Moscato 101: Everything You Need to Know about Moscato Wine
Moscato wine evokes polarized opinions among oenophiles — they adore its sweet fruit aroma or can't stand it one bit. Whether sipped as an aperitif or dessert wine, Moscato is much more versatile and complex than most would realize. Moscato grapes, or Muscat, are grown up and down Italy, providing 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.
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.
Of more than 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, gold, red, pink, brown, and black. Golden-yellow Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also called Moscato Bianco) is well suited for wine and is Italy's main Moscato grape. Less-refined Muscat of Alexandria (also called Zibbibo) is typically grown for table grapes and raisins but is used for wine as well.
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A quick note on Muscat nomenclature: The Italian word for Muscat is Moscato, and it's important to know 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, and though 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 is 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: a fragrant aroma of fruit such as peach, apricot, and orangey citrus; and delicate floral notes such as 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 peninsula 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 the large 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.
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 reddish 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 and has notes of apricot. Passito de Pantelleria is an intensely sweet dessert wine made from dried Muscat grapes.
Moscato Canelli: Another word for Muscat à Petits Grains grapes, this name is 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.
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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 boom of the 1980s.
Many of the Moscatos produced in the United States come from the aforementioned big brands, as well as Yellow Tail, 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.
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How should Moscato wine be served?
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.
Sparkling — around 40°F
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 Red — 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.
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.
Spicy food: Moscato's sweetness and low alcohol content (wines with higher alcohol content tend to amplify spiciness) quell the flames of fiery fare from 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.
Crudités: A platter with crunchy veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, and radishes would complement the gentle bubbles of Moscato d'Asti.
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.