Saturday, 12 March 2016

Must-Have & Must-Get Muscats

When you are trying to describe what a grape variety in a wine tastes like, it's easy to slip into standard (and many a time) indecipherable wine gobbledygook. Many a time I have misread the situation with someone I've been talking to and started to use words that wouldn't sound out of place in Klingon dictionary and watch the concentration and focus of the individual I'm talking to drift off into wondering whats on the Box that evening.

So, I've now tried a different tack. I have decided to compare modern day celebrities to grape varieties. Not the obvious choice to try and describe the intricacies of the noble fruit of the vine, but I've found that some people get on board with it. 

Take a young Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot from Bordeaux. I could go in with the 'austere, green tannic structure, primary with a touch of secondary characteristics' or I could go for 'This wine is like Samuel L Jackson - seems tough to get on with at the start, but with a bit of age and faith, it blooms into a smooth number'. What about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you say? Tropical nuances with a crisp and persistent acidity? Urrgh. Now say its like Will Ferrell - fresh, lively and real good quality, but have too much on a consistent basis and it may start to get boring. Boom! Now they want to know more.

So when I was luring an unsuspecting customer towards one of the most underrated (and one of my favourites) grape varieties, Muscat, I come out with a pearler. "Muscat is like Miley Cyrus... In its youngest form, its sweet, innocent and safe enough to take home to your mother. However, it wants to be taken seriously and when it is, it is a complex, edgy wine with a whole lotta attitude". What. A. Beaut.

A six bottle purchase and a chuckle later, it made me actually think what a great variety Muscat is. Ranging from the light and easy style of Moscatel del Valencia you can pick up cheap as chips at any supermarket all the way through to the rich and sticky Muscats you can get from high quality New World producers. It really is a great variety to get into if you are new to the world of wine, as it one of the only grape varieties that actually tastes of grapes when made into our favourite alcoholic beverage (and in its youngest form).

Now, I could turn this article into a potted history of Muscat and its varying names, but no-one could do it better than the maestro herself, Jancis Robinson, to explain. What I will tell you is that it is one of the only well known grapes that can be used for an aperitif (predominantly as a sparkling wine), a cracking wine for matching with main meals (light Muscats go fantastically well with light oriental dishes, as its sweetness is in complete harmony with chilli, star anise and lemon grass) and an unctuous dessert wine to finish off a satisfying dinner party.

I'm going to tell you my top Muscats that I have enjoyed recently, to tempt you into a reckless purchase!

To start off my Muscat binge, I tucked into the Mas Neuf Muscat Sec 2014, from Majestic Wine at £7.49 a bottle (6 bottle price, £8.99 for one). This is a great starting block for newbies to the wine/Muscat scene. It has a relatively low alcohol level (11.5%), which contributes to a really summery feel to the wine, giving off some really light blossomy and grapey flavours. Its just a smidgen off-dry, but the bloomin' marvellous thing about Muscat is that the acidity is pretty high, so keeps it real fresh. The grape taste still lingers in the mouth, but is joined by soft orange and lychee flavours. This would be spot on with a bit of Parma ham and melon in the garden come July.

Next up comes the Moscatel Seco 2013, from Botani
available from Leamington Wine Company for £15.99  a bottle, but available elsewhere too. The helpful guy who recommended to me (Rob), recommended I try it with a dish based on chilli and, as I accompanied it with a homemade noodle dish made by The Lass, I can thoroughly endorse that advice. Smelling of candied lime, orange blossom and a whiff of ginger, you expect it to be a bit on the sweet side, but it is very much a dry wine. Not too tart citrus fruit jumps forward when you taste it, with even a bit of a herby edge too. A serious wine made from a fun grape if ever there was one.  
For something a bit special, I treated myself to a bit of something new for me. I had read copious amounts about Rutherglen Muscat, but never tried one, so when I stumbled upon this, I had to go hard, or go thirsty. This is Two Hands 'A Day Late, A Buck Short' Rutherglen Muscat NV, priced at £31.99 (6 bottle price, £40 for one). Oh wow. Its like sticky toffee pudding in a bottle. Oozes caramel, cinnamon and vanilla pod, this is proper boozy at 18% ABV, but boy, you don't need a lot as it smears your tastebuds with treacle, raisin and cappuccino when you drink it. Its a great finish to a meal and when I finish it, I will be saving the pennies to get my next one. 

Bringing up the rear, but definitely not one that you need to leave til last, we have the Essencia Orange Muscat 2013, priced at £9.95 from This is a rare find, as Orange Muscat isn't widely cultivated, but it definitely should be. The grape pretty much dishes out what it says on the tin. Big flavours of orange, apricot and gentle spice are mixed in with a clean acidity which keeps it from being too much like liquidised Fruit Pastilles. Needs a good old fruit pudding or chocolate to go with, but a small glass after whatever you've eaten will send your stomach into a round of applause (if it had hands, that is...)

So the next time you see Hannah Montana invading your TV screens, a blast of a Miley song on the radio, or read about her latest tidbit of gossip, instead of just sighing and yearning for the 'tear it up' rock stars of the past, just grab the corkscrew and sup a glass of Muscat. It'll leave a far better taste in your mouth...

If you could relate a grape to a celeb, what would it be? Leave us a comment below, or on our Facebook page or twitter feed!

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