Chardonnay, once the unquestioned darling of white wine drinkers, has dropped to fifth place in sales. Pinot Grigio, the wine in almost every lunchtime glass a couple of years ago, has sprouted wrinkles and no longer dominates the vino bianco landscape. As I write, Moscato madness is running amok in Canada and the United States. Sales of white wines made from Muscat grapes in this country doubled between 2011 and 2012 and consumers In the United States glugged more than $300 million of the stuff in 2011.
Muscat is so popular that rap stars like Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil’ Kim have recorded songs about it. Ms. Minaj is even marketing Myx,fruit infused Muscats in 6 oz. electric blue crown-capped bottles priced at $6.95. (For those of you who really care, the range comprises three flavours: Original Moscato, Coconut and Moscato, and Peach & Moscato. Peace out…)
That said, there’s more to Muscat than Minaj. Wines made from the two hundred or so members of the family are uniformly luscious with ripe grape, peach and apricot/mango fruit character, high sugar and lowish acidity. People have been producing and enjoying these wines in Mediterranean countries for thousands of years. Today, there’s not a region of production anywhere that doesn’t boast at least one type of Muscat wine. The stuff is just that easy to enjoy.
The Moscato behind the madness in the Great White North and South of the border is typified by Barefoot California Muscat. For starters, specimens tend to be well priced. (The Barefoot is $9.95.) Next, they’re proudly light and sweet. Good balance with fresh acidity prevents them from cloying. They’re low in alcohol, between 8% and 10%. Finally, they exude yummy, sometimes sweetly-spicy peach and apricot fruit. This kind of new-age Moscato, proliferating in California and other New World wine areas, is fine consumed chilled on its own, a kind of liquid snack, or as a partner to crustaceans.
Similar but more serious Muscats are available for under $15. They’re more elegant and fuller than the “madness” specimens with more mango added to the stone fruit character. Muscat Beaumes de Venise and other French, Italian and Spanish wines are representative of the type. Robert Mondavi Winery Moscato D’Oro ($14.80 for 375 ml.) is a venerable dessert wine, an inexpensive stand-in for Sauternes.
Alsace Muscat is a rich treat. Asti Spumanti and Moscato d’Asti give you the same flavours in low-alcohol sparkling wines. Australian liqueur Muscats, aged to a black raisin colour and character and fortified, can be costly but are true jewels with notes of the parent grape. The legendary sweet wines of Tokaj in Hungary contain Muscat (augmented by botrytized Furmint and Harzlevelu grapes). These stickies are far from inexpensive, but they’re sublime.