The Oxford Wine Companion suggests that Muscat is one of the few grape varieties that gives us wines 'that actually taste of grapes'. For this reason, perhaps, Muscat connotes fruity wine styles as much as it does strong historical connections. These binds to the past are likely due as much to a lack of winemaking proficiency in days of yore, necessary to tame more obdurate and less obviously fruity grape varieties, as they are to Muscat's hedonistic perfume and sheer deliciousness.
After all, Muscat Hamburg, Muscat of Alexandria and Muscat Ottonel are names suggestive of ancient times. Clearly, Muscat was as enjoyable then as it is now, with Pliny the Elder referring to the variety as the 'grape of the bees'.
These different strains of Muscat manifest as berries of different size and hue, yet all are strongly reminiscent of honeysuckle and an intoxicating floral note due to the abundance of flavour precursors known as monoterpenes. It is Muscat Blanc á Petit Grains, however, that is the oldest and most noble strain, producing wines of intensity across dry, sweet, lightly spritzy and fortified wine styles, particularly prominent in and around the Mediterranean. It is known as Moscato in Italy, and Moscatel throughout Iberia.
Muscat's varied expressions include the low-alcohol and frothy Moscato d'Asti and Asti Spumante, the increasingly popular dry Muscats of the Languedoc and parts of the Roussillon, and arguably the most famous manifestation of all, the fortified Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. Muscat is also ubiquitous throughout Greece, Morocco, Corsica, Sardinia and Sardinia.
In Australia's Rutherglen, a brown strain of Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains is aged oxidatively after being muted with neutral spirit before, or just after fermentation begins. A quasi solera-like blending system, sans temperature control, imbues these wines with a textural complexity as compelling as any wine in the world. They are bottled ready to drink and do not change perceivably with bottle age. Conversely, the time they have spent sitting in oak and the age of the blended material dictates their quality and price, across four tiers: Rutherglen Muscat, Classic, Grand and finally, Rare.