The Muscat grape is the world's oldest known grape variety.
It probably originated in Greece but maybe the independent
sultanate of Muscat in the south-east of the
Arabian Peninsula had something to do with it. No doubt
a Roman soldier or Phoenician trader brought it through
Italy into Roman France. Early records show it shipped
from the port of Frontignan in SW France during Charlemagne's
In the following centuries the Romans took the variety
further through France and Germany. The Greeks took it
to the Crimea in the Soviet Union and the Egyptians sent
cuttings south to what is now South Africa. Egyptian
traders gave them Muscat of Alexandria and European
immigrants brought cuttings of Muscat a Petits Grains
And here's the interesting part. Muscat was officially introduced
into Australia in the Busby Collection of 1832
and endorsed by Macarthur in 1844 as a suitable variety
for Australian conditions. However, many early vine cuttings
found their way into Australia via South Africa.
Cuttings and seeds coming from South Africa account for
many Australian early agricultural imports.
The Americas received Muscat wines with its early Spanish
and Italian immigrants.
Over 200 different varieties and derivatives to the Muscat
family exist today. The most commonly known varieties
of muscat grapes are:
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (also called Muscat Blanc,
Muscat Canelli, Muscat Frontignan, Moscato Bianco,
Muscat de Frontignan, Muscat d'Alsace, Muskateller,
Muscatel de Grano Menudo, and Moscatel Rosé). This
grape is used for the wines: asti spumante, clairette de
die, and muscat de beaumes-de-venise
Moscato Giallo (or Goldmuskateller) and Moscato Rosa
(or Rosenmuskateller) are thought to be closely related
coloured versions of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.
Muscat of Alexandria (also called Moscatel, Moscatel
Romano, Moscatel de Málaga, Gordo Blanco, Hanepoot,
Lexia, Moscatel Gordo, and Zibibbo) This grape is used
for sherry (and is one of only three permitted grape varieties
to be used in a true Sherry), moscatel or muscatel
wines, Muscatel de Valencia, Muscatel Passito and other
Muscatel liqueurs and also as a raisin and table grape.
Muscat Ottonel (also called Moskately) Used for dessert
wines in Austria
Muscat Hamburg (also called Black Muscat, Moscato
di Amburgo) Used for some Eastern European wine but
mainly for table grapes in Italy and Australia
Orange Muscat Used for some wines in California
Muscat is the only grape to produce wine with the same
aroma as the grape itself. Sweet fortified Muscats have
a classic rich, nose of dried fruits, raisins and oranges.
This strong perfume prompted the Roman author Pliny,
in his "Natural History," to declare it "the grape of the
bees." The French noted the grape's musky character
and called it "Musqué,"
The vine itself is very vigorous but low yielding with
medium size very dark green leaves. Bunches are medium
sized, cylindrical in shape and elongated, very
much like a chardonnay bunch. Muscat grapes range
from white to almost black in colour. The Muscat we
grow in Australia produces berries of medium size
starting out green and transparent and then ripening to
a rich golden yellow colour with a tinge of red. The
fruit ripens early and is often left out on the vine till it
starts to shrivel so as to produce grapes very high in
Muscat grapes are used in a variety of wine styles from
the sugary Italian Asti Spumante to the sweet and
strong Australian fortifieds and South African Constantia.
Pisco is a unique brandy popular in Chile and Peru.
It's made from white Muscat varieties which grow in
two places: the region of Pisco, Peru and the Valle del
río Elqui in central Chile. Metaxa is a brandy liqueur
from Greece which also uses Muscat grapes while
France's Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is another fortified
wine with delicious orange aromas. At the other
extreme is another French sparkling white called
Clairette de Die with a fruity musky palate.
* Reproduced with permission from Peter Svans at The Gurdies Winery