Renowned for their sweet profile of orange blossom, nectarine and peaches, Moscato wines have been gaining steady popularity in recent years. In fact, Moscato d’Asti is among the most popular sparkling wine amongst younger crowds. Once considered a cheaper alternative, Moscato is the perfect match for wine lovers looking for lighter-bodied, sweeter wines with a slight fizz and delicate floral notes. Read on for our complete guide to the grapes, wines and flavors of the Moscato family.
Characteristics of Moscato Wine
The Moscato grape is a truly ancient grape variety, dating back to the Egyptian BC period. Today, there are dozens of different varieties of grapes scattered around the world, with an even larger amount of wines made from them. That’s why it’s quite hard to give a general characteristic of ‘Moscato’. That said, there are some common characteristics:
- Moscato wines tend to feature a light fizz and a delicate sweetness
The natural sweetness of the grape, combined with a wine production that includes stopping the fermentation process early, produces wines with a significant content of residual sugar. Its for this reason that Moscato wines are very popular as dessert wines.
- Moscato wines pair amazingly with food
It’s no secret that Moscato can work wonders with carefully selected dishes, especially ones that involve aperitivos at the table or light seafood dishes. And of course, pairing Moscato with cheese is the stuff that dreams are made of!
- Low, light and fresh
Moscato wines tend to have a low alcohol content, a light palate and come at a reasonable price. You can also distinguish Moscato wines by their aroma – flora, spice, and honey.
The grapes range in color from green to dark red, and many Moscato wines you’d find on the shelf are blends of various different Moscato grapes. The oldest and most popular grape of the Moscato family is Moscato Bianco. This grape is only one of dozens of Moscato varieties, however.
Where Moscato is grown, too, affects the taste. Most Muscat wines come from Alsace in France, Piedmonte in Italy, the United States or Australia, but Portugal and Germany are also big on these wines.
‘Muscat’, I hear you say? Yes, that’s another confusing thing about these wines. Bear with us.
Is Muscat and Moscato the same thing?
Generally speaking, Muscat and Moscato is the same thing. You might also hear ‘Moscatel’. All of these names are just ways that different wine growing cultures have referred to the types of Muscat grapes that they grow. While there are variations in the specific grapes grown between countries, they all come from the ‘Muscat’ family of grapes. And each country will have their own way of naming their own variety.
The stories about where Muscat got its name are as numerous as the theories behind its origins. The general theory is that the name comes from the Persian word muchk, similar to the Greek word moskos / Latin muscus. Today, the Italian version of the word – mosca (fly) – is associated with the fruit flies that circle the grape.
Some go even further, associating Muscat grape with the city of Muscat on the Gulf of Oman, or with the Greek city of Moschato, southwest of Athens. Who knows? Let’s take an aside here to delve into where the grape itself originated from.
What does Moscato taste like?
The main flavors of Moscato are stone fruits: think apricots, mandarines, nectarines and orange. This does vary between grapes and wines, but the stone fruit taste profile applies as at least a backdrop in most Moscato wines.
How to serve & drink Moscato
Moscato wine is best served chilled – almost always. An hour in the fridge and you’re good to go, baby. You’re aiming for 42-45 F, to be served in a standard white wine glass, or, if you’re serving a sparkling Moscato (such as Moscato d’Asti), use a champagne flute for optimum classiness.
How much alcohol is in Moscato?
The alcohol content of Moscato varies greatly, but you can expect a generally low alcohol content of 5-7% ABV. A dessert wine like Muscat Ottonel can reach 12 – 13% ABV – and even stronger Moscato, such as Moscatel de Setúbal, can be up to 18% ABV!
Moscato Technical Info
Use the guide below as simply that: a guide. The Muscat grape is too vast in its scope to characterize in a few headers.
|Sweetness||medium sweet to very sweet|
|Acidity||low to medium|
|Alcohol||low: 5-10% ABV|
|Fruit||ripe peaches, orange and citrus fruit, tropical fruit|
|Aroma||lush fruitiness and pleasant, lingering finish|
|Residual sugar||70–130 g/L depending on the vintage character|
The Main Types of Moscato Wine
My favorite Moscato wine comes is actually a red Moscato, and it comes from the town of Montepulciano, in Italy. Here, winemakers age red Moscato using the same techniques as they use for the Montepulciano grape in Abruzzo. These wines boast a deeper color, a medium to full body, and are jam-packed full of notes of fruit, chocolate and vanilla.
Moscato d’Asti, on the other hand, is the most popular Moscato wine. This ‘queen of Muscat’ is a semi-sparkling white wine with an earthy aroma, from a DOCG regulated town in Piedmonte, in northern Italy. The sweet, sophisticated flavor and low alcohol level of Moscato d’Asti makes it a perfectly balanced dessert wine, which works equally well as an aperitivo.
Another Moscato wine that stands out is Moscato Rosa, sometimes known as Pink Moscato. Perhaps the sweetest one of them all, this is a very light wine with a strong flowery aroma, replete with raspberry and strawberry notes.
The characteristics of Moscato Rosa vary from region to region, but it tends to be a still or lightly-sparkling sweeter wine, with a fairly low alcohol content.
Here are the 5 main types of Moscato wine:
1. Moscato d’Asti
Proud owner of a top DOCG classification in Italy, Moscato d’Asti is a delightful semi-sparkling white wine. It’s produced in small wineries in the northwest region of Piedmont, in Italy.
Made from the Moscato Bianco grape, this sweet wine reveals an earthy aroma, a low level of alcohol and an absolutely superb flavour.
Its typically served as light-bodied dessert wine of straw yellow color, evoking notes of ripe peach, pear, and honeysuckle to the palate. Its an ideally balanced and lightly sparkled wine, and we can’t get enough of it!
MORE WINE: Click to find out more, including the difference between Moscato and Moscato d’Asti!
2. Moscato Rosa (Pink Muscat)
Moscato Rosa, often referred to as Pink Muscat, is a delicious and sexy medium-sweet to sweet wine with low alcohol content. It’s often compared to Champagne.
The grape from Moscato Rosa are mainly grown in north-eastern Italy, but they can also be found in other parts of Europe, the US and Australia. Moscato Rosa will be either a still or a lightly-sparkling dessert wine, with a salmon pink hue and a pleasant bubbly finish.
It has a fruity flavour of red berries, peaches and apricots, and an intense aroma of jasmine, oranges and sweet pomegranate.
3. Black (Red) Moscato
Red Moscato, more commonly known as Black Muscat, is actually quite a rare grape. Featuring the classic Moscato flavor profile and aroma, its essence is a delightful combination of ripe peaches, wild fresh berries and cherries. To get a feel for its exclusive taste and flavor, your best bet is to imagine black Ceylon tea – but with the smell of roses!
4. Brown Muskat
This is a unique, dark-hued distant relation of Moscato Bianco, mainly used for the production of a fortified dessert wine in Australia. Locally, Brown Muskat is also known as liquor Muscat. It’s produced from Muscat à Petits Grains Rouge grapes. As a fortified wine, it is highly alcoholic, sweet and – you guessed it – dark.
5. Moscatel de Setúbal
Moscatel de Setúbal from Portugal is typically produced in two major regions of the country – Setúbal and the Douro Valley. Similarly to Port, Moscatel de Setúbal wine ages in wood barrels before being bottled. It can be made from single vintage grapes or as a blend of several vintages.
The wine is fortified, well-balanced, has a high degree of sweetness and rich fruity flavors of apricot, melon and tangerine with notes of caramel and raisin.
MORE WINE: Interested in Portuguese wine? Check out our guide to the wines of Setúbal!
Types of Moscato Grape
Now that we’ve covered some of the different wines that are made with Moscato grapes, let’s move to the grapes themselves.
As you can probably tell by now, Moscato grapes appear in a staggering amount of varieties. We can’t cover the whole family tree in this article, but here are some of the main ones:
1. Muscat Blanc
Muscat Blanc, also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains or Moscato Bianco, is a white grape variety. It’s the Moscato grape that most winemakers grow and love, and the one used to make Moscato d’Asti as well as many other Moscato whites and blends.
This variety originated in Greece, but is now grown all over the world: Italy, France, the US, Austria, Germany and Australia all have sizeable populations of Muscat Blanc vines.
2. Muscat of Alexandria
Muscat of Alexandria is a white wine grape, as is Muscat Blanc. You may guess from its name, but it was the Ancient Egyptians who first grew this wine. As legend has it, Cleopatra herself drank Muscat wine made from this grape…
The last time Muscat of Alexandria was modified seems to have been in 2000 BC. This makes it one of the most ancient grapes, even in Moscato terms.
Alexandria grows best in very warm climates, and is only really produced in very hot places. You’ll find Muscat of Alexandria vineyards in Lemnos, Greece, in Calabria and Sicily in Italy – where it is known as Zibibbo – and on the south coast of Spain. Some vineyards also grow it on the Canary Islands, Australia and South Africa. A scorching hot grape!
3. Orange Muscat
Orange Muscat has several names, including Fleur d’Orange(r) in France and Moscato Fior d’Arancio in Italy. Both names refer to the orange blossom of the vines rather than the color of the grapes. But despite this grape having French and Italian names and growing in France and Italy (specifically the Veneto province), Orange Muscat is most common in Oregon and California. The American vineyards growing Orange Muscat cultivate older vines imported from France.
Orange Muscat comes from a successful crossing of Muscat Blanc and Chasselas. While it can be made into a sweet wine, Orange Muscat can also be a dry table wine. However, regardless of the sweetness level, this wine has a strong aroma of – you guessed it! – oranges.
4. Moscato Giallo
Moscato Giallo. Yellow Muscat. The Italian version of Muscat Blanc. Although the two grapes are not the same, however, the characteristics are very similar. The deep-yellow Giallo grape grows in the north of Italy, as well as in Croatia, where it’s called Muškat žuti. It works best for very sweet passito dessert wines (you can read more about these in our guide to Italian dessert wines)
5. Muscat Hamburg
Muscat Hamburg, also known as Black Muscat from the wine it produces, is the darkest grape of the Moscato family. Other names include Golden Hamburg, Black Hamburg, Muscat de Hambourg and Moscato di Amburgo. Deep-red in color, Muscat Hamburg is a 19th century crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Schiava Grossa. Its typically a lighter table wine, but some Californian and French wineries use the grape to make an aromatic dessert wine.
The grape grows easily in most climates, and you can find it across the globe. Muscat Hamburg is grown from California to Washington, from Canada to Hungary, and even in China, where it’s becoming increasingly popular.
Interestingly, about a hundred years ago, Muscat Hamburg was crossed with a grape called Raboso Piave, creating the rare Moscato variety Manzoni Moscato.
6. Muscat Ottonel
Muscat Ottonel is the palest grape variety of the Moscato family. It differs significantly from other Moscato grapes in taste and residual sugar, as it is the earliest in the family to ripen.
Wines made from Muscat Ottonel are more flavorsome and feature a well-balanced sweetness. They offer a gentle aroma, a low acidity and a low amount of alcohol.
These wines are probably most delicious to enjoy on their own, but a pairing with dessert would not go amiss either.
7. Muscatel Roxo
Muscatel Roxo, or Muscat Rose à Petits Grains, is actually a pinkish variety of Muscat Blanc grapes. There’s quite some confusion (no surprise) around the name of this grape.
We won’t get into it, but its often compared or mistaken with Moscato Rosa, which, as we already know, is a different type of wine
Moscatel Roxo is the primary grape in Moscatel de Setúbal, a fortified Moscato wine from the Setúbal wine region in Portugal. It’s also used in the famous Muscat d’Alsace – the French Moscato blend of Muscat Blanc, Muscat Ottonel and Moscatel Roxo.
New World vs. Old World Moscato
Being versatile, Moscato grapes grow in many wine regions and in various climates all over the globe. They’re very popular in Italy, Portugal, the Alsace/Elsass region by the French-German border, as well as in the United States and Australia.
Due to actual climate differences, Old World Moscato tends to be more restrained, with a lighter body and a lower alcohol content. In general, the wineries in the Old World also tend to have more restrictions and regulations to follow. They are therefore considered more expensive and ‘traditional’, but, in real terms, have less potential to develop into something new and exciting.
It’s therefore no surprise that New World Moscato is characterized equally as varied, pioneering and more ‘interesting’. It also grows in hotter climates and has a fuller body, higher alcohol content, and bolder fruit flavor.
Still, sparkling and dessert: three styles of Moscato
Apart from the grape variety, there are three production style that can be used to differentiate Moscato wine. These are sparkling Moscato, still Moscato and dessert Moscato. They often overlap, but trust me – this is the easiest way to keep all the varieties apart.
Sparkling Moscato, often called spumante (sparkling) or frizzante (semi-sparkling), is typically made from Muscat Blanc grapes, and usually in the Asti Province of Italy. Sparkling Moscato has a sweet bubbly finish and intense aroma, with a low alcohol level – approx. 5-6% ABV. The sweetness of these wines (they are sweeter than ‘still’ Moscato wines) is balanced by their light mineral touch and mild acidity.
Made from Muscat Blanc or close variations, such as Muscat of Alexandria, ‘still’ Moscato wines have a higher alcohol content than most other Muscat grape wines. At their highest, their can reach 12% ABV unfortified.
These wines are characterized by a sweet fruity aroma and a semi-sweet flavor. Some great non-sparkling Moscato wines to try would be Spanish Moscatel, or the Austrian Muskateller.
Dessert Moscato is usually made from the sweetest Muscat, grapes such as Muscat of Alexandria or Orange Muscat. Unlike still and sparkling Moscato, these wines usually respond well to ageing in oak barrels.
You’ll find that the best dessert Moscato wines come from Southern France and Spain, the US (California in particular) and Australia. These wines are characterized by a low alcohol content, a palette of nectarine and honeysuckle flavor, and a lot of sweetness. Among the finest Moscato dessert wines you should try is the exceptional Moscatel de Setúbal from Portugal – a rare specimen!
The Best Moscato Wines
Now that we’ve covered the history, characteristics, styles, wines and varieties, its time to recommend some seriously good Moscato wines. Below are 6 of our favourite Moscato wines:
1. G. D. Vajra Moscato d’Asti
This classic Italian Moscato d’Asti has a beautifully fizzy taste and a fantastic fragrancy. It has those classic Moscato notes of lychee, ripe pears, gentle rose petals and honeysuckle, which we just can’t get enough of. This is no surprise, really – G. D. Vajra is among the most respectable producers of Moscato d’Asti wine in Piedmont. The winery is famous for its long history, incredible farming practices and nicely crafted bottles. And this one is not too expensive!
2. Saracco Moscato d’Asti
We had to put another Asti in here because, well, why not! An alternative to the G. D. Vajra is Saracco Moscato d’Asti, with its fresh fruit explosion of juicy peaches, pears and berries. It comes directly from the Moscato d’Asti DOCG and has a long, lingering aftertaste that will really open up your senses to the flavors of this classic grape.
3. Sutter Home Moscato
Sutter Home Moscato is a cheap alternative which works well as a beginner’s sweet wine. Its sweet taste and balanced acidity also make it an easy pairing with salads or desserts. It’s on the cheaper scale of wines on the market – Just like the white zinfandel that was first invented by Sutter Homes.
A similar wine to this would be Skinnygirl Moscato. Sweet and packed full of stone fruit flavors, it’s joyful, easy to drink on its own and easy to pair with light snacks. The alcohol level of these wines is considerably low, which makes them a particularly good choice for those that are new to the magic powers of wine.
The Sant’Orsola winery in Piedmont offers a splendid combination of frizzante and spumante winemaking styles.
Their spumante Moscato has great floral notes of honeysuckle, white blossoms and floral petals, while the ‘still’ Moscato reveals notes of citrus, one of the classic Moscato tropes.
This delicate wine pairs really well with aperitifs and creamy, fruity desserts. It can definitely mark a pleasant start (or an interesting finish) to a warm summer’s evening.
5. Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato
Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato is produced in the Yarra Valley in Victoria, southern Australia. This wine has a pale pink color and lovely flavors of citrus fruits, apples and berries. Like the Sant’Orsola offerings, it features a low alcohol content of 5.5%.
6. Trimbach Muscat Reserve
Trimbach Muscat Reserve comes from France’s Alsace region. It’s a dry and highly aromatic wine, with a significantly higher alcohol per volume – the label lists 12.5%, which is as high as Moscato wines get.
This wine has darker fruit flavors than the typical stone fruit palette: tangerine, grapefruit, and apples, as well as an aroma of gentle white flowers on account of the oaking, are the main players. It pairs beautifully with paté or soft cheeses, as well as with Pad Thai(!).
The Trimbach is somewhat similar in taste to other wines from the Alsace region, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer. I’ll let you in on a secret: this is one of my personal favourites to enjoy as an aperitivo.
Moscato Food Pairings: Beginning and the End
Because it makes such easily drinkable table and dessert wines, the Moscato family is adaptable to a wide range of different combos and food pairing experiments.
There are some basic principles, though. Becuase Moscato wines are typically on the sweeter end of the spectrum, and also quite light, they’re ideal with foods at the beginning and the end of your meal. This is aperitivos (light, fun, not too heavy) and desserts (sweet!).
Therefore, serve your Moscato of choice alongside seafood, light meats, spicy and aromatic Asian meals, fruit and cheese platters, fruit tarts, creamy desserts, and whatever else you like to have at the beginning and end of your meal.
Moscato Wine with Cheese
The best food to pair with Moscato is cheese. And the best Moscato cheese pairing is… well, you’ll have to find out for yourself!
Moscato and cheese is a classic combo, but it’s not without its finesses. Our tip is to go for a French chèvre or another creamy goat’s cheese at the end of your dinner. Cheeses with sharp flavours and pungent aroma should be avoided; you rather want to go for light and fresh cheeses such as soft goat’s cheese, brie, crescenza or gorgonzola. These cheeses make a good match with the sweet hints of apricot and peach characteristic of Moscato wines. Another good idea is to add fresh figs and nuts, which will bring out some of the more complex Moscato aromas.
Moscato Wine with Desserts
Sparkly Moscato is great on its own, but when paired with the right desserts. It’s another league. Among the best combinations are a generous serving of Italian tiramisu, a peach tart or a warm berry pie.
Moscato Wine with Spicy Food
The sweet lull of Moscato wines and their low-to-moderate acidity make them really good pairings for spicy food and cured meat dishes. This is because the high salt or capsicum (spice) content of these dishes can do the dance with the sweetness of the Moscato wine. Lots of Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese meals will go well with Moscato wines.
On the one hand, the dense aroma of these regional dishes balances the sweetness of Moscato; which, on the other, balances out the spiciness of herbs like ginger, five-spice, peppercorns and cinnamon.
Alternatives to Moscato Wine
Moscato wines differ from other wines in three main aspects – their aromas, their tendencies to be fizzy and their low alcohol content. However, there are several possible and suitable alternatives to this wine of endless alternatives.
Pinot Grigio is a natural contender to Moscato, due to its intense aromatics and medium-bodied complexion. While Pinot Grigio is produced at varying levels of sweetness, the Pinot Grigio grown in Alsace, France, really competes with Moscato as a sweet, refreshing wine to be enjoyed on a deep summer’s evening.
MORE WINE: See our sommelier’s guide to the difference between Moscato and Pinot Grigio.
Riesling is another great alternative to Moscato. It features a light to medium body, high acidity, 8-9% ABV and that famous aroma of nectarines, peaches, jasmine and green apples. Riesling wines pair perfectly with medium-spiced Asian dishes, seafood and light chicken dishes.
DISCOVER: Do you want to know the difference between Moscato and Riesling?
Prosecco is the most famous sparkling Italian white under DOC and DOCG rules. It comes from the north-eastern part of the country – more specifically from the Veneto province and the Valdobbiadene region. This semi-sweet wine has an alcohol content around 10-11%, which is higher than most Moscato wines but lower than most whites. Prosecco is served chilled and usually drunk young. However, it can also be aged for up to seven years, which tends to make it more exclusive.
Prosecco has intense aromas of pear, peach and apricot. It’s fresh and light, and pairs naturally with antipasti and cured meats.
An interesting fact is that, since 2020, the strict DOC rules relaxed somewhat to allow a Prosecco in a rosé variety, where the Prosecco grape is blended with up to 15% Pinot Noir. Cool, eh?
Traditionally produced in the foothills of the Alps, Gewürztraminer is a pink grape similar to Pinot Grigio, which grows in cooler climates and is known for its intense floral aroma. Today, this grape variety is very popular in Hungary and Romania, in Slovenia, Croatia and France. It’s so similar to Moscato, that some even say that Gewürztraminer is its grown-up cousin!
You’re best off enjoying Gewürztraminer wine young and chilled. It pairs well with Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes, dried fruits and nuts, has a higher alcohol content and a lower acidity than Moscato.