Moscato 101: Everything You Need to Know about Moscato Wine
Our guide to Moscato covers how to identify, taste, and savor this delicate, sweet wine.
Moscato wine evokes strong opinions among oenophiles—they adore its sweet fruit aroma or can’t stand it one bit. Whether sipped as an aperitif or dessert wine, mixed into cocktails for fizz, poached with fruit, or paired with fiery cuisine, Moscato is much more versatile and complex than most would realize. Moscato grapes, or muscat, are grown up and down Italy, making for a wide diversity of flavors and styles. From bubbly to still to fortified, Moscato makes a provocative addition to any wine lover’s repertoire. Our guide dishes out everything you need to know about this delicately fruity and floral wine.
Related Link: How to Drink Sweet Wine Like a Pro
What is Moscato wine?
Moscato is a sweet, medium to low-acidity wine produced in Italy from Muscat grapes. The Muscat grape is grown all over the world—from Australia to France to South America—and is believed to be one of the oldest grapes in history. The exact origin is unknown, but some trace it back to ancient Egypt.
While there are over 200 known varieties of Muscat grapes, the most common are Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat of Alexandria. Muscat grapes come in a multitude of shades including white, golden, red, pink, brown, and black. Golden-yellow Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains are well-suited for wines, while less-refined Muscat of Alexandria are typically grown for table grapes and raisins. In Italy, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also called Moscato Bianco) is the most commonly grown grape for Moscato wine, followed by Muscat of Alexandria (also called Zibbibo grapes).
A quick note on Muscat nomenclature—the Italian word for Muscat is Moscato, and it’s important to note that different countries have different names for the Muscats they produce. In Spain you’ll find “Moscatel,” while in Germany, you’ll see “Muskateller.” Technically, wines labeled as “Moscato” should be from Italy, but this is not always the case. Big wine brands from California and Australia also produce a variety of lightly-fizzy, sweet wines labeled as Moscato—while these wines are not produced in Italy, they are made in the Moscato style.
What are Moscato’s characteristics?
Moscato wine can be still or sparkling, or fortified. Lightly-bubbled Moscato d’Asti is the most common, and what many of us envision when we hear the word “Moscato.” If you’re familiar with tart, dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Albariño, then Moscato is the exact opposite—sweet, perfumed, and bursting with fruit. Muscat grapes have high residual sugar but low acid, both of which contribute to Moscato’s signature sweet taste. Sip a glass and you’ll pick up on several key characteristics, including a fragrant aroma, and fruit such as peach, apricot, and orange citrus, and delicate floral notes such rose petal and elderflower.
Where is Moscato produced in Italy?
Muscat grapes thrive in Italy’s warm, Mediterranean climate. You’ll find them up and down the Boot from Piedmont and Trentino Alto-Adige to the southern islands of Sicily and Pantelleria. Each region produces a unique Moscato wine with different characteristics.
What are the different types of Moscato wine?
With a huge variety of Muscat grapes comes a diverse offering of Moscato wines. Many of these Moscato varieties are more difficult to find in the United States, but they’re reason enough to plan your next trip to Italy.
Moscato d’Asti: A lightly-sparkling, golden-colored wine produced in the northwestern Piedmont region, Moscato d’Asti comes from Muscat à Petits Grains and is the most recognizable variety. A low alcohol content (5.5% ABV), lightly-sweet flavor, and soft, gentle bubbles (frizzante in Italian) make Moscato d’Asti a popular aperitif or dessert wine pairing.
Related Link: Moscato d’Asti: Wine of a Thousand Uses
Asti: Frizzante is to Moscato d’Asti as spumante, or fully-sparkling, is to Asti wine. Both wines are produced in the same Piedmont region from the same grape, but they are distinctively different. Asti wine is typically sweeter in taste and has a higher alcohol content.
Moscato Rosa: Hailing from Italy’s northeastern Trentino Alto-Adige region, this sweet, still wine is made from red-purple-skinned Muscat grapes that are very similar to Muscat à Petits Grains. A vibrant, ruby red color and a spiced, berry flavor are the most distinguishing characteristics.
Moscato Giallo: This golden-colored, still wine is produced in the Trentino Alto-Adige region. Defined by floral and spicy aromas such as cinnamon, grapefruit, and orange-blossom, Moscato Giallo grapes are grown in cooler climates, making these wines drier than other Moscatos.
Moscato di Pantelleria: Produced in Pantelleria, a small island between Sicily and Tunisia, this still, amber-colored wine comes from Muscat of Alexandria grapes (also known as Zibbibo grapes) and is reminiscent of apricot. Another variety, Passito de Pantelleria, is an intensely sweet dessert wine made from dried Muscat grapes.
Moscato Canelli: Another word for Muscat à Petits Grains grapes, often seen on wines made in the Moscato style from California or Washington State. These may be still or sparkling in the Moscato d’Asti style.
A note on Moscato in the United States: While previously underappreciated, Moscato sales in the U.S. have skyrocketed since the early 2010s. Nielson data from 2012 showed a 100% increase in sales for sparkling Moscato, while Market Watch reported that the wine was so popular, big brands such as Barefoot, Woodbridge, Sutter Home, and Beringer couldn’t make enough to meet demand. Touted as a cheap, easy-drinking, all-day sipper, many have compared the sudden spike of Moscato to the White Zinfandel craze of the 1980s.
Many of the Moscatos produced in the United States come from the aforementioned big brands, as well as Yellowtail, an Australian brand. Most are inexpensive, often as little as $7 per bottle. The majority of these wines are lightly sparkling in the style of Moscato d’Asti, but the labeling can be a bit confusing. Here’s how to decipher wines you find online, at grocery stores or wine shops.
White Moscato: This is either still or lightly-sparkling wine made with Muscat à Petit Grains grapes. Expect a floral aroma with bold fruit flavors.
Pink Moscato: In most cases, this is White Moscato with a splash of red wine. Most likely still or lightly-sparkling, this is a popular style made by big brand producers in the United States and Australia.
Red Moscato: Similar to Pink Moscato, this wine is usually a blend of White Moscato and other reds such as Syrah and Zinfandel.
Sparkling Moscato: Expect this wine to be more intensely bubbled, closer to Asti wine than Moscato d’Asti.
How to serve Moscato wine?
Moscato, excluding fortified ones, is best enjoyed chilled. While the actual serving temperature depends on the style, chilling Moscato softens its sweetness so all of its fruit and floral flavors can shine. Don’t fret if the wine is too cold when you’re ready to serve it—it’s always preferable to have Moscato that is too cold, instead of too warm. Our temperatures are guidelines, so make sure you taste the wine before you serve it—just to make sure it’s right.
Colder temperatures for wines such as Moscato d’Asti and Asti help keep their bubbles light and crisp.
Still White/Pink—around 45°F
Chill any still white or pink-hued Moscato to a similar temperature as light-bodied whites such as Riesling and Pinot Grigio.
Still Reds—around 50°F
This is a safe bet for most fruity, light-bodied red wines. Moscato Rosa and other red-grape Moscatos should be slightly chilled to bring out their complexity.
Fortified—60° to 70° F
Fortified wines such as Port and certain Moscatos are best enjoyed closer to room temperature to maximize their sweet, concentrated flavor.
Related Link: How Long it Really Takes to Chill a Bottle of Wine
What are the best foods to pair with Moscato?
The secret to pairing any wine with food is balance. Moscato is sweet, so ideally you should pair it with foods possessing opposite flavor profiles—spicy, sour, salty, bitter. While its sweet fruity essence can make it difficult to pair with a main course, Moscato is perfect with appetizers, sweet brunch dishes, dessert, and alone as an aperitif.
Related Link: 7 Rules for Perfect Pairing
Spicy food: Moscato’s sweetness and low alcohol content (wines with higher alcohol content tend to amplify spiciness!) quell the flames from fiery fare all over the world. Pair Moscato with Thai larb, Indian vindaloo curries, habanero-spiked chicken wings, or anything with mouth-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
Cured meats: Prosciutto, Salami, Jamón Ibérico—you name it. The high salt content balances the sweetness of Moscato.
Nuts and seeds: Again, it’s that salty-sweet factor. Peanuts, almonds, or pepitas compliment a glass of still Moscato.
Crudites: A platter with crunchy veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, and radishes would complement the gentle bubbles of Moscato d’Asti.
Exotic spices: Aromatic spices such as turmeric, saffron, ginger, cardamom, and others are often found in the spicy dishes that sweet Moscato goes with so well.
Soft or Pungent Cheeses: Soft, creamy Brie and Camembert stand up to Moscato’s bright fruit profile without overpowering it. On the other hand, strong blue cheese needs a wine like Moscato to balance its saltiness. Moscato d’Asti or Passito di Pantelleria pair well. Make sure to let your cheese come to room temperature in order to maximize its flavor profile.
Sweet Breakfasts: Think pancakes or waffles topped with fruit compote or a dollop of whipped cream. A fruit-forward Moscato makes these flavors come alive.
Fruit Desserts: From pies to cobblers to semifreddo, any dessert with fruit or berry components matches the natural fruitiness of Moscato wine.
Vanilla desserts: Sweet peach Moscato flavors harmonize with the creaminess of a crème brûlée, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or even rice pudding.
Cake: We love this pairing. Moscato d’Asti works wonders with vanilla cake, while Moscato Rosa (or Red Moscato if that’s easier to find) coaxes complexity out of chocolate cake.
See More: Moscato d’Asti Pairings
Best Moscato Wines
Put your Moscato know-how to the test with our top picks. You won’t have to hop across the Atlantic for these wines—we’ve chosen a variety from sparkling to fortified that you should be able to find online or at your local wine store. Many vineyards will ship directly to your home if your state allows it.
2016 G.D. Vajra Moscato d'Asti
Producer: G.D. Vajra
Where: Piedmont, Italy
Tasting notes: Lightly-sparkling with a balance of peach, apricot, pear, and sage. Best enjoyed as an aperitif or dessert wine.
Average price: $18
2016 Saracco Moscato d'Asti
Where: Piedmont, Italy
Tasting notes: Pear and apricot flavors are well-balanced by crisp citrus and ginger. A complex, refreshing wine that pairs well with fruit or vanilla desserts.
Average price: $13-$15
2015 Charles Smith Vino Moscato
Producer: Charles Smith Wines
Where: Washington State, United States
Tasting notes: Gentle bubbles, aromatics include elderberry blossom, apricot and orange blossom flavors. A nice match for spicy cuisine. An easy-to-find Moscato in the Moscato d’Asti style.
Average price: $10-$12
2014 Maryhill Moscato Di Canelli
Where: Columbia Valley, Washington State
Tasting notes: Golden colored dessert wine from Muscat Canelli grapes. Crisp apple lends a touch of acidity to pear and peach flavors.
Average price: $12-$15
Donnafugata 2014 Ben Ryé (Passito di Pantelleria)
Where: Pantelleria, Italy
Tasting notes: Bold, amber-colored fortified dessert wine made from dried Zibbibo grapes. Intense apricot and honey aromas, fig and cinnamon flavors.
Average price: $38-$40 (a splurge, but worth the money)
2014 Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco
Producer: Bibi Graetz
Where: Tuscany, Italy
Tasting notes: One of our top Italian whites for summer, this wine shows how Muscat grapes can work wonders when blended with other grapes. Here, a combination of Muscat, Vermentino, and Trebbiano grapes makes for a tangy, ultra-crisp wine that's balanced by a touch of sweet fruit.
Average price: $15
Best Moscato Recipes
Cooking with Moscato is another way to showcase its versatility. Perfect as a cocktail mix-in or as a poaching liquid, Moscato especially complements stone fruits such as peaches and plums. Try it in dessert recipes that call for sweet wine—just make sure to pour a glass to sip while you cook.
Michelle’s Drink: Sweet Moscato d’Asti balances bitter grapefruit and Campari, while also adding fizz to this elegant shaken cocktail.
Melon Sparkler with Tapioca Pearls: Honeydew’s mellowed sweetness is elevated by the addition of Moscato d’Asti in this refreshing spritzer. A topper of chewy tapioca balls makes for a stunning, and edible, garnish.
Muscat Poached Peaches with Lemon Verbena: Simmering fruit, such as peaches, in Moscato elevates their flavors and makes for a simple, summertime dessert. We suggest serving the poached peaches in a splash of the wine, but an accompanying scoop of vanilla ice cream would round out the flavors nicely.
Hazelnut Tea Cake with Moscato Pears: This recipe showcases Moscato in two different ways. First, as a poaching liquid for pears, which are later browned in butter and layered over top the cake. Second, we infuse reduced Moscato poaching liquid with whipped cream for a luscious cake topper.
Plum-and-Honey Sabayon Gratins: A Sabayon is a baked custard dessert traditionally made with egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet wine. Our spin incorporates honey and Moscato with broiled plums, an impeccably balanced combination.