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It may refer to the muscat family of grapes, a lineage which gives us over 200 different varieties of eating and winemaking grape, most famously the deliciously sweet and accessible moscato. It may also refer to muscat liqueur, an Australian fortified wine that is made from one of those muscat varieties - Muscat a Petits Grains Rouge.
So yes, moscato is the same as muscat, in that it is from that family of grapes. But when an Australian uses the word muscat, they may be referring to a specific fortified wine liqueur that is very different to moscato. Confused yet? Don’t blame us, blame the good people of 19th century regional Victoria who didn’t get around to thinking up a more original name for their fortified wine.
While there is no standard definition of what makes a dessert wine, muscat liqueur is a fortified wine, which is generally treated as the equivalent standardised term. In Australia a dessert wine in generally regarded as any sweet wine drunk with a meal, which muscat liqueur inevitably is. The sweetness of muscat liqueur is two-fold, as an already high-sugar grape has generous helpings of residual sugar added to it throughout the production process. The ‘standard’ Rutherglen Muscat, having been aged three to five years, will have a residual sweetness of 180g-240g/L, while a Rare Rutherglen Muscat, barrelled for 20 years or more, will have a residual sweetness of nearer 400g/L.
Moscato is generally considered the sweetest unfortified wine. The muscat family of grapes have famously high levels of sugar, and it is this sugar that yeast converts into alcohol during the fermentation process. Wine makers have a choice – produce a dry wine that is very high in alcohol (14-15%), or a sweeter wine that is lower in alcohol (usually 5-8%). As it turns out, sweet, low alcohol moscato is far more palatable than dry, high alcohol moscato, so Australian labels tend to offer up saccharine wines with an ABV of 5-8%. If you ever get the chance to try dry moscato you’ll soon find out why.
The best food pairings reflect moscato’s strengths of sweetness, freshness and vibrancy. The wine itself offers up pear, apple and citrus flavours, with hints of ginger, honeysuckle and almond coming through the nose. With this in mind, sweet treats are an obvious choice when pairing food. Fruit-based desserts like apple pie and peach cobbler are ideal, although a simple bowl of fresh berries can be just as good. Moscato is your best friend during grazing courses, with light cheeses, aperitifs and antipasto plates all pairing excellently. And when it’s time to choose mains, spicy Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese or Korean are your best bet.