin, one of 50 states in the US to produce wine, puts Muscat of Alexandria at the top of its wine tourism blurb. Strangely, they fail to mention cheese.

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Moscato d’Asti is a semi-fizzy dessert wine if wine shops and their 15% off sales on “dessert wines” are to be believed. In my opinion, it barely qualifies as either. The wine is barely fizzy, although it has a few bubbles that sneak to the top of the glass like rogue spies. Perhaps they call it a dessert wine since it’s a sweet wine, and yes, it is sweet. But when I think of dessert wines, I think of high levels of alcohol to kick the night into full gear and well out of second gear. This wine, clocking in at 5.5% alcohol, puts that pre-gaming rush into the pitstop. This should be a pre-dinner wine for chocolate and sweet lovers who are easing into their meal, not the last stop before $1 pizza cravings kick in.

Taste
Even with my gripe on the misnomer, this wine delivers in all kinds of ways. There’s the bit of fizz that’s barely noticeable in the deadly flirty way that hands touch hands in movie theaters, and there’s the taste of moderate, refined flavors. Peach, rose and pear sprout in the nose, then there’s a whole lychee swimming pool that shows up in your mouth and some sage and herbs sprout after the lychee lagoon drains away. None are too overpowering, they’re just really different flavors that somehow pull together into a wine that defines its “dessert wine” label.

Grape
Think of Moscato (or Muscat) as the Abraham of wines. Pretty much all wines started with Abraham and then branched off from there (Ur being Piedmont, apparently) into all kinds of crazy Muscat-type wines. This particular wine is Moscato d’Asti (Muscat from Asti, up in Piedmont), which is made from the grape Moscato Bianco (“White Muscat”). I’m confused myself with all these Muscat names, but looking at the color of this wine (white) and where it’s from (Asti), the names are starting to make sense. Anyway, there are all kinds of wines that come from this Jacob-branch of the family, even other sparkling wines made from Moscato Bianco like Asti Spumante. Plenty of other Muscats exist on the Esau-side of the vini-family tree but it’s best to leave them for another day. Today’s all about Jacob and his Moscato Bianco.

Detail Up!
Moscato d’Asti 2009 Vigna Senza Nome

Random Googles
* “Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains” is French for “Moscato Bianco.” It goes by at least 10 other names, the best of which is “Muskateller.”
* Moscato Bianco is the oldest grape in Piedmont (that hambone chunk in the NW that bumps into France and Switzerland).
* Moscato d’Asti – first made by a wine-loving jeweler in the 1500s. Fact.

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