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Muscat Canelli

by David on December 1, 2009

This grape is a mysterious seductress! A dyed in the wool Cabernet drinker will melt at the first whiff of heady, floral Muscat Canelli.

Mysterious? It appears to be living under a number of assumed names. There are numerous grapes called Muscat, many of them redundant. Let’s talk about what it is before we address what it isn’t. In America, it’s usually called Muscat Blanc or Muscat Canelli. In France, it goes by Muscat a Petits Grains or Muscat de Frontignan. The Italians call it Moscato, whether Moscato Bianco, Moscato d’Asti, Moscato di Canelli or some other regional moniker.

A Grape with a Past

It’s the oldest cultivated grape in France, most likely brought to Frontignan, by the Romans. The official French name, Muscat a Petits Grains, is a mouthful but it’s also descriptive of the attribute that makes it the most distinctive of the Muscat family: it translate as “muscat with small berries”. Small berries are often more flavorful berries and the flavor intensity is what sets it apart from the garden variety Muscat Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel or Muscat Hamburg.

Its ancient origins make it particularly subject to mutation, which adds to the mystery. While it’s most often white, as various names imply, mutations may be pink, red or brown! And white Muscat, harvested in a very mature state may appear nicely bronzed!

Remarkable Perfume

Muscat Canelli is a survivor, no doubt, because few can resist its incredible perfume. The French have a term, musqué, to describe clones of other varieties with notable floral, muscat-like perfume. Expect stone fruit, lychee, orange blossom and a bit of spice.

Because of these characteristics, it lends itself to particularly well to sweet wines. If you’re a fan of the rich Muscat de Beaume de Venise of southern France or the delightful Moscato d’Asti of Northern Italy, you’ve been drinking Muscat Canelli! It also makes lovely, refreshing sparkling wine and is the grape of Asti Spumante. In fact, Muscat Canelli is the fourth most planted variety in Italy!

It’s early to bud in the spring and to harvest in the fall, so it’s no surprise that it does well in moderately warm, Mediterranean climates. Canelli is not particularly vigorous and is quite susceptible to poor fruit set and bunch rot. This makes is a great candidate for most parts of warm, dry California. It’s also grown in Australia and South Africa.

Dessert in a Glass!

Many a Muscat Canelli wine, including Goosecross Muscat Canelli, is so sweetly delicious it can be served in place of dessert. Light, low alcohol styles are delicious with fresh fruit, especially strawberries, peaches and apricots, and with fruit-based desserts: pies, tarts, strawberry cheesecake. Fortified Muscat, such as Beaume de Venise, is wonderful with richer desserts such as crème brûlée, grilled peaches with zabaglione, chocolate covered fruit, blue cheese and most any kind of nuts! Are you getting hungry? Cheers!

Common synonyms: Muscat Blanc; Muscat a petits grains; Moscato d’Asti; Muscat de Frontignan

More recipes, paired with wine

Flavor profile: orange blossom, lychee fruit, apricot, peach, grapey, spice
Weight: Table and sparkling wine: light  Fortified: full bodied

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