When not shriveled to raisiny extremes, Moscato Bianco is remarkable, in that it delivers a wine that actually tastes of grapes: its intense and highly characteristic aroma and flavor profiles are such that the grape variety used to make the wine is virtually unmistakable. In contrast to Moscato Giallo and Moscato di Alessandria, the other two most important white-berried Moscato varieties, it is capable of producing both dry and off-dry wines with real finesse and an extremely pure, refined floral aroma that, though highly aromatic, is less spicy. If there is one weakness to Moscato Bianco, it is its relatively low acid levels; therefore, most of the wines made from it are best enjoyed young, though this is by no means an all-encompassing rule.
Moscato Bianco plays a dominant role in at least thirteen Italian DOC and DOCG wines. It is used to make wines in Italy's extreme north (Valle d'Aosta) and its deep south (Puglia, Sicily, and Sardinia). Though it is grown in every Italain region, it is mainly associated with Piedmont, where it was highly popular in the sixteenth century, expecially in the provinces of Asti, Alessandria, and Cuneo. The most important centers of production were Canelli and Santo Stefano Belbo. From these towns, Moscato Bianco vines were shipped everywhere. Moscato Bianco became so important for the local Piedmontese economy that the Consortium of Moscato d'Asti was formed in 1932, two years before Barolo's.
Asti production was well described by Croce in 1606, when his Moscato wine proved so successful that he was forced to write the procedure down for all to use...or accept that people he didn't know would continue to pop by his home asking how to go about it. Croce made his sweet wine by stopping ferrmentation with repeated filtrations and rackings. In 1865, Carlo Gancia imported the techniques he had learned in Champagne for performing secondary refermentation in the bottle and so, for a while, a Moscato "Champagne" wine was produced in Piedmont.
In Valle d'Aosta, the wonderful Chambave Moscato is 100 percent Moscato Bianco, grown in the countryside around the town of Chambave in the middle part of the region. It is available in dry and sweet styles, the latter made from air-dried grapes. In southern Italy there are a few interesting Moscato Bianco's made. In Puglia, Moscato di Trani, once famous but forgotten in the latter part of the twentieth century, is now starting to make a comeback, thanks to a hdful of small, quality-concious producers. In Calabria, moscatello (moscato) di Sarcena has seen a notable increase in the past ten years, also called Zibibbeddu in the area around Ferruzzano; Moscatello di Saracena is considered to be a local biotype of Moscato Bianco. In Sardinia, Moscato Bianco is used to make three DOC wines: Moscato di Sardegna, Moscato di Cagliari, and Moscato di Sorso-Sennori. The last of these, produced only in those two townships is made in a naturally sweet and fortified style called Liquoroso Dolce Naturale.
Outside of Italy there are many interesting Moscato Bianco wines. In Australia, De Bortoli produce a slew of good Italian-like sparkling wines under different brand names in both white and pink versions, both made with Moscato Bianco, or for pink wine an added three percent of Shiraz is generally added for color. The most famous Moscato Bianco wines in Australia come from northeast Victoria.
Moscato Bianco is the most common of all Moscatos, not just in Italy but all over the world. Though it is a white grape, mutations can turn its berries pink to light-red, into a so-called Moscato Rosa (not to be confused with the true Moscato Rosa, a related but different variety that grows mainly in Trentino and Alto Adige). So many countries, people, color mutations, and Moscato relatives all contribute to a great deal of confusion about this grape, so wine lovers need to be careful about exactly what they are drinking. All over the world there are myriad examples of wines called Muscat Blanc but they are often made with Moscato de Alessandria or Moscato Giallo.
Moscato Bianco is characterized by relatively small berries, especially when compared to other members of the Muscat family: this explains its many aliases referring to this feature ("grano menudo," "grano pequeno," "à petits grains"). Moscato Bianco is the progenitor of most known Moscato varieties. As strange as it may seem, practically all the red varieties of Moscat, including Moscato de Scanzo and Moscato Nero, are directly related to Moscato Bianco. It also shares parent-off spring relationships with Moscato di Alessandria, Moscato di Scanzo, Moscato Violetto and Moscato Giallo as well as the authentic Moscato Rosa and Aleatico, all of which originated in Italy. This, plus the huge volumes of Moscato Bianco wine produced annually, and the almost twelve thousand hectares planted to it throughout Italy, make it unlikely that Moscato Bianco is anything but an Italian native grape, though some experts still favor a Greek origin.
Synonyms around the world include:
France: Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains
Spain: Moscatel de Grano Menudo, Moscatel de Grano Pequeno, Moscatel Morisco, Moscatel Castellano and Moscatel Fino
Portugal: Moscatel Branco, MOscatel Galego Branco and MOscatel do Douro
Greece: Moscato Mazas, Moschato Lefko, Moschato Spinas, Moschato Kerkyras and Moschato Samou
Austria & Germany: Gelber Muskateller or Muskateller
South Africa: Muscatel