Muscat and Food Pairing

Ingredients and Styles

As one would surmise, different styles of Muscat demand different approaches to pairing with food. 


DRY TABLE WINES

My approach with these wines is a hybrid of the approaches I'd take with Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. The acidity of most dry Muscats is on the sharp side. That promises synergy with Asian food, as well as rich white meats, fowl, and charcuterie. Pairing local wines with local foods, Muscat Ottonel wines with the traditional foods of Alsace, Austria, and Central Europe works brilliantly. And, as you'd expect, many fish and shellfish dishes shine. 


SPARKLING WINES

Asti and Moscato d'Asti are great with food. Most of us think first of pairing them with desserts. Simple preparations of stone fruit or tree fruit (such as poached pears), served with or without a light sauce, are delightful with sweet sparkling wines. Lighter mousse- or yogurt-based desserts (Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and nuts—scrumptious!) can also pair well with these wines, especially if accompanied with fresh fruit. And going naked, serving perfectly ripe, unadorned fresh fruit (peaches, nectarines, cherries, and berries) is a great option. But these wines can also work with appetizers and main courses: they offer a savory foil to aromatic levels of heat, as in tandoori shrimp. 


LATE-HARVEST WINES 

Here, too, Muscat's fresh and lively personality calls out for white stone fruit – peaches, apricots, and nectarines. With botrytized wines, the dessert can include honey, vanilla, and more texture. The rich, creamy texture of a custard or mousse can handle richer wines, including wood-aged examples. Though I am not a huge fan of white chocolate, it pairs very well with this genre of Muscat wines. 


FORTIFIED WINES

High in body and alcohol, these interpretations can overwhelm lighter desserts. Recipes based on reconstituted dried fruit (dried apricots poached in wine, or a tea-leaf-scented compote of dried apples, pears, and prunes) work well. Nut- and caramel-based desserts pair nicely with aged, fortified wines (especially Muscat sherry and Málaga) and with many liqueur Muscats from Australia. Accenting with a little chocolate (bitter is best unless the wine is very sweet) helps to bring out the wine's rainbow of flavors.

Wine Style Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking methods
Dry Table Wines Fish and shellfish
Cashews, ginger
Peanut, hoisin or sweet soy sauces
Rich poultry (duck)
Pork, veal
A wide range of cheeses
Asian-edged dishes with a bit of sweetness (don't overdo the sweet!) thanks to a peanut or sweet soy sauce
Add a little heat with a bit of ginger, but, again, don’t overdo
Simply-prepared veal
Roasting rich poultry, such as duck
meats
Sparkling Wines Prosciutto
Seafood, such as shrimp
Stone and tree fruit
Lighter dairy, such a yogurt
Tropical fruit
Combine salt and sweet for melon and prosciutto
In savory dishes, make sure there is a bit of sweet, such as coconut, or implied sweetness as in shrimp
Cold smoked ham served with fruit
Serve fruit plain (uncooked)
Light grilling or poaching fruit
Lighter mousse, gelées or yogurt-based desserts
Desserts featuring tropical fruit
Late-harvest Wines Fruit, especially white stone fruit
Richer, heavier dairy
White chocolate
Nuts., brown sugar, oats
Use slightly heavier, richer dairy e.g. heavy cream and fresh fruit cheesecake
Concentrate the fruit by cooking it in the oven (e.g. a cobbler) or reducing it, as in a compote
Fortified Wines Dried fruit
Nuts
Caramel, toffee
Bitter chocolate
Bananas
Blue cheeses - from mild to pungent
Add nuts, caramel to tortes, Reconstitute dried fruit to use as a base
Keep the chocolate in check -- make it a bit player and make sure it is less sweet than the wine
Go local: pair the local wine with the local blue cheese

Methods of Cooking

Wine Profile

Aromatic, rose-scented, some phenolic bitterness, dry to off-dry, tangy, with a lot of fruit ranging from nectarines to stone fruits


Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Bone dry examples pair well with a blanquette de veau roasted duck, or fowl with wild rice.. If there is a little sweetness, peanut, hoisin or sweet soy sauces are a bridge to more Asian-styled dishes. The wines can also take a little heat, so adding a bit of ginger or chili to a dish makes for a fine pairing. And always a winner: the local wine with the local dish. Avoid preparing dishes with a lot of heat or sweetness, even if they are savory.

Wine Profile

Dry to off-dry, effervescent, grapey 


Cooking Methods and Ingredients 

These sparkling Muscats are usually found with desserts -- simply prepared fruit or lighter dairy preparations.  Some popular examples: a light custard topped with tropical fruit, poached pears, Greek yogurt with honey and nuts. Though mostly served with desserts, the plain fruit theme works well in a savory dish, such as prosciutto and melon, which features salt and sweet. When served with a savory dish, make sure there is a bit of sweet, even if implied, as in tandoori shrimp.

Wine Profile

Off-dry to medium-sweet, round, smooth, with both fruit and floral notes


Cooking Methods and Ingredients

This richer wine needs more concentrated flavors, so on the fruit front think cobblers, tarts, and cheesecake for the dairy dessert. An exception to the cooked fruit “rule”: fresh strawberries and cream!

Wine Profile

Full-bodied, high in alcohol, round, smooth with deep rich flavors of wildflowers, prunes, raisins marzipan, nougat, hard candy


Cooking Methods and Ingredients

Echo the nut, caramel, dried fruit flavors often found in these wines in the desserts, such as in a nut torte or bananas with a caramel sauce. As the wines are quite intense, they can clash with dessert. Enjoying them solo or with some nut cookies is easy and delicious. For those who prefer a more savory dessert, pair the wine with the blue cheese of its home region, such as Moscato di Pantelleria with gorgonzola.

Pairing Pointers

Muscat pairs well: 

DRY TABLE WINES 

  • Asian-edged dishes, especially vegetables, chicken, fish, or shellfish. Try dry Muscats with a stir-fry of chicken, cashews, and crunchy vegetables, or deep-fried prawns with ginger and garlic. A bit of sweetness—from peanut, hoisin, or sweet soy sauce-pairs nicely, without making the wine seem sour. 
  • Rich white meats and poultry. One of my favorite pairings with dry Alsace Muscat is classic French blanquette de veau. A simple roast duck served with the starch and vegetables of your choice is another great option. 
  • Lots of cheeses. Nominally dry Muscats can often border on the sweet (as with the vendage tardive style). These are among the most versatile of wines with a large range of cheeses.

SPARKLING WINES 

  • Fresh summer fruit. At a picnic, a backyard barbecue, or the kitchen table, a glass of fizzy Muscat with grilled peaches or prosciutto and melon is sublime. 
  • Light mousses and gelées: A buttermilk tart with berries and a bowl of whipped, vanilla-scented mascarpone cheese with a drizzle of berry purée are excellent ways to show off a sparkling Muscat. Floating a few strawberries in a slightly sweet fruit gelatin is perfect with a Moscato d'Asti. 
  • Tropical fruit. Muscat has a natural affinity for exotic tropical fruit, particularly mango, lychee, and rambutan. Serving those fruits with Asian black sticky rice is a great match with Asti Spumante, or you can pair them with a panna cotta or light custard. 

LATE-HARVEST WINES 

  • Fresh fruit and cream. The renowned wine-and-food pairing pro Fiona Beckett is a staunch proponent of strawberries and cream served with Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, and indeed the wine and food create a wonderful synergy. If you don't want a wine quite as rich and heady, this dessert is equally lovely with a Muscat de Lunel or Muscat de Rivesaltes. 
  • Cheesecake. I've played with this pairing quite a bit, and with the exception of dense chocolate cheesecakes, it is phenomenal! Dense New York-style cheesecake works well, because you can change the accompanying sauces or serve it on its own and make lots of people happy. Try some of the more edgy flavors—from pumpkin to lemon ricotta to dulce de leche – for a little daring with your pairing. 
  • Fruit crisps and cobblers. These desserts provide a nice balance between the fruit flavors and the added complexity of the nuts, brown sugar, oats, and other ingredients in the toppings. Peaches are my favorite, but many fruits work well. 

FORTIFIED WINES 

  • Nuts, caramel, and a nuance of chocolate. Many of these wines have some degree of toasted and roasted-nut character and a more pronounced toffee or caramel character. Rich tortes that include those ingredients are generally quite successful matches, and these wines can also stand up to some chocolate. Rich and flavorful desserts. Serve a liqueur Muscat with butterscotch pudding or sautéed bananas drizzled with warm caramel sauce and toasted almonds for a truly decadent dessert course. 
  • Blue cheeses, from mild to pungent. Pairing local wines with local cheeses works well here: Moscato di Pantelleria with Gorgonzola, Muscat sherry and Málaga with Spanish Cabrales, and Beaumes de Venise with a Bleu d'Auvergne.


Muscat does not pair well: 

DRY TABLE WINES 

  • Sweet foods: any savory dish with a distinctively sweet component will kick the stuffing out of the wine and compromise your enjoyment. 
  • Overly spicy dishes: a little heat is nice to set off this wine's fruit, especially if the wine verges on the sweet anyway, but if the dish is too hot, the wine's charm will be destroyed. Avoid spicy salsas and hot sauces unless the wine is borderline sweet; even then, be careful. 
  • Rich red meats: while these wines pair beautifully with pork and veal, they have a far more difficult time with lamb loins and rib-eye steaks.


SPARKLING WINES 

  • Many savory items: though the drier versions can pair well with combinations of salt and sweet (such as prosciutto and melon), most lean toward the sweet and taste out of place when matched with main courses that have no sweetness at all. 
  • Heavy desserts: though their effervescence can refresh the palate and cut richness, these wines are easily trampled by dense buttercreams and thick custards. 
  • Chocolate: Ouch! But you might get away with fresh fruit served with a tiny accent of chocolate. 


LATE-HARVEST WINES 

  • Very light desserts: the wine's rich character and assertive personality can dominate lighter and simpler desserts. They won't taste bad; they'll just be weighed down. 
  • Many savory dishes: though you can find some good matches if you work hard, most often pairing these wines with entrée dishes is challenging.
  • Simple, fresh fruit: this pairing can sometimes work; some fresher tasting wines can mirror the flavors of fresh fruit wonderfully. Others, especially those that have been aged in wood, need more complex treatments of fruit-tarts, compotes, cobblers, clafoutis, and similar dishes. 


FORTIFIED WINES 

  • Many desserts: this category requires thoughtful pairing with sweet dishes. Because the wines tend to be alcoholic, fiery, and intense, they can dominate or clash with many desserts. I'd avoid fresh fruits, simple tarts, and basic poached fruit, for example. I often drink these types of wines by themselves or enjoy them with good conversation and a token cookie or two, or a plate of cheese. 
  • Most savory dishes. I'm still looking for a consistently reliable pairing to recommend.