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Muscats Wines - Varieties

Muscat grape varieties constitute an integral part of the world’s grape growing and winemaking heritage. These wines are unmatched in the richness of their sensory expression. Pierre Galet, world-renowned ampelographer and author of the recently published Dictionnaire des Cépages, describes more than 150 Muscat varieties. Whether red or white, whether used in winemaking or as table grapes and whether Vitis vinifera or hybrids, all Muscat varieties are characterised by their muscat aroma. We can cite the following examples:

Muscat de Frontignan (see also the French Muscat Wines section)
Wines from this AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) must be made exclusively from the Muscat Frontignan variety. Grapes must be grown within the villages of Frontignan and Vic-la-Gardiole. Winemaking methods are also stipulated, and a minimum alcohol content of 15% vol. is required. The minimum amount of natural sugar per litre is described below:

  • Vins doux naturels (i.e. "naturally" sweet wines)
    These wines are made from musts with a minimum initial natural sugar content of 252 g per litre. During fermentation, pure alcohol (at least 95% pure) is added to the must at no less than 5% and no more than 10% of must volume.
    The finished wines must have an alcohol content of at least 15% vol. and contain a minimum of 125 g of sugar per litre.
    Mutage operations (i.e. alcohol addition) must be carried out before 31 December of the year of harvest.
    However, additional mutage operations may be authorised or even ordered by the French consumer-protection agency, for a maximum total addition of 10% alcohol, before a compliance certificate is awarded (see Vins doux naturels and Making of vins doux naturels).
  • Vins de liqueur (i.e. wines made by alcohol addition to unfermented musts)
    These wines are made from musts with a minimum initial natural sugar content of 234 g per litre. Prior to any fermentation, pure alcohol (at least 95% pure) is added to the must at 15% of must volume. This addition preserves the entire amount of natural sugar from the must. The residual sugar content of the wine must be no less than 185 g per litre.
    Any operations other than mutage (see above) are forbidden, particularly as concerns chaptalisation, concentration or freezing, even with the legal limits. Non-compliance results in the loss of appellation labelling rights for the wine in question. Wines cannot be marketed without an approval certificate.
  • Muscat de Frontignan is an extremely fine, luxury wine with a beautiful golden colour and a lovely, distinctive aroma. It is particularly noted for its warm, silky taste and for its lovely, soft harmony. It is a full-bodied, sweet and fruity wine.
    The 75-cL Muscat de Frontignan bottle is characterised by its distinctive grooves. This traditional, local bottle can be used only for wines from the Frontignan, Muscat de Frontignan and Vin de Frontignan appellations.
  • Muscats d’Alsace: These Alsatian wines have full, rich bouquets. They can be made from three varieties: Muscat blanc d’Alsace, Muscat rosé d’Alsace and Muscat Ottanel (also known as Gilher mulcataller, Roter muscataller or Muscataller ottanel).
  • Muscat Hamburg: This loose- and large-clustered red variety is mostly used as a table grape. Another red variety, Muscadoule, is derived from Muscat Hamburg; its musky flavour is more or less perceptible.
  • Italian Muscats: Moscato Rosa, Moscato Bianco and Moscato giallo with large, long clusters.
  • Muscat of Alexandria is also known as the raisin-flavoured Muscat. It can yield a sweet wine (vin doux naturel) with delicate flavours, a silky texture and lovely fruitiness.
  • Muscat hybrid direct producers, such as Muscat de Saint Vallier, a white variety with large oval berries and a pleasant muscat flavour. This variety is also known as Seyve-Villard n° 20-473.

All of these varieties produce muscat-flavoured wines, which are increasingly finding the favour of consumers as sweet, dry or even sparkling wines.

Muscat - Aroma

The vast diversity of Muscat-like aromas is of interest both to enlightened wine lovers and to professional wine tasters and sensory analysts. This world of Muscat wines is open to you. We invite you to discover or to further your knowledge about the aromas of these wines.

A muscat aroma is characteristic of all grapes, musts and wines made from Muscat varieties.

In his thesis bibliography, Terrier (1972) listed the many studies on the aroma composition of Muscat grapes and wines conducted between 1952 and 1972. Further studies continue to this day. At the word Aroma, you can find the aroma compounds identified in Muscat varieties; the most characteristic compounds are the terpenes.

The following terpene compounds are considered to be the most important in defining the muscat aroma: linalool (L) and the linalool oxides, geraniol (G), nerol (N) and terpineol. In contrast, the presence of citronellol, farnesol, limonene and myrcene is not accepted by all researchers. Boidron (1977) studied the changes in the major terpene compounds during the production of vin doux naturel (VDN) from the Muscat Frontignan and Muscat of Alexandria varieties.

In the group of 50 wine samples analysed by this author, linalool oxide C, nerol and geraniol were detected in much lower quantities than in the corresponding musts. In contrast, the a-terpineol content was much greater in the wines than in the musts. In the wines, a-terpineol ranges from 300 to 1000 µg/L, versus 50 to 150 µg/L in the musts. During winemaking, there is breakdown of the C oxide, geraniol and (most of all) nerol. This leads to an increase in the geraniol/nerol (G/N) ratio, which can no longer be used for varietal characterisation as it can in the musts. If we compare nerol and a-terpineol contents in the musts and wines, we can reasonably put forth the hypothesis that during winemaking, a portion of the nerol is transformed into a-terpineol. Other origins for a-terpineol in wines, particularly oxidative phenomena, remain possible.

The typical G/N ratio for musts is found only in mistelle wines, whether these are made from Muscat Frontignan or Muscat of Alexandria. We can therefore assume that the preferential breakdown of nerol occurs mostly during fermentation. In most of the wines studied, breakdown losses are such that most terpene compounds drop below their sensory thresholds. Their contribution to wine aroma is therefore slight. This finding is confirmed by tasting. A comparison of different VDN winemaking techniques shows that these methods have a considerable effect on terpene contents in wine.

A wine produced by mutage sur grains (15% alcohol added to unfermented must) should have the highest terpene content (linalool + nerol + geraniol) of Muscat wines. If we assign a value of 100 to this wine, we can obtain the following indices by comparison:

Muscat Frontignan trial
Mutage sur grains 100
Carbonic maceration 88 et 128
Conventional maceration 75
Mistelle 42
White winemaking 24 et 63
Muscat of Alexandria trial
Mutage sur grains 100
Carbonic maceration 34 et 42
Conventional maceration 56
Mistelle 26
White winemaking 22

Tasting confirms this ranking. Since geraniol is found mostly in the skins and linalool in the pulp, the G/L ratio is a good indicator of the extent of maceration (skin contact), all other conditions being equal. This G/L ratio tends to increase with increasing terpene content. Wines made by adding alcohol to unfermented must (mutage sur grains) have higher linalool contents, which suggests that the enzymatic hydrolysis of glucosides occurs during this process.

Boidron and Diaz-Cervantes (1978) then studied the changes in terpene compounds during the making of white Muscat of Alexandria wines. These researchers observed that linalool oxides A, B and C vary little during fermentation, whereas oxide D increases in concentration near the end of fermentation. Linalool remains stable; the slight variations observed are not significant. The same is true for a-terpineol. Nerol decreases initially but then stabilises as fermentation progresses, remaining at low levels. In contrast, geraniol content decreases steadily to reach very low levels. As such, the G/L and G/N ratio both decrease sharply.

The tasting of seven different Muscat VDN wines yielded the following results:

  • The top three samples in terms of tasting preferences are rich in linalool + nerol + geraniol (1040 to 1272 µg/L). The aroma of a fourth wine with a very high L+N+G content (1500 µg/L) was found to be very intense and quite fine, but less fine than the first three wines. These four wines had higher linalool and nerol contents than the other wines as well as much higher geraniol contents. Geraniol would thus seem to play an important role in the overall aroma level and aroma finesse of Muscat VDN wines.
  • The next two wines had less intense aromas with lower degrees of finesse. Their L+N+G contents were also much lower (respectively 646 and 728 µg/L).
  • The final sample had a very weak Muscat aroma and the lowest L+N+G content (606 µg/L).

From these results, we can say that the highest ranked VDN wines during tasting are those with L+N+G contents between 800 and 1200 µg/L. Below 800 µg/L, the Muscat aroma is weak. Above 1200 µg/L, the Muscat aroma is found to be somewhat aggressive. However, even at 1500 µg/L, the wines still receive good tasting scores. The a-terpineol content does not seem to affect the tasting scores. During ageing, nerol and geraniol are both transformed into a-terpineol.

It is not allowed to label wines with muscat-like aromas as "Vin muscaté". Wines labelled as Muscat must be made exclusively (100%) from a Muscat grape variety.

Non-French Muscats: Moscato (It.), Moscatel (Sp., Port.), Muskat (Ger.)
  • The small, round-berried Muscat blanc (identical to Muscat Frontignan) is found in both Italy (DOC Moscato d’Asti producing sparkling wines in the Piedmont region) and Hungary (Muskatoly and Badacsony).
  • Muscat of Alexandria, or Muscat Romain, is used to produce Moscatel in Spain (Moscatel de Paja-Rancio) and Portugal (Moscatel de Setubal). It is also found in Sicily: DOC Moscato di Siracusa, Moscato di Trentino, Moscato di Noto (sparkling), Moscato di Pantelleria (passito or sparkling).
  • There is also a Syrian Muscat, or Muscat Jesus, with an aroma of orange blossoms.
  • Cypriot Muscat is made with red or white grapes. When dry, the wine has an alcohol content between 11% and 17%, without any alcohol addition after fermentation. When made off-dry, the wine has an alcohol content greater than 15 %. When sweet, the wine has a sugar content of 1.5° to 12° Baumé and an alcohol content between 15% and 23% by volume.
  • We can also cite a number of Muscat-based appellation wines:
    • Italy: Muscats from Cagliari, Serso-Sennori, Trani, Colli Euganei and Sardinia.
    • Greece: Muscats from Cephalonia, Lemnos, Patras, Rion de Patras, Rhodes and Samos.
    • Tunisia: Muscats from Kelibia, Radès and Thibar.
  • Muscats are also found in a large number of other countries, for example:
    • Muskataller (Austria)
    • Songurlaré (red Muscat from Bulgaria) and Bulgarian White Muscat
    • Izmir-miskit or Bornova White Muscat (Turkey)
    • Muscat blanc: Massandra, Livadia and Dastel (Russia)
    • Muscat rosé: Gurzuf and Alupka (Russia)
    • Muscat noir: Kutchuk-Lambat and Aiu-Dag (Russia).
French Muscat wines
  • Several vin doux naturel (VDN) wines made with Muscat varieties are included in the French appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system:
    • Muscat de Frontignan, or Vin de Frontignan or Frontignan. This is the only Muscat wine that can also be made as a vin de liqueur (addition of alcohol to unfermented must).
    • Muscat de Rivesaltes
    • Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
    • Muscat de Lunel
    • Muscat de Mireval
    • Muscat de Saint-Jean de Minervois.
    • Muscat du Cap Corse
  • Varietal Composition
    All of these wines (except Muscat de Rivesaltes) must be made from Muscat blanc (Muscat Frontignan: small, round berries) to the exclusion of any other varieties. This is a low-yield variety, and the grapes have a pronounced muscat aroma. In the sunny climate of southern France, this variety was once planted throughout the VDN growing region on dry, gravelly soils near the Mediterranean.
    Today, owing to its low yields, it is slowly being abandoned, except in the above-mentioned appellations. Muscat de Rivesaltes is made from Muscat blanc and Muscat of Alexandria. An official harvesting date is announced for Muscat of Alexandria by region and by microclimate. All new plantings must use Muscat blanc until the vineyard contains at least 50% of this variety.
  • Characteristics
    • Muscat de Rivesaltes: This wine must have a richness (alcohol plus residual sugar) of 21.5% (including at least 15% alcohol and 100 g/L of sugar). As wine lovers well know, this aromatic, chewy wine is the king of Muscats. It has a lovely, long finish. Its distinctive characteristics and lovely muscat aroma are due to the dry Roussillon soils, to the hot southern sun and to the blending of the two Muscat varieties.
    • Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise: This wine also displays very delicate, lovely aromas and flavours. It must have an alcohol content of at least 15% and a minimum sugar content of 100 g/L. These VDN wines must receive an official certificate before they can be marketed.
    • Muscat de Lunel: The silica-based soil gives this wine a fine, highly distinguished character while retaining the subtle, delicate bouquet of this noble VDN wine.
    • Muscat de Mireval: As with the two preceding wines, this wine must have a minimum alcohol content of 15% vol. and must contain at least 125 g of sugar per litre.
    • Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois: This appellation produces some of the finest Muscat wines of the Mediterranean. Their bouquet is full and lovely, and they make for excellent dessert wines.
    • Muscat du Cap Corse : This is a recent AOC (1996) though the production of Muscat de Corse dates from a long time ago. The production area is the same than the AOC Patrimonio and Coteaux du Cap Corse. Very aromatic, this is an excellent dessert wine.
    • Other AOC Wines
      Muscat d'Alsace: In Alsace, the word "Muscat" can be indicated on the label only when the wines have been made with Muscat Ottonel, Muscat blanc or Muscat rosé. For other AOC wines and vins de pays, this possibility exists only when the name of the grape variety has been included in the appellation decree.
    • Clairette de Die: This wine is made from Muscat blanc by a traditional sparkling wine method that yields a low alcohol wine (7% vol.) with about 50 g/L of residual sugar.
    • Ordinary table wines (vin de table) and sparkling wines can bear the name Muscat when they are made exclusively from a Muscat variety.
    • Vins de Pays or Regional Table Wines
      These wines are currently in fashion, whether dry, off-dry (about 10 g/L of residual sugar) or sweet (50 g/L). Several geographical designations exist:
      • Vins de Pays d'Oc
      • Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes
      • Vin de Pays Catalan.
    • Sparkling Wines
      Quality sparkling wines are made with Muscat grapes and are sold with a "Vin de Pays..." geographical designation or under a brand name.
Some figures about the vineyard area under production (in hectares for 1998-1999)
Small, round-berried Muscat (M. de
Muscat of
Muscat of
Moscatel Other
South Africa 797 - 34 16 - 464
Germany 87 - 7 - - -
Argentina - - - - 13 670 -
Australia 269 3 005 - - - -
Austria - - 418 - 143 -
Bulgaria 100 - 4 500 250 - 6 300
Chyprus - 415 - 3 - 2
Spain 110 3 870 - - - -
France 2 416 3 045 158 4 096 - 468
Greece 1 500 500 - 1 500 - -
Italia 13 533 - - - - -
Japan - 39 - - - 51
Czech Republic - - 46 - - 253
Slovenia 72 - 32 - - -
Switzerland 44 - 6 - - -
Ukraine 370 2 145 495 - 338
Uruguay 48 8 7 1 742 - -

These data are incomplete. If you have any additional information about this subject, we would be grateful if you would share it with us (by E-mail: infos@muscats-du-monde.com). Please identify your sources and contact details (last name, first name, address, E-mail, etc.).