Monday, April 30, 2007

Wine 101 - Muscat Canelli

The first mention of wine in modern literature occurred in the Book of Genesis’s story of Noah’s Ark. After the Ark landed on Mount Ararat, one of Noah’s first acts was to plant a vineyard. The most likely grape: a Muscat. Muscat is a group of similar grape varieties (200 in all) in which the most familiar are Muscat Ottonel, Muscat of Alexandria, and Muscat Canelli. It is thought that Muscat Canelli probably originated around the Mediterranean and it spread from there. The Greeks brought cuttings with them to the Crimea, the Romans and Phoenicians took it to Europe and event the Egyptians sent cuttings as far south as present day South Africa.

Today Muscat Canelli is cultivated throughout the world; it is known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (‘Muscat with small berries’) in France, Moscato di Canelli in Italy where it is used to make Asti Spumante and semi-sparkling Moscato d'Asti, Muskateller in Germany, and Muscat Lunel in Hungary. In the United States, Muscat Canelli is primarily grown on the west coast.

In Montana, Tom Campbell of Mission Mountain Winery was first introduced to the Muscat family of grapes at U. C. Davis as part of class work in their mother block of grape varieties. He was impressed with the plump sweet fragrant nature of the grapes and knew then that he had to make Muscat wines. While visiting other winery’s he determined that Muscat Canelli was his favorite Muscat varietal because of its flavor profile. And as a winemaker, he experimented with other Muscats such as Muscat of Alexander, Orange Muscat, and Muscat of Hamburg and always returned to Muscat Canelli. Currently Mission Mountain Winery offers two Muscat Canelli wines, a semi-sweet Muscat Canelli with 1.7% residual sugar, the Nouveaux Riche dessert wine with 10% residual sugar, and a Cream Sherry - Muscat Canelli fortified with brandy. For the past 21 years these wines have won medals at many national and international competitions. Since this grape is not a household name, sampling at the winery’s tasting room is the only chance people have to experience the variety; Mr. Campbell has observed that visitors generally love it or reject it.

In California, Mastantuono Winery has been producing Muscat Canelli for over two decades. Located in the Central Coast appellation, the winery is close to halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles and is the 5th oldest winery in San Luis Obispo County. Based on the owner’s Italian heritage, they take pride in their Muscat, calling it the “True Nectar of the Gods”. One of the main reasons the winery gives for producing Muscat Canelli is that it provides an important part of a balanced tasting list. Having several dessert wines is a good way to finish a wine tasting. This dessert wine displays fruity aromas with a slight taste of pears. The winery recommends pairing the wine with cheese and fruit. The only acceptance problem the winery encounters is that some Californian wine drinkers frown on sweet wine – so they ignore the dessert wines. It’s amazing to us how certain attitudes limit people’s enjoyment of some types of wine.

Farther east, in Oklahoma, Muscat Canelli has been a very successful wine for Tres Suenos Vineyards and Winery. They winery cultivates Muscat because it grows well in their climate and produces a fruity wine with honeysuckle characteristics. The winery opened 6 years ago and is located in Luther County – in the central part of the state. They produce a sweet 100% Muscat Canelli, Fiesta Blanca, which is both a Gold medal winner and their leading seller. They also blend with Riesling and Chenin Blanc to create a rose style Blush Delight.

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