What do you know about Moscatel wine? You may have seen bottles of this on store shelves or even on wine lists. It is not a particularly well understood wine, so to better understand it let’s take a look at its origins.
Moscatel and Muscat
Remember our old friend the Muscat family? We previously established that the various Muscat grapes can make a wide range of wines spanning the entire range from bone dry to lusciously sweet. We know that of the more than 200 individual Muscat grapes, a mere handful are widely and commonly available. To refresh your memory, they were:
- Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains
- Muscat of Alexandria
- Muscat of Hamburg
- Muscat Ottonel
Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains accounts for the majority of Muscat wines you are likely to see, and the other three are relatively common too. What about Moscatel, then? Where does it fit in?
What is Moscatel?
Moscatel is the name given to a fortified wine from Portugal made from Muscat grapes. Moscatel is the Portuguese name for Muscat, and in this case doesn’t refer to a specific grape but rather the wine itself. The specific grape in this case is most likely to be Muscat of Alexandria, perhaps better known as the grape used in the French Vins Doux Naturels. Moscatel wines come from the Setúbal and Duoro regions of Portugal, and may be labelled as Moscatel de Setubal or Moscatel Duoro. Moscatel wines are aged for at least two years prior to their release, in either stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. Some higher-end examples can be aged for considerably longer. Portuguese Moscatel wines are of a very high quality, and considered on par with the country’s other top fortified wines Port, Madeira and Carcavelos.
Is Moscatel wine always sweet?
Portuguese Moscatel wines are fortified wines, whose production involves the addition of a high-alcohol neutral grape spirit to halt fermentation. This means that the natural sugars present in the Muscat of Alexandria grapes are not fully fermented (or converted to alcohol), and there is invariably residual sugar left over. The resulting wines are sweet, and also high in alcohol. While there are many dry Muscat wines available, you will not find a dry Portuguese Moscatel wine.
How to enjoy Moscatel wine
Moscatel is an incredibly versatile wine, which can be served by itself as a digestif, with food or in a cocktail.
For food and wine pairings, you’ve got a few options. As a sweet dessert wine, Moscatel is a natural fit for sugary desserts, like sticky toffee puddings. Cheeses are also Moscatel-friendly: It makes an interesting pairing with blue cheese, for example, so consider it instead of a Sauternes next time! Beyond dessert, Moscatel is great with a variety of small tapas-style dishes, what the Portuguese call “petiscos”.
The Portuguese often enjoy Moscatel wines as part of a cocktail.
- Combine three parts Moscatel with two parts gin, shake with ice and garnish with thyme and you’ve got an Azeitão Alambre. Serve this one in a Martini glass and you’ll blend right in.
- For an Alambre Tónico: Take a tall glass, add 6cl Moscatel wine and 3 ice cubes and then fill with tonic water. Garnish with sliced grapes, lemon and mint leaves.
How do you like to enjoy Moscatel or other fortified wines?