PA Wine School: Muscat / Moscato


Need some help demystifying some of Pennsylvania’s most essential wine words? The PA Wine Land Post is at your service, schooling you on the grapes you need to know.

Varietal: Moscato/Muscat (mus-SCAW-toe / MUSS-kat)

Grown: Across Pennsylvania

Similar to: Traminette, Gewürztraminer

First, let’s get into the semantics. “Muscat” is not actually the name of a varietal, it is a family of grapes — one of the oldest and most influential in the world. Many believe these grapes have been used in winemaking since ancient Greece. Some of the most famous members of this family tree include Moscato Bianco (beloved in France and Italy), Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel, and Muscat Hamburg. The grapes range in color from yellow to black and typically prefer warmer temperatures.

What binds these disparate siblings together? While Muscat fruit can be made into dry, medium, sweet, sparkling, or even dessert wine, the whole family of grapes shares a distinctive aromatic profile — peaches, orange blossom, honeysuckle, grape — and relatively low acidity. The wines’ unique floral aroma is actually the result of an aromatic compound called linalool which is also found in mint, citrus flowers, and cinnamon.

When it comes to the resulting wines, there are a few particular styles of note. Many winemakers use Muscat grapes to make light, sweet, low-alcohol sparkling wines (the inspiration comes from the famous Moscato d’Asti). These bottles are zippy and drinkable, perfect alongside a light lunch of grilled seafood or a snack spread of nuts and cheeses.

Meanwhile, dry styles of Moscato may have low residual sugar, but they retain that sweet, floral bouquet on the nose, which can trick the tastebuds a bit. This makes them a great option for a mixed crowd of sweet and dry wine drinkers. Red Moscato (also known as Black Muscat) brings notes of raspberry, rose petals, violets, and tea. Lastly, dessert wines made with Muscat grapes are prized for their sweet fruit character and bombshell aromas. They are sometimes barrel-aged, which darkens the color and generates notes of coffee, fruit cake, raisins, and toffee.

Other pairing suggestions for Moscato include salads (especially if they have a citrus or fruit element), fresh cheeses such as chevre or whipped ricotta, and firey dishes — Mexican, Thai, Sichuan, Indian — both as a counterpoint to the heat and as a welcome companion to aromatic spices such as ginger, cardamom, and chili.