Ellen Landis

Versatile, Expressive, Tantalizing Muscat 

While in Spain’s Canary Islands several years ago, I had the pleasure of tasting a memorable Moscatel de Alejandría at Bodegas Monje. This winery is in the Tacoronte-Acentejo wine region on the northeastern coast of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, and the one that produces the most wines. 

It got me wondering where else in the world this family of grapes may be successfully grown. Soon after, the “Godfather of Paso Robles,” Gary Eberle, (who was named an “American Wine Legend” in 2020 by Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Awards), shared a glass of his engaging Muscat Canelli grown in Paso Robles, Calif., at his Eberle Winery estate.

And then came a delectable after-dinner duo from California’s Quady Winery: fortified Essencia Orange Muscat and fortified Elysium Black Muscat. (The family also produces wines at its Quady North vineyards and winery in Southern Oregon.) My heightened appreciation for this fascinating variety drove me to explore other areas where this grape thrives.

Muscat, a family of more than 200 grapes belonging to the vitis vinifera species, is one of the oldest vines still cultivated today around the globe — if not the oldest.

Muscat vines include (but are not limited to):

▪  Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Greece, Australia, USA — Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas)

▪  Orange Muscat (Australia, Italy, France, USA — Oregon, Washington, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas)

▪  Black Muscat (France, Greece, Australia, India, China, Canada, USA — Oregon, Washington, California, New York, Virginia)

▪  Muscat of Hamburg (Germany, Britain, France, Israel, China)

▪  Moscatel de Alejandría (Egypt, Spain, Portugal, France, Australia, South Africa, Bolivia, Canada, USA — Washington, New Mexico, Missouri, Texas)

▪  Muscat Ottonel (France, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, Canada, USA — Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, New York)

▪  Early Muscat (Austria, France, USA — Idaho, Oregon, California)

▪  Muscat Canelli (Greece, France, Italy, Germany, Hungary, USA — Oregon, Washington, California, Michigan, Oklahoma)

Come to find out there are splendid examples being produced in the Northwest. Here are a few standouts to consider adding to your table:

▪  Ste. Chapelle Winery 2019 Open Air Muscat Blanc ($20), Snake River Valley, Idaho: This exhilarating Muscat Blanc from Skyline Vineyard shines brightly with its floral white fruit aromatic. A sunny burst of lemon-splashed white peaches interlaces with honeysuckle, Mandarin orange, and delicate herbs sashaying across the taste buds. It is graceful as it fills the mouth, and dynamic acidity persists through the zesty finish.

▪  Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards 2019 Moscato ($22), Umpqua Valley, Ore.: The mouth-watering tropical fruit, citrus blossom aroma and spicy entry of this estate Muscat Blanc captivate the senses. Bright flavors of lychee, rosewater sorbet, peach nectar, exotic spice, ripe pear and candied lime dance elegantly through the palate, supported by a frame of brisk acidity. It’s brilliantly balanced and structured, and the wine remains compelling through the lengthy finale.

▪  Chateau Ste. Michelle 2018 Limited Release Muscat Canelli ($20), Columbia Valley, Wash.: A beautifully perfumed aroma of royal jasmine sets the stage for this nicely sweet (but not at all cloying) rendition of Muscat. Delicious layers of ripe guava, orange blossoms, apricot preserves and underlying Meyer lemon meld in harmony, and the fitting level of acidity keeps it bright and lifted.

▪  Chateau Ste. Michelle 2019 Cold Creek Vineyard Dry Muscat Canelli ($24), Columbia Valley, Wash.: The sparkling hue is eye catching, and the aroma of delicate white flowers is inviting. At first sip this wine is crisp and lively, remaining energetic with notes of lemon-lime, nectarines, honeysuckle and Oro Blanco grapefruit bursting brightly on the palate. It is well-defined, and the vivacious finish never gives up.

▪  Latah Creek Wine Cellars 2020 Lonesome Spring Vineyard Orange Moscato ($16), Yakima Valley, Wash.: This snappy wine with a touch of effervescence opens with an unmistakably classic orange blossom aroma. Creamy pears, Valencia oranges, spiced peach compote and lemon drops entwine with a subtle hint of mint. It is viscous with good balancing acidity, and the gratifying finish offers a nice touch of honeycomb.

▪  Silvan Ridge Winery 2019 Early Muscat Semi-Sparkling ($16), Willamette Valley, Ore.: Early Muscat is a cross of Muscat Hamburg and Queen of the Vineyard. This lovely example broadcasts a heady aroma of a fresh bouquet of flowers and tropical fruit. Remarkably refreshing, it is light on its feet, while boasting vivid flavors of honeysuckle, lychee, citrus blossom and crisp pears from the first tasty sip to the glowing last one.

▪  Hat Ranch Winery 2020 Dry Moscato ($20), Snake River Valley, Idaho: This striking, floral-fragranced wine is crafted of fruit from Hat Ranch Winery’s estate Muscat Ottonel vineyard. Brimming with juicy pineapple, dried mango and mandarin orange fruit and a touch of savoriness, it boasts an expansive mouthfeel and immaculate balance. This stylish bone-dry wine delivers a savory sage flower accent extending through the long finish.

▪  Abacela Winery 2020 Fault Line Vineyards Muscat ($19), Umpqua Valley, Ore.: This perky wine is crafted from 75% Early Muscat and 25% Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains estate-grown grapes. The gleaming aroma of citrus blossom and sun-kissed stone fruit leads to a finely balanced wine. Sweet layers of ripe apricot, lemon curd, clingstone peaches, candied orange and a pinch of lemongrass coat the palate and remain juicy through the vibrant close.

This versatile grape, crafted from dry to decadently sweet in sparkling, still and dessert wines, appeals to a wide range of consumers. I believe there is a Muscat wine that will suit every wine aficionado’s palate. Are you up for the adventure?

ELLEN LANDIS is a wine journalist, Certified Sommelier, Certified Wine Specialist, wine educator and professional wine judge. Reach Ellen at ellen@ellenonwine.com.

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