Features

Next wine to toast: Moscato

The winds of fashion blow unpredictably in the wine world. The sudden emergence of a newly “discovered” varietal wine is rarely if ever anticipated.

It happened with merlot after a “60 Minutes” story on the French Paradox. It happened with pinot noir after the unexpected popularity of the film “Sideways.”

And now, for no obvious media-related reason, the new next big thing is moscato.

Why moscato? For one thing, it hits all the right bells for young consumers. It is low in alcohol, slightly sweet and pleasantly sparkling. It is both festive and affordable.

And it’s new – not something your parents ever drank.

When big corporate brands begin pushing a seemingly obscure grape, you can bet that they are seeing an emerging sales trend.

The Columbia Crest 2010 Grand Estates Moscato is one good example. Joining it on your supermarket shelves are newly minted moscatos from Yellow Tail, Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Barefoot Cellars and Coastal Ridge.

They are priced from $7 to $12 and generally are fairly sweet. The Yellow Tail is surprisingly pleasant, spritzy and fresh, sealed with a screw cap, and priced at just $7.

Nonsparkling muscat has been a tasting room fixture in Washington state for decades. Though bottled under different names that reflect various types of muscat (orange muscat, black muscat, muscat Canelli, muscat Ottonel, etc.), by and large these still wines are off-dry and fruity, with a big burst of orange and citrus. They are best drunk chilled, and perfect for hot weather.

The sweetest muscat dessert wines are often spendy but can be spectacular. One of my Northwest favorites over the years has been the Sweet Rebecca from Thurston Wolfe.

Upland Estates – a relatively new winery headquartered in the Snipes Mountain AVA – makes a lovely late- harvest muscat from the oldest bearing grapevines in Washington, planted in 1917.

More than a few wineries are beginning to turn out dry muscats. Barnard Griffin’s 2009 Orange Muscat ($17) offers a mouthful of orange fruit and orange rind flavor, with lemony highlights and impressive power. It resonates from start to finish, adding notes of herbal tea and orange liqueur as it rolls through a long finish.

Locati Cellars also has a 2009 Dry Orange Muscat, this one from Lonesome Spring Ranch. Watermill makes a dry Muscat Cannelli. Hyatt’s 2009 Black Muscat ($10) is done in a rosé style with unusual length and focus. Chill this wine and drink it as an apéritif.

A perennial favorite here in Spokane is Latah Creek’s Moscato D’Latah ($15), an aromatic and appealing wine that perfectly captures the pretty orange peel and citrus scents of the grape. In the mouth it’s sweet but buoyed by bright acids, the fruit clean and layered, bringing in streaks of cinnamon, honey, vanilla and tea as it rolls into a satisfying finish.

Latah Creek also produces a Muscat Canelli ($11). Floral and off-dry, it’s finished at just 10.5 percent alcohol and 4 percent residual sugar – a perfectly balanced and harmonious expression of the pretty orange blossom scents of the grape, with excellent fruit concentration and length in the mouth. Match it to moderately spicy Thai or Szechwan dishes.

Oregon produces numerous muscats both still and sparkling. My favorites include Abacela Early Muscat, South Stage Cellars Early Muscat, Del Rio Vineyard Early Muscat, Foris “Cuckoo’s Nest” Frizzante, Willamette Valley Vineyards Frizzante, Tualatin Estate Semi-sparkling Muscat and Silvan Ridge Early Muscat.

California’s big wineries offer some of the best deals on everyday Moscatos. Gallo’s Barefoot Cellars has a popular offering labeled Deliciously Sweet ($7).

Other pleasant and inexpensive California brands include Twisted ($8), Coastal Ridge ($8), Redtree ($8) and Little Black Dress ($11). Most are on the sweeter side, which means lower alcohol, but don’t expect the snappy acidity of Washington muscats.

Leaving muscat aside, recent tastings have turned up three fascinating white wines that (sadly) occupy the all-too-neglected end of the popularity spectrum. Be an explorer and try them – these are all great wines.

Dowsett Family 2010 Celilo Vineyard Gewurztraminer ($22): Chris Dowsett makes just a single Gewurztraminer each year, always from Celilo vineyard vines planted in 1982. If you love searing acidity married to varietal spice, rose petals, lemons, grapefruit, star fruit and gooseberries, you are in for a treat.

L’Ecole No 41 2010 Chenin Blanc ($15): Wonderful as usual, this stellar Chenin Blanc, from 30-year-old old vines at two different Yakima valley sites, is dense, ripe and complex – a riot of melon, citrus and peach, with juicy acidity and refreshing minerality.

Barrister 2010 Klipsun Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($19): This is a gorgeous wine, so good in fact it makes one wonder why it hasn’t become a superstar grape for Washington.

Lush tree fruits, preserved lemon, Satsuma orange, and highlights of honeysuckle and citrus oil keep the wine moving and changing. It simply fills the mouth with luscious flavor.

Paul Gregutt is a freelance wine writer based in Washington state. His column appears in The Spokesman-Review on the last Wednesday of each month. He can be reached at paulgwine@me.com. Visit paulgregutt.com for Gregutt’s daily blog and other commentary.


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