"Working by Hand" (Winemaking)

Winemaking: Muscat At-A-Glance
Most common styles
Still, sweet, sparkling, fortified
Winemaker choices and option
Virtually all winemakers keep intervention to a minimum, preferring the resulting wines to be all about the purity of the fruit (low, if any skin contact, malolactic, etc.) Picking time is critical, based on anticipated usage and outcome.
Aging
Stainless steel, concrete, large oak (vats, foudres), small oak (older, though a few producers espouse new oak, especially for dessert and fortified styles)
Aging potential (yes/no). If “yes,” give range
Depends on style. Still dry version is best drunk young (1-3 years) while sweet styles have the potential to last a few years more. Sparkling wines should be enjoyed as quickly and as young as possible, while fortified versions have been known to age for
Presented solo or frequently blended with
Both. Most often, it is a mono-variety wine. At times, some blends are of multiple Muscats (Alexandria with Blanc being the most commonly paired). A little bit added to an otherwise milder white or rosé wine blend can “pop” the lift of aromatics, both fo

Leaving the wine must (grape pulp and solids) in contact with the skins before, during and/or after fermentation.

What it does

It “pops” the fruit character by extracting components from the skins that make the wine very opulent and flashy. The downside is that, over time, the wines often brown and oxidize (that is, age) more quickly and can ultimately seem more like sherry than still wine. 

Comment

Mild skin contact is often practiced with Muscat vinification to enhance its perfumed profile. The challenge in doing so is to mitigate pulling out too much tannin (phenolic bitterness) in the wine. One can get a sense of how much skin contact has been applied by quantifying the bitterness of the wine’s finish. The more bitter the finish, the longer the pre-fermentation skin contact time. Muscat is especially known for its inherently high phenolic bitterness, so managing skin contact is important.

What it does

Muscat is rarely blended except within the family, e.g., Muscat Blanc with Muscat Alexandria. For some wines, mostly white, vintners have been known to add a few percentage points of Muscat in a blended wine that is otherwise bland to pop the perfume and aromatics.


Comment

When deftly applied, both blending possibilities can be very effective and a best-practice for using the grape as a member of the choir rather than as a soloist.

The wood employed for most wine barrels, used for aging wine or actual fermentation in the barrel. Barrel decisions include the type of wood, the amount of toast (when the staves of the barrels are bent over an open flame), size (smaller = higher ratio of wood to wine = stronger oak influence) and the age of the barrels. 

What it does

  • Heavily toasted barrels impart more intense roasted flavors (caramel, molasses, toffee, coffee, and burnt sugar).
  • Oak bestows a waxy, velvety texture and can add a sweet buttercream flavor to the wine. 
  • New oak contributes much more flavor than older, previously used oak which, depending on the wine and the grapes, may be a better choice. 
  • Small (barrique-sized) barrel fermentation at warmer temperatures than those in stainless steel and over shorter increments of time also imparts a richer, smoother texture to the wine than one that is not fermented in barrel


Comment

Few would dispute that fortified or sweet Muscat does not like new oak; new wood generally is a buzzkill all over the variety’s flavors. For those that do employ oak, it is often large (foudres and vats), older and distinctly neutral in impact, the exception being when making late-harvested, botrytised or dessert styles where the use of smaller barriques, and otherwise semi-impactful oak, is a given.

Access to or selection of fruit can dictate style. For example, if you have exceptional Muscat Blanc, you may make a dessert wine (Rutherglen’s Muscats) or pure sparkling (read: Asti or Moscato d’Asti) wines. If the fruit is blander or less precise in flavors, it may be implemented for volume-driven Muscat wines (can you say Skinnygirl Moscato!) 

Comment

A winery or wine company will always have predetermined goals for what they want to do (from Barefoot to the aforementioned Skinnygirl) or be mandated by appellation law (France, Italy, etc., by region and DOP/AOP). Muscat and its resulting wines are very much in line with these choices, still, sparkling or otherwise.

Some grapes, most all white, are extremely versatile and capable of producing world-class wines in all styles from bone-dry to sparkling to intensely sweet. 


What it does

Targeting a sweetness level for the wine determines its style -- dry, off-dry, medium-sweet or sweet.


Comment

There are four basic levels of sweetness as modeled for wines and employed by Muscat: dry, off-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet. These play out across the spectrum of wines made globally, from dry ( Giallo, Ottonel and the occasional Alexandria), to off-dry (some Asti or Moscato d’ Asti are less sweet than others), to medium-sweet (many dessert wine styles), to sweet (almost all fortified examples of Muscat fit this category).