As a wine noob in 2006, one of the first bottles I sampled was a Chenin blanc. I was expecting the fermented grape juice to taste somewhat like the fruit, but it felt more like tongue-searing acid. With time, I developed a palate for it, but I wanted to sample a wine with the slightest trace of grapes as we know them. In December, I came across an elegant white with distinct flavours of grapes at a wine tasting hosted by sommelier Gargi Kothari in Mumbai. It was Marina Alta Muscat d’Alexandrie from Spain; easy-drinking, low on acidity and spring fresh with aromatic notes of white flowers and the taste of crunchy, slightly unripe grapes.
Kothari explained that Muscat d’Alexandria (as it’s popularly known) belongs to the ancient Muscat family of grapes. In the world of vino, Muscat wines are the only ones known to produce grape-y bottles. At a blind tasting, Kothari says, it is easy to identify a Muscat because of the dominant flavour of grapes. For those looking to try something beyond the crowd-favourites, Sauvignon blanc and Riesling, a white made with Muscat will be an on-trend option. The Marina Alta Muscat d’Alexandrie is perfect for those new to wines; and intriguing for wine geeks because of the grape’s history with an origin that can be traced to 1200 AD.
A good story completes a drinking experience. At the wine tasting, Kothari said it’s believed that Cleopatra occasionally enjoyed a glass of Muscat d’Alexandria. It could be a wine for the future in a world transformed by climate change. Being drought resistant, it grows well in hot and arid regions, like Spain, south of France and parts of Italy. Grapes like these have weathered storms and adapted to survive the maladies brought on by climate change for centuries.
An episode on Muscats in the podcast Wine For Normal People highlights it as the “granddaddy” of wine grapes with about 200 varietals. In fact, Muscat d’Alexandria is a baby of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains—one of the more famous wines from this varietal—and a black grape from Sardinia in Greece named Axina a Tres Bias. There is another connection to the Mediterranean country. The podcast talks of French ampelographer Pierre Galley who identified Muscat as a Greek grape. Take a guess about the perfect cheese for this wine? It would be a nice, preferably unprocessed, feta. Muscat was introduced to Europe by Romans, and has now travelled to Australia, South Africa and America.
In fact, the fragrant grape is used in blended wines as well as spirits. Kothari says it goes into brandy and sherries in Spain and Pisco in Chile and Peru. In India, Vallonné makes a Muscat rich in floral aromas.
As winter makes way for spring, the light and refreshing white seems like the perfect bottle to mark the change in season. With its bouquet of gentle floral aromas, it’s a great choice as a welcome drink, and complements light cheeses and salads with a refreshing Mediterranean dressing.