Complete Guide to Moscato Wine | Wine 101
Moscato is one of the most exciting left-field white wines. Not only is it produced in still, sparkling, and dessert styles, but it is one of the few wines with a nose that perfectly reflects the palate, making it highly approachable.
A typical Moscato offers a fragrant nose and flavors of fruit and flowers, with orangey citrus and delicate honeydew notes on the mid-palate.
Interestingly, more than 200 varieties of the Muscat grape exist, helping it thrive in any climate, from the shady hills of Piedmont, Italy, to warm Valencia.
This complete guide to Moscato wine covers everything you need to know, including tasting notes, the grape's history, and wines to try.
Characteristics of Moscato Wine
Muscat grapes have high levels of residual sugar, so most Moscato wines are sweet and semi-sweet. Dry Moscato varieties also exist, with dryer varieties most often produced in Austria and other cool regions.
The typical sweet Moscato is noticeably sweet, with a honeyed quality. You can expect peach, apricot, pear, and orangey citrus notes on the nose and palate. Floral notes are the mark of a high-quality Italian Moscato d'Asti.
Despite its sweet flavors, Moscato has a balanced profile thanks to medium-high acidity, and it also has a light body, making it easy to drink with creamy foods. Most varieties are under 11% ABV, making Moscato an excellent table wine.
You can expect a light golden white wine with slight effervescence in the glass. Most Moscato has a slight fizz because it is bottled with carbon dioxide to stop a percentage of the sugar from converting into alcohol.
Moscato Tasting Notes
If you appreciate sweet, floral wines, Moscato is for you!
You can expect an aromatic bouquet of rose, blossom, white peach, mandarin orange, and Meyer lemon. The palate introduces pear and honeysuckle, with strong grape flavors giving it a pure and decadent flavor profile.
Moscato is sweet and low in alcohol – the opposite of wine like Chardonnay, which is dry with a medium to high alcohol content. The acidity in Moscato is balanced by sweet flavors, making it a neutral wine suited to most tastes.
If you are used to wine bursting with zesty citrus, Moscato offers a welcome reprieve with orangey citrus, peach, and pear notes. It is softer and lighter than the average wine, making it perfect for sipping and sharing.
It is crucial to note that there are also regional differences with Moscato.
Most Moscato is produced in Piedmont, Italy. Wines from this region reflect the grape, with floral, grapey notes. However, wines from Valencia, Spain, have a tropical edge, while wines from Australia have intense peach and orange notes.
How is Moscato Served?
Moscato is best served chilled between 45–55°F / 7-12°C. Warmer temperatures bring out the alcohol and unbalance the delicate, floral-fruit flavors. We also recommend keeping the bottle in a thermal sleeve or ice bucket at the table.
When serving, Moscato is best in a standard or sparkling wine glass – sparkling wine glasses help accentuate the fizz and bring out the floral flavors.
Decanting Moscato doesn't do much to enhance the flavor and is more likely to disrupt the balanced flavors. It is better to let it air in the glass for a few minutes.
The Muscat Grape
The Muscat grape is one of the oldest grapes in the world, with a history stretching back to Ancient Egypt. Over the centuries, the Romans, the Greeks, and the Phoenicians distributed the grape to other countries, producing multiple variants.
The precise origin of the Muscat grape is unknown because the first mention of it in historical texts alludes to other vineyards. Additionally, there are so many variants (more than 200) that it is impossible to know the original.
However, we do know the origin of the name, with the first documented mention of a grape called "Muscat" in the works of the scholar Bartholomeus Anglicus, who wrote of it in De Proprietatibus Rerum (1230 and 1240).
Notable grape variants include Muscat blanc à Petits Grains, which makes Italian Asti wine, and Muscat of Alexandria, which makes fortified Spanish Muscatel. In Alsace, France, Muscat Ottonel makes dry and highly perfumed varietals.
While most Muscat wine is sweet or off-dry (with medium to high acidity), Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Ottonel make dryer varieties in cooler climates. Warmer climates increase the grape's sugar, making the wine sweeter.
Muscat grapes prefer a warm climate more than any other, which explains why it grows best in the southern part of the province of Asti in the Nizza DOCG zone, which has warm, humid summers and is partly cloudy all year.
Beloved by many but misunderstood by most, Moscato's sweet, light profile is one of the best-kept secrets of the wine world.
Notable Regions for Moscato
Piedmont, Northern Italy
Piedmont is the world's leading producer of Moscato wine, with Moscato produced near Asti falling under Italy's highest production category: DOCG. Piedmont is one of the coolest wine regions in Italy, with wet summers providing the perfect breeding ground for the Muscat grape, which favors warm, temperate climates.
The Valencia wine region in Spain produces world-class Moscato (Moscatel) wines, with the warm and dry climate producing sweeter grapes. Malaga and Alicante are also key Muscat of Alexandria producers. Spanish Moscato is known for its sweetness and fruity notes, with a high concentration of sugars.
While Austria is most famous for Riesling wine, it is also a leading producer of dry Moscato wine produced with Gelber Muskateller. Notable regions include Wachau, Sudsteiermark, and Burgenland, with Burgenland producing special varieties. Austrian Moscato is famous for its strong peach and orange blossom flavors.
Moscato is a popular grape variety in Heathcote, King Valley, and Yarra Valley, Australia. These regions have significant rainfall and warm, temperature climates. Australian Moscato mimics much of Italy's Moscato, with fruity, floral notes and a soft, slightly fizzy quality that makes them approachable and refreshing.
Moscato Food Pairings
Moscato is sweet, so it pairs brilliantly with spicy Cajun, Szechuan, and Indian cuisine, with the sweetness helping balance chilis and pepper.
Sweet Moscato is also enjoyable as a dessert, or you can pair it with creamy desserts like white chocolate mousse and banana pudding. Bolder, more effervescent Moscato works with fruity desserts like cherry cobbler.
Moving to semi-sweet Moscato, our favorite pairings include soft and creamy Brie, nuts, pretzels, nachos, and prosciutto. It is usually paired with antipasto and grilled fish cooked with lemon butter sauce in Italy.
3 Awesome Moscato Wines to Try
If this guide has got you thirsty for some Moscato then these bottles are a great place to start.
1. Under $15 - Centorri Moscato 2020
Pleasingly sweet with a slight effervescence, Centorri Moscato 2020 is a delightful sipping wine produced in the Moscato d'Asti style.
It is highly aromatic, with peach, orange zest, and lemon aromas. Notes of peach, fresh grapes, rose petals, orange blossom, and ginger on the palate give it a warm character. The slight frizzante makes it light and refreshing – perfect for a hot summer's day.
2. Under $20 - Ceretto Santo Stefano Moscato d'Asti 2020
Ceretto Santo Stefano Moscato d'Asti is a medium-sweet wine with a light-medium body and subtle, persistent bubbles.
We adore this wine's layered flavors of peaches, sliced pears, melons, and honeydew, with the nose presenting a dose of sage. The gentle frizzante carries an undertone of lemon zest and orange blossom for a fruity, lively finish.
3. Under $30 - Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2021
Saracco Moscato d'Asti 2021 is a gorgeous sweet Moscato with a floral foaming mousse, crisp acidity, and elegant bubbles.
This sweet sparkler has exciting notes of red apple, stone fruit, and herbs on the nose, with lively acidity backing flavors of ripe apricot, yellow peach, and pear. Light and crisp, we love this wine with spicy chicken wings.
Three Fun Facts About Moscato
Let's end this celebration of Moscato wine with some interesting facts to impress your friends with!
1. Muscat is one of the oldest grape varieties
We can date the Muscat grape to the ancient Egyptians over five thousand years ago, and some experts believe it is the oldest domesticated grape.
Today, Muscat is an ancient vine, genetically unmodified by modern winemaking. The Egyptians used Muscat for winemaking and as a table grape.
2. There are over 200 different Muscat grape varieties
Muscat does not describe one grape but a family of wine grapes, each the offspring of the original vine. Some common varieties include Muscat Blanc, Muscat Bianco, Muscat d'Alsace, and Moscato Giallo.
While most Muscats are usually named based on their origin, some are named based on their color.
3. Muscat is suitable for producing sweet, dry, and sparkling wines
Muscat is a highly versatile wine grape because it is sweet or acidic depending on the climate in which it is grown, making it suitable for dry, medium, sweet, sparkling, dessert, and ice wines.
Most varieties are off-dry to sweet, with most wines of this type produced in northwest Italy, the most prized being Moscato d'Asti.