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Aromatic Wines

Aromatic white wines have a highly scented, aromatic or floral quality whose wonderful bouquet will greet you first. Their exuberant, aromatic quality is enhanced by subtle fruit flavors giving them individual and well-defined characters. They can possess lovely perfume fragrances of orange blossom and rose petals with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon as well as flavors of citrus fruits, apricots, lychees and mango. 

Aromatic wines are less fruit driven than those of the Crisp and Rich styles. While some are dry, others are medium-dry with a delicate sweetness, which is offset by crisp acidity. Gewürztraminer is the most extreme, if not the most typical, example of this style.

Taste: Aromas of flowers (honeysuckle), grass, citrus and stone fruits are followed by flavors of apple, apricot, grapefruit, lemon, peach and honeydew melon, along with a fine mineral (stone / seashell) edge.

Body: Light (many from Spain can be more medium bodied with a soft texture).

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: High

Age: Drink while young and fresh, although the best wines can improve for several years.

Aka: Also known as Alvarinho in Portugal.

Description
Albariño (AL-bar-EE-nyoh) is a high quality grape variety that is believed to have originated in the Galicia area of northwest Spain, but is also found in Portugal’s neighboring Vinho Verde region just to the south. It is a small, early ripening, grape with a thick skin, which affords it some protection in the damp climate of this northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

In the past, Albariño was little known outside of its home range and was generally used for blending with other local varieties. However, once it was recognised as one of Spain’s finest white grapes, the production of pure varietal wines (made from 100% Albariño) became the norm.

These varietal wines can be intensely aromatic with scents of flowers (honeysuckle), grass, citrus and stone fruits, followed by delicate flavors of apple, apricot, grapefruit, lemon, peach and honeydew melon. Acidity is high, giving them a very refreshing quality and they generally have a fine mineral (stone / seashell) edge. The body is usually light and delicate, especially from Portugal, but those from Galicia in Spain can be more medium bodied. Occasionally, they can display a slight spritz effect or pétillance.

Albariño is typically fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve its aromatic quality and fresh fruit flavors, although some producers have experimented with oak. Most wines are produced for immediate consumption and should be drunk while they are young and fresh. The best, most ambitious wines, often aged on their lees, have more depth and structure and can improve for several years, but they are harder to find and are more expensive.

Albariño has greatly increased in popularity in recent years and deservedly so, as it has a great deal to offer.

Taste: Exotic floral and fruity fragrance with flavors of apple, pear and apricot together with nutty elements and mineral notes.

Body: Medium to full

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Drink while young and fresh.

Description
Arneis (ar-NAYZ) is an elegant grape variety from Piedmont in northwest Italy, which almost disappeared by the early 1970s. Fortunately, there was a revival of interest in this quality grape, which ensured its survival.

It is only in recent years that Arneis has been produced as a varietal wine, as it was traditionally used for blending with the powerful local Nebbiolo grape, much like Viognier is sometimes added to Syrah in the Northern Rhone. It is a difficult grape to grow and hence its name, which translates as “little rascal”.

Arneis has an exotic floral and fruity aroma of honeysuckle, apple, pear, apricot, almond and sometimes a hint of hops. Acidity is naturally low, but this is improved by growing the vines in sandy soils. On the palate expect a delicate freshness with an array of orchard fruits, nutty elements and mineral notes. Body is typically medium to full and is quite substantial when oak is used. In many respects Arneis tastes much like it were a younger sibling of Viognier and the bigger examples could easily sit in the Rich style.

Availability is limited, but the growing popularity of the excellent wines this grape is capable of producing ensure an increasing supply. Due to moderate acidity it does not age well, so drink it while it’s young and fresh.

Taste: Floral aromas with apple, citrus and tropical fruit flavors of lemon, honeydew melon, quince and pineapple together with a flinty minerality.

Body: Medium

Dry / Sweet: Medium-dry (sweet to taste).

Acidity: High

Age: Has great aging potential. Most wines require several years of bottle aging to soften their acidity and add richness and complexity.

Description
Chenin Blanc (SHEN-in BLAHN) is perhaps the most versatile of all grape varieties and capable of producing a broad range of wines from dry and medium-dry to intensely sweet Dessert wines, as well as Sparkling wines.

Its home is the Loire region of France where, in the Aromatic style, it makes medium-dry wines (which have a touch of sweetness to balance their acidity) with floral aromas combined with apple, citrus and tropical fruit flavors of lemon, honeydew melon, quince and pineapple. These flavors may be accompanied by some vegetal aromas and a flinty minerality. Acidity is high, giving Chenin Blanc great aging potential.

The most typical expression of Aromatic Chenin Blanc is found in the Vouvray appellation in the Touraine district of the Loire Valley, which is almost totally dedicated to the production of this grape variety. Most medium-dry wines require several years of bottle aging, while the best will need at least ten years and can stay at their peak for a quarter of a century or more.

As Chenin Blanc is made in different styles, look out for a reference to the level of sweetness on the label. In the Loire this is indicated by the terms Sec (dry), Demi-Sec (medium-dry), Moelleux (medium-sweet), and Doux (sweet). Due to the very high levels of natural acidity in Chenin Blanc, medium-dry wines can often taste dry.

Taste: Aromatic fragrance of wild flowers, honey and spice with subtle flavors of apricot, peach, lemon, herbs and nuts, as well as mineral notes.

Body: Medium to full

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: The best wines have good aging potential, otherwise drink while young and fresh.

Description
Fiano (fee-AH-noh) is a grape of ancient origin from southern Italy, particularly the Campania region. It has been cultivated since at least Roman times, when it was called “Vitis Apiana” or “Vine of the Bees”, because bees seemed to prefer Fiano to other vines. It is likely that Fiano may also have been the grape used to make the wine the Romans called Apianum.

Prior to the Phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, which destroyed European vineyards, Fiano was widely cultivated in Campania. However, when replanting began, it was overlooked in favor of varieties that were easier to grow and produced higher yields. By the mid 20th century, Fiano had declined to the point where it was near extinction. Fortunately, it was rescued by the efforts of the Mastroberardino family, who appreciated the high quality of this indigenous variety.

Fiano is a low yielding vine, as its small, thick-skinned grapes only produce a small quantity of juice. It has a naturally high sugar content, which can give the wines a waxy texture, and is balanced by good levels of acidity. Where the vines are grown, their terroir, is particularly important and Fiano is at its best in the volcanic soils of the high altitude province of Avellino in Campania, just northeast of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.

Generally, Fiano is used to make varietal wines that have a lovely aromatic fragrance of wild flowers (which can be potpourri-like) combined with honey and spice. This is followed by subtle flavors of apricot, peach, lemon, fresh herbs and nuts, as well as mineral notes on a long finish. Fiano is capable of making big complex wines that can be very elegant and refined, and amongst the best white wines of Italy.

The best Fiano wines, especially those from the Fiano di Avellino DOCG, are highly regarded and age well for several years. Simpler versions are best to drink while they are young and fresh. In additional to dry table wines, Fiano is also used to make very good quality Sweet (Dessert) wines through the traditional Passito method (see Passito entry in the glossary on the app).

Fiano is now enjoying something of a cult status and, given its appeal, it’s easy to see why.

Taste: Aromas of wild meadow flowers, almond blossom and ripe white fruits are followed by flavors of pear, peach and tropical fruits, with some citrus notes, a touch of honey and a very typical almond finish. It can also display mineral notes, as well as nutty elements, herbs and a little spice.

Body: Medium to full

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Medium

Age: Drink while young; within two years of release. The very best wines can improve for up to five years or more.

Aka: Also known as Tocai FriulanoSauvignonasse and Sauvignon Vert.

Description
Friulano (free-oh-LAH-noh) is the white grape most closely associated with the northeastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, usually just called Friuli (free-oo-lee). This region, located in the top right hand corner of Italy, borders Austria to the north, Slovenia to the east and to the south forms part of the Adriatic coastline that includes Trieste, which was once the main port of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Friulano was known as Tocai Friulano until a European Court ruling, protecting the famous Hungarian sweet wine name “Tokaji”, prohibited its use in 2007. There was much concern at the time and the decision was eventually taken in Friuli to simply use the name Friulano, which actually means “of” or “from Friuli”. Although Friulano has a long history in Friuli – and is often referred to as an indigenous grape variety – it is actually the Sauvignonasse grape, which originated in southwest France.

In the early nineteenth century it was introduced to Friuli and later acquired the Tokaji / Tocai name, most likely to leverage the fame and reputation of the great Tokaji wines of Hungary. While the original name of the grape, Sauvignonasse, suggests a close relationship with Sauvignon Blanc this is not supported by DNA analysis. The vine leaves and berry clusters of Friulano do look very similar to Sauvignon Blanc, however the wine it makes has a different flavor profile and is generally fuller in body with less pronounced acidity. It is a very productive vine, so yield management (the lower the yield, the better the quality) in the vineyard is particularly important if Friulano is to display its full varietal character.

Aromas of wild meadow flowers, almond blossom and ripe white fruits are followed by flavors of pear, peach and tropical fruits, with some citrus notes, a touch of honey and a very typical almond finish. It can also display mineral notes, as well as nutty elements, herbs and a little spice. Acidity is generally medium, but can be less if the wines undergo malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation which converts sharp Malic acid into softer Lactic acid). The body is medium to full with a very appealing soft and silky texture. Some producers use oak during the wine making process, but contact is normally light (using older barrels) in order to preserve the delicate flavors of the grape.

Friuli is without doubt one of the top white wine regions in Italy and although much of the Friulano produced here is of a good standard quality there are many excellent producers who take their wines to a higher level. By controlling yields, picking at optimal ripeness and lees aging for six months, they develop great elegance and complexity in the wine. These wines can be very full bodied, especially if some of the grapes have been allowed to over-ripen, and will certainly appeal to fans of Rich style whites. The best of these wines (look out for those from Borgo del TiglioJermannLivio FellugaMiani and Schiopetto) are superb and amongst Italy’s finest.

Friulano is also blended with other varieties, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling or the indigenous Ribolla Gialla. Excellent wines are also produced in the western region of neighboring Slovenia, which shares the same traditions and physical geography as Friuli. With the exception of Chile, where immigrants brought over vines from France in the nineteenth century, there is very little Friulano grown around the world. It is no longer grown in southwest France. There are just a few plantings in the USA, but it seems that most of the vines called Sauvignon Vert (another synonym for Friulano) in California are actually the Muscadelle variety.

Taste: Intense and complex perfume of rose petals, lavender, lychees and Turkish delight with a musky spiciness.

Body: Full with high alcohol.

Dry / Sweet: Dry, off-dry, medium-dry or sweet (if in doubt ask supplier).

Acidity: Low

Age: Drink while young and fresh.

Description
Gewürztraminer (guh-vurts-TRA-MEE-NER) is one of the most individual and distinctive of all grape varieties. It has a long history of cultivation going back over a thousand years, which has made identifying its origin a very complicated process.

In short, it is a variant of Traminer, a less aromatic grape, which is named after the Tyrolean village of Tramin in the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. For convenience, Gewürztraminer is sometimes abbreviated as “Traminer”, although this can be misleading as it is the name of a different, albeit similar, grape variety.

Today Gewürztraminer is grown widely around the world, but in small quantities and performs best in cool climate regions due to its low acidity and high natural sugar levels (in warm climates the acidity is too low to balance the sweetness). It is considered one of the ‘noble’ grapes of the Alsace region, in eastern France, which produces world-renowned examples.

It’s a very difficult grape to grow, often described as a labor of love, as it is prone to disease and is sensitive to both soil type and climate. Consequently, it needs careful management in the vineyard and the winery to produce good quality wine. As the grapes are naturally high in sugar and low in acidity, the wines they make are typically off-dry, although many are dry. Because the skin of the grape is a light pink the wine can have quite a deep yellow colour.

It produces intensely perfumed white wines with aromas and flavors of rose petals, lavender, lychees, peaches and Turkish delight, together with a gentle musky spiciness (Gewürz is the German word for spice). It is very full bodied, perhaps more so than any other white table wine, with high alcohol and can be dry, off-dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet or sweet. Be sure to check the label to determine the level of sweetness of the wine, or ask your retailer, as this is not always apparent.

Generally, Gewürztraminer is best to drink when it’s young and fresh as acidity is low, but some wines can develop complex flavors with age. It is undoubtedly the most aromatic of all the grape varieties in this style and is a wonderful partner for Asian cuisine.

The aroma and flavor profile of Gewürztraminer is so exotic and distinctive that you will either love it or find it overwhelming. Either way, your wine repertoire will not be complete without getting to know this lovely, if often overlooked, grape variety.

Taste: Aromas of lime tree blossom, elderflower, apple and honey, followed by citrus and stone fruit flavors of lemon, gooseberry, peach and pineapple, together with lychee and spice (ginger), while many can also display a pronounced mineral quality.

Body: Full

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Generally drink while young and fresh, but the best wines can age well.

Aka: Budai Féher, Feuille de Tilleul, Frunaza de Tei, Harslevleue, Harzevelu, Lindenblättrige, Lipolist and Lipovina.

Description
Hárslevelü (HARSH-leh-veh-LOO) is a native Hungarian grape variety of considerable quality. Recent genetic analysis suggests that its parents were Furmint and a sibling of an obscure variety called Plantscher. The name Hárslevelü means “Linden Leaf” as the leaf of the Linden tree (another name for the Lime tree) closely resembles the leaves of the vine, and the aromatics of the grape also reflect the fragrance of the Linden tree blossom.

It is a late ripening  grape and requires warm climatic conditions. It is also high yielding and therefore needs good vineyard management to be at its best. Hárslevelü is the second most widely planted grape variety in Hungary and is famous as one of the grapes used in the production of Tokaji – a Hungarian speciality and one of the world’s greatest sweet wines – where it is added to Furmint, and sometimes also Muscat, to bring an aromatic fragrance and richness to the blend.

Hárslevelü is also capable of making excellent dry varietal wines. These varietal wines are quite dense and full bodied, with a very appealing texture and display an intense aromatic quality. Despite their dense structure they can be quite bright, with medium to high levels of acidity, making them very good food wines. You can expect aromas of lime tree blossom, elderflower, apple and honey, followed by citrus and stone fruit flavors of lemon, gooseberry, peach and pineapple, together with lychee and spice (ginger), while many can also display a pronounced mineral quality.

Some of these wines are oak aged and when yields are kept low, they can be well structured and very complex. Sometimes they are off-dry, containing a small amount of residual sugar to balance their high acidity. Hárslevelü is also used to produce very good quality sweet (Dessert) wines. Although availability of varietal wines is limited, they are worth seeking out, as Hárslevelü is a grape with great character.

Taste: Pronounced Muscat-like aromas of rose petals, orange blossom and lychee, followed by flavors of grape, apple, lemon, apricot and peach, with a touch of spice on the finish.

Body: Light to medium

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Low

Age: Drink while young and fresh.

Aka: Muscat Oliver, Irsay Olivér, Irsay Oliver Muskotaly

Description
Irsai Olivér (eer-sha-ee ol-eve-air) is a Hungarian crossing between Pozsonyi and Pearl of Csaba that was created in 1930 by Pál Kocsis. It was originally developed as a table grape, but is quite commonly used for the production of varietal and blended wines in Central and Eastern Europe, especially in its native Hungary.

It is an easy vine to grow, as it has the benefit of being very disease resistant. The grape skins are thick, grow in loose clusters and are early ripening. Improvements in production techniques in the modern era have also made it very popular with winemakers, who produce it as an easy-going, everyday table wine.

Typically, Irsai Olivér wines are dry, medium bodied, with low acidity and a pronounced aromatic fragrance giving it a Muscat-like character. Aromas of rose petals, orange blossom and lychee are followed by flavors of grape, apple, lemon, apricot and peach, with a touch of spice on the finish.

Irsai Olivér is an interesting introduction to aromatic white wines, especially well made examples, as it is very modestly priced. Best to drink while young and fresh, as it does not age well.

Taste: Aroma of alpine flowers, honeysuckle, herbs and orchard fruits followed by flavors of apple, pear, apricot, citrus and stone fruits, which are accompanied by an earthy minerality. The body is substantial with good acidity that delivers a refreshing finish.

Body: Medium to full

Dry / Sweet: Dry (some German varietals are off-dry or medium-dry)

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Generally drink within three years of release, but the best wines have good aging ability.

Description
Kerner (ker-nair) is unusual in that it is a high potential cross-bred grape variety that has been very successful amongst wine growers in its native Germany, and yet most wine enthusiasts have never heard of it. For reasons that will be explained, its potential has really only been revealed in one small area, and it’s not in Germany.

Kerner (named after the German poet Justinus Kerner) was developed in the Württemberg region of Germany in 1929 by crossing Riesling with the red variety Trollinger (also known as Schiava Grossa and Vernatsch), but was not released for cultivation until 1969. Although bred from a white and a red grape, Kerner is very much a white grape (its berries are light green in color) and it displays distinct Riesling-like characteristics.

It was developed to meet the needs of German wine makers who wanted a quality grape that was easy to grow in cool climate conditions and it meets these requirements admirably. It is tolerant to cold, disease resistant, not fussy about soil types and produces high yields. In addition, it buds late and therefore generally misses the damage caused by spring frosts. After its introduction in Germany it proved extremely popular across the country’s wine growing regions. At its peak around 1990 Kerner accounted for almost 8% of all vines grown in Germany. Since then its acreage has halved, but it still has a very sizeable presence.

The reason for its popularity in Germany has more to do with its workhorse ability to produce high yields than its quality potential. Consequently, most Kerner production goes into lower quality blends such as nondescript Hock, generic Niersteiner and Piesporter and especially Liebfraumilch, which must consist of at least 70% Kerner, Müller-Thurgau, Riesling or Silvaner. Nonetheless, some very good quality varietals are made, including QmP wines (Germany’s highest wine category) at different Prädikat levels, including KabinettSpätlese and Auslese, but these mainly off-dry to medium-sweet wines are in short supply and rarely leave the country.

To discover the finest expressions of Kerner you have to look to Northern Italy’s Alto Adige region and more particularly to the valley of the Isarco river. This area of Italy, also known as the Südtirol, was part of Austria up to the end of the First World War and German is an official language here along with Italian. The Austrian and Swiss influence can be seen in the German names of the towns and the wines. In this cool region, and on excellent sites, Kerner achieves its potential and produces wonderful dry aromatic wines that are amongst the best white wines of Italy.

The profile of these wines is very similar to Riesling but they are fuller in body and can have a luscious texture. Like Riesling they are also unoaked. You can expect aromas of alpine flowers, honeysuckle, herbs and orchard fruits followed by flavors of apple, pear, apricot, citrus and stone fruits, which are accompanied by an earthy minerality. The body is substantial with good acidity that delivers a refreshing finish. These wines can be high in alcohol (up to 14.5%), but not noticeably so as they are well crafted and beautifully balanced. They demonstrate just how good Kerner can be when grown on favorable sites with good yield management and winemaking techniques.

Given Kerner’s ability to produce high quality wine it is surprising that very little is grown outside of Germany and northern Italy. This is most likely due to the basic wines it usually makes and to the fact that it is a cross-bred grape variety, which generally have a poor reputation.

Taste: Intense aromas of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, rose petals and stone fruits, followed by flavors of apricot, melon, peach and pear. Can also include additional tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple. Oaked examples, more typical of the Rich style, are fuller in body with additional flavors of vanilla and spice.

Body: Light to medium, but can be full

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Drink within three years of release.

Aka: Also spelt Malagousia, Malaouzia, Malagusiah and Melaouzia.

Other: Availability is limited, so you will need to source through a good wine retailer or online store. Oaked examples will appeal to Rich style enthusiasts.

Description
Malagouzia (mah-lah-gou-ZYA) is a very refined Greek grape variety that is increasingly attracting the attention of dedicated wine enthusiasts and sommeliers. In many ways, it signals the enormous potential of Greece to produce world-class wines from amongst its huge number of native grape varieties. Malagouzia is believed to have originated in central Greece and may be related to the Malvasia grape, although this has yet to be scientifically established.

Like many European grape varieties, Malagouzia almost went extinct in the decades following the end of the Second World War. Fortunately, in 1975 Vassilis Logothetis, a Professor of Viticulture at the University of Thessalonica, found a Malagouzia vine on an overgrown trellis and took a cutting for an experimental vineyard at Porto Carras. Subsequently, winemaker Vangelis Gerovassiliou, of Domain Gerovassiliou, did some trials with the grape and began production in the 1980s. He also gave vines to the Athens Institute of Wines and Vines ensuring that cuttings would be available to other winemakers.

Since then a small but growing number of winemakers have taken up the challenge, and a challenge it is, as Malagouzia is a very demanding vine. It is particularly sensitive and requires a great deal more attention in the vineyard than most other varieties. In terms of growth it is extremely vigorous, requiring regular pruning, and resists attempts to train it, making it difficult to manage. Because the grapes are large and the clusters are tight it is very susceptible to rot. Location is also important, as it must have very well drained soil to achieve its potential.

However, all the effort is worth it. When produced as a varietal wine Malagouzia is full of character and has a distinct silky richness – even when light in body – and a flavor profile that is very reminiscent of Viognier. It is a highly aromatic grape with intense aromas of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, rose petals and stone fruits. On the palate it displays flavors of apricot, melon, peach and pear, and can include additional tropical fruits such as mango and pineapple.

While most varietal wines are fermented in stainless steel tanks, many are wholly or partially barrel fermented in oak and may also be matured on their lees. Malagouzia takes well to oak and these oaked examples are more typical of the Rich style, as they are much fuller in body and display additional flavors of vanilla and spice.

Whether light or full bodied, Malagouzia always retains a soft appealing texture and fresh fruit flavors. It can also be excellent when blended with Assyrtiko, which adds acidity, and many of these wines are oak aged. Some Greek winemakers are now adding small quantities of Malagouzia to Syrah in the same way that Northern Rhône winemakers do with Viognier.

The future for Malagouzia looks bright and it is already playing an important role in highlighting the quality and potential of indigenous Greek grape varieties.

Taste: Floral aroma of rose petals, violets, jasmine, lemon blossom and a hint of spice with flavors of citrus fruits, apple, pear, peach and nectarine. Good acidity gives a fresh finish.

Body: Light to medium

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Drink while young and fresh.

Other: Alcohol levels are generally low, around 11%.

Description
Moschofilero (mos-ko-FEE-leh-ro) is a very interesting high quality grape variety from Greece. It has a long history in the Peloponnese region and has often been compared to Gewürztraminer and Muscat from Alsace in France, as they share many falvor similarities. At one time Moschofilero was thought to be related to Gewürztraminer, but this has proved not to be the case.

It ripens late in the season and is quite productive delivering high yields. The grapes themselves are rather delicate and susceptible to bad weather, especially heavy rainfall. They are also pink-skinned and the wines they make are very pale in color (they are sometimes used to make Rosé).

As most of the terroir where Moschofilero is grown is at high altitude the wines tend to have high acidity and low sugar levels, due to the long and cool growing season. Consequently, the wines as well as being fresh are also low in alcohol at around 11%. In a world where alcohol levels in wines are ever increasing, due to climate change, this is a very welcome outcome.

The wines that Moschofilero makes are very aromatic with aromas of rose petals, violets, jasmine, lemon blossom and a hint of spice. On the palate expect citrus fruits together with apple, pear, peach and nectarine. While very aromatic these wines are also clean and fresh as they have more acidity than Gewürztraminer or Muscat.

At their best these delicate bone-dry wines are elegant, complex and display great character.

Taste: Floral aroma of elderflower, box hedge and herbal notes with flavour of green apple, grape and citrus fruits.

Body: Light

Dry / Sweet: Generally off-dry to medium-sweet but can be dry.

Acidity: Low to medium

Age: Drink as young as possible.

Aka: Also known as Rivaner and Riesling-Sylvaner.

Description
Müller-Thurgau (MEW-ler TOOR-gow) is not a classic grape variety. It was created in the 1880s by the Swiss botanist Dr. Hermann Müller from the canton of Thurgau when he crossed Riesling with what he thought was Silvaner, but turned out to be the more obscure Madeleine Royale.

The benefit of Müller-Thurgau is that it thrives in cool regions, ripens early and produces big yields. On the downside however its wines, while subtly aromatic, are naturally low in acidity and generally bland, which is a pity because with restricted yields and improved acidity they can be very interesting.

It is the grape behind mass-market German wines such as HockLiebfraumilchNiersteiner and Piesporter. Plantings are in decline everywhere now, although it still has a large presence in Germany and Eastern Europe. It has a floral aroma of elderflower, box hedge and herbal notes with flavors of green apple, grapes (Muscat-like) and citrus fruits.

Examples produced for the mass-market are usually off-dry to medium-sweet.

Taste: Perfume of rose petals and orange blossom with the flavor of fresh, juicy green grapes. Can also display notes of peach, pear and apricot, as well as fresh herbs.

Body: May be light (Frizzante and Sparkling), medium (Table Wine) or full (Dessert and Fortified Wines).

Dry / Sweet: Can be dry, medium-dry or sweet depending on how the wine is made.

Acidity: Low

Age: Drink while young and fresh.

Aka: There are a great many synonyms for Muscat and a list of the most important is shown at the end of the Description section below.

Other: Do not confuse Muscat / Moscato with Muscadet, which is a different grape variety included in the Crisp style.

Description
Muscat (MUHS-ka) represents a very large family of vines that are thought to be the oldest in the world and were well known to the Greeks and Romans, having most probably originated in the Middle East. They make wines that range from dry table wine to intensely sweet dessert wine and sparkling wines. While most of these wines are white, Muscat can be used to make rosé or even dark fortified wines as different varieties – and sometimes even the same variety – produce grapes that range in colour from yellow through green to pink, red and brown.

The dominant characteristic of Muscat is its remarkable perfume of rose petals and orange blossom. It is one of the few grape varieties to actually taste of grapes, with wonderful flavors of fresh, juicy green grapes and can display notes of peach, pear and apricot, as well as fresh herbs. Given its typical “grapey” flavor it is often cultivated as a simple table grape (i.e. for eating).

Nonetheless, Muscat is a high quality grape that has long been out of fashion as a table wine but is now starting to attract more attention given the recent phenomenal success of Moscato (the Italian for Muscat), which is slightly sparkling, generally light in body, with low levels of alcohol (anywhere from 5% to 10%) and medium-dry to sweet – see more on Moscato below.

Amongst the few hundred varieties of Muscat only a small number are important in terms of winemaking. Chief among these is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (literally: White Muscat with Little Berries – there is also a Rosé Blanc à Petits Grains variant) which is the oldest, noblest and highest quality of all the varieties. Although it can be difficult to grow, at its best it produces elegant wines with wonderful aromas that can be quite complex. It is responsible for the great dry Muscats of Alsace, the light frizzante Moscato d’Asti of Piedmont, the famous sweet wines of Samos in Greece and the great fortified wines of Rutherglen in Victoria, Australia.

The second most important variety is Muscat of Alexandria which, as the name suggests, it thought to have originated in Egypt. Not as delicate or refined as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains it makes wines that are sweeter, heavier and less complex but they still display typical Muscat aroma and flavour characteristics. This is the dominant Muscat variety in Spain, Portugal, Australia and South Africa with much being cultivated for the production of table grapes or raisins. In Chile and Peru it is distilled to make Pisco Brandy.

Muscat Ottonel is a cross variety developed in 1852. It is hardy and easy to grow, but on the downside it lacks the quality and character of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, being lighter in flavor and aroma. It began to take over from Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains in Alsace but now that trend has been reversed, although it is quite common for both varieties to be blended together. It is also grown in Austria to produce dessert wines and is the dominant Muscat variety in Hungary and much of Eastern Europe.

A less important variety for table wine production is Muscat of Hamburg, which is black skinned and often goes under the name Black Muscat. It is grown in Eastern Europe, Australia and the United States and, while generally grown as a table grape, it can make very interesting sweet and fortified wines. It is worth mentioning that the famous fortified Muscats of Rutherglen in Australia are made from a red variant of Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains which, confusingly, is also referred to as Black Muscat.

Moscato Rosa (or Rosenmuakateller in German) is another dark-skinned variant that can be found in Alsace, Austria, Australia and Portugal. It is generally used to make sweet Rosé or gently sparkling wines.

Moscato Giallo (also called Yellow Muscat and Goldmuskateller) is, as the name suggests, a yellow-skinned variant that is mainly grown in northern Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region. It usually makes medium-dry to sweet wines, but can also make fine dry wines.

Orange Muscat is a white grape believed to be unrelated to the Muscat family, although it does share some characteristics, and is most noted for its strong aroma of oranges. While it may have originated around the French town of Orange it is now mainly grown in Australia and California where it make wines that can be dry, medium-dry or sweet.

Dry Muscat is only produced in small quantities, but this is increasing in Europe and the New World. The aromatic dry Muscats of Alsace in France combine a heady perfume with thrilling flavors. In Austria they are light and elegant with lovely flavour profiles. Australia also makes excellent dry Muscats, which tend to be more full bodied than those of Alsace.  As the natural acidity of Muscat is low these wines do not age well, so it is best to drink them when they are young, fresh and exuberant.

It is not easy to find dry Muscat wines, although that is beginning to change, but they are well worth seeking out and offer an excellent and interesting alternative to the more mainstream grape varieties. Given their pronounced aromatic quality they are an excellent accompaniment to Asian cuisine and a great addition to your cellar, as well as expanding your wine repertoire. Be careful not to confuse Muscat with Muscadet, which is a different grape variety and is included in the Crisp style.

Moscato, as mentioned above, is the Italian for Muscat and is synonymous with the light, sweet, low alcohol and slightly sparkling (frizzante) wines made in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy; the most well known of which are Asti (formerly known as Asti Spumante) and the more superior  Moscato d’Asti.  In recent years Moscato has soared in popularity, especially in the United States, when it became fashionable after hip-hop artists adopted it in place of Champagne. This was welcome attention for a high quality and much forgotten grape variety.

However, in the wine industry’s rush to meet this new demand, quantity has become more important than quality and new plantings of Muscat are now taking place in every major wine producing country. Many of these new Moscato wines are mass-produced to hit a retail price point and are nothing like the original from Piedmont. While most people will be introduced to the Muscat grape through “new Moscato” it is well worth seeking out a good bottle of Moscato d’Asti to truly appreciate the appeal of this grape when made into light, sweet wine, which is low in alcohol and just slightly fizzy.

Synonyms for Muscat

The following is a list of the most important synonyms for the Muscat grape and its main clones:

Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains:  Muscat BlancMuscat CanelliMuscat of FrontignanMuscat LunelMuscadelMuskateller, MoscatoMoscato BiancoMoscatel and Moscatel de Grano Menudo.

Muscat of AlexandriaMuscat Gordo BlancoMoscatelMoscatel de AlejandríaMoscatel de Málaga, Moscatel Romano, Lexia, Hanepoot and Zibibbo.

Muscat OttonelMuskotaly.

Muscat of HamburgBlack MuscatBlack Hamburg and Moscato di Amburgo.

Moscato RosaRosenmuakateller.

Moscato GialloGoldmuskateller and Yellow Muscat.

Orange Muscat: known only by this name.

Taste: Aroma of flowers (honeysuckle) and dried fruits with tropical fruit flavors of banana, mango, melon and peach, along with hints of honey and spice.

Body: Full with a rich texture.

Dry / Sweet: Dry to medium-dry

Acidity: Low

Age: Drink while young

Aka: Also known as Grauburgunder in Germany and often labeled as Ruländer when made as a sweet wine in the same country.

Other: An interesting alternative to Chardonnay.

Description
Pinot Gris (PEE-no GREE) is a high quality grape variety that has become increasingly fashionable. It originated in Burgundy in France and has an excellent pedigree, being one of the best-known mutations of Pinot Noir. The second part of the name “Gris” means “grey” in French, and refers to the colour of the grape skins, which can range in color from a greyish blue to a pale purple.

Pinot Gris is actuallythe same grape variety as Pinot Grigio from Italy, but the latter is used to make totally different wines in the Crisp style (see Pinot Grigio in the Crisp style). The reason for these differences is that Pinot Gris is harvested late, while Pinot Grigio grapes are harvested early in order to retain a high level of acidity and also to control the development of their flavor profile.

The most impressive Pinot Gris is made in Alsace in France, where the emphasis is on ripe fruit. The grapes are left to fully ripen and are harvested late in the autumn. Consequently, potential alcohol (sugar level) is high and acidity is low. As a result, these wines are rich and full bodied and can be almost oily in texture.

Complex, yet delicate, aromas of flowers (honeysuckle), dried fruits and sometimes gingerbread are combined with tropical fruit flavors of banana, mango, melon and peach, along with hints of honey and spice. These wines can range from dry to medium-dry, but also include wonderfully sweet dessert wines.

Availability was once very limited, but thankfully this is increasing all the time, as more and more people discover the delights of Pinot Gris. In recent years, Pinot Gris has also attracted attention (much like Viognier) as a very interesting alternative to Chardonnay.

Taste: Intense floral and fruity aromas with green fruit flavors of apple, grape, and pear, which can extend to citrus and stone fruit flavors, such as lemon, lime, apricot and peach, when grown in more moderate climates. Its natural high acidity and tangy minerality is offset by residual sugar. Develops great complexity with age and may display additional flavors of honey, toast and petrol.

Body: Light and delicate with a low level of alcohol.

Dry / Sweet: Generally medium-dry (sweet to taste) but can also be dry – check label or ask retailer. Alcohol level can be a good indicator – see note below.

Acidity: High

Age: Requires about five years of bottle age to develop properly.

Other: Something of an acquired taste – exposure is needed to appreciate its qualities. Tends to be relatively low in alcohol.

Description
Riesling (REEZ-ling) produces some of the world’s greatest white wines, but it is frequently overlooked. Part of the reason for this is that it can be difficult in youth, needing time to develop in bottle before its true character and finer qualities emerge. Another important factor is uncertainty concerning the level of sweetness of wines, as this is not always apparent from the label.

The grape’s homeland is Germany, where it has been cultivated for at least 500 years and possibly as far back as Roman times. It’s a cool climate grape that is at its best when it ripens slowly, as this allows it to develop its maximum flavor compound potential, while also retaining acidity. Consequently, the best Rieslings are grown on prime sites in cooler wine regions, such as Germany.

It has intense floral and fruity aromas with green fruit flavors of apple, grape, and pear, which can extend to citrus and stone fruit flavors, such as lemon, lime, apricot and peach, when grown in more moderate climates. The natural high acidity of Riesling enables it to age extremely well and so develop additional flavors of honey, toast and, believe it or not, petrol.

Riesling makes wines that range from bone dry (see dry Riesling in the Crisp style) to intensely sweet and, if bottles are not labeled correctly, this can lead to an unpleasant surprise. More so perhaps that any other wine, a greater level of consideration is required when purchasing Riesling. A well-informed retailer can make all the difference, so be sure to seek their advice.

In the Aromatic style it makes wonderfully delicate medium-dry wines whose crisp acidity and tangy minerality is softened by the sweetness of residual sugar. The best of these Aromatic wines are beautifully balanced with relatively low alcohol levels and a delicious range of delicate aromas and flavors. In Germany, they are usually classified as Kabinett (ka-bee-nett) or Spätlese (shpayt-ley-zuh). If you are not familiar with this style of wine you may need some exposure to begin to appreciate its qualities, but this effort will be well rewarded.

Note: It can be difficult to know if a bottle of Riesling is dry or medium-dry as this is not always stated on the label. A good indicator is the alcohol level of the wine – the lower the level the more residual sugar there is likely to be in the wine and therefore the sweeter it will taste. If the alcohol is below 11% (can be as low as 7.5%) the wine will most certainly be off-dry, could be medium-dry, and if it is above 13% it should be dry. Between these two percentiles it could be either dry or off-dry. At the other end of the spectrum, it is worth bearing in mind that mass produced jug wines can be sweet with a high level of alcohol.

In Germany, basic Rieslings are classified as QbA and are usually fruity with medium sweetness. Above this is the QmP classification for higher quality wines, which is largely based on the sugar content of the unfermented grape juice (but not the wine itself). This sugar content, in turn, relates to the ripeness of the grapes when picked. In ascending order of ripeness the classifications are as follows:

Kabinett: light in body and alcohol with high acidity. Generally off-dry to medium-dry in terms of sweetness, but can be dry.

Spätlese: more body than Kabinett with sweetness generally ranging from medium-dry to medium-sweet.

Auslese: more body and exotic fruit than Spätlese, with sweetness generally ranging from medium-sweet to sweet. This is the highest level that can be classified as a dry wine.

Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese: high alcohol, full bodied, intensely sweet wines made from grapes affected by botrytis or noble rot.

Eiswein: or “ice wine”, which is made from grapes that are harvested while frozen on the vine, is remarkably concentrated with great fruit purity and sweetness.

Pronounciation:

Kabinett (ka-bee-nett)

Spätlese (shpayt-ley-zuh)

Auslese (ows-ley-zuh)

Beerenauslese (beh-ren-ows-ley-zuh)

Trockenbeerenauslese (trok-en-beh-ren-ows-ley-zuh)

Eiswein (ice-vine)

Taste: Pronounced floral aromas of rose and jasmine are followed by citrus and stone fruit flavors of lemons, nectarines and peaches as well as apples, grapefruit and a hint of spice.

Body: Medium

Dry / Sweet: Dry

Acidity: Medium to high

Age: Drink while young – preferably within a year of the vintage.

Description

Torrontés (tor-RON-tayz) is a specialty of Argentina and makes lively aromatic wines with pronounced floral and fruity aromas, which have often been likened to Muscat and Gewürztraminer. They deserve much greater recognition worldwide, as they are some of the best and most enjoyable Aromatic style wines you will encounter.

Although its origins are obscure, Torrontés appears to be indigenous to Argentina and is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria with a grape called Mission, which was brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are actually three different types of Torrontés in Argentina, and South America, but only Torrontés Riojano is suitable for producing quality wines and is responsible for the vast majority of wines available today. The other two varieties (Torrontés Sanjuanino and Torrontés Mendocino), are of inferior quality, less widely planted and you are unlikely to come across them.

Low yields are very important if Torrontés is to display its full aromatic character and fortunately this is now more common in Argentina, which has recognised the potential of this, its signature grape variety. Vines grown at higher altitude, such as those from the Cafayate Valley in the Salta region, have more pronounced aromatic qualities and higher acidity, giving them better balance. Winemaking has also improved in recent years, resulting in wines of greater intensity and character.

Torrontés wines display wonderful aromas of rose and jasmine, which are followed on the palate by citrus and stone fruit flavors of lemons, nectarines and peaches as well as apples, grapefruit and a hint of spice. Generally, they are dry, medium bodied with medium to high acidity and are high in alcohol. As Torrontés does not age well (it loses its aromatic quality quickly) it is best to drink it young and preferably within a year of the vintage.

It should be noted that Torrontés grown in Argentina is not related to the grape known as Torrontés in Spain, which is actually a local synonym for the Arbillo Blanco grape. They are two separate and distinct grape varieties.

The quality of Torrontés wines being produced in Argentina today is very high and because they are “under the radar” of current wine fashions they represent exceptionally good value for money. They also make excellent partners for Asian and Mexican cuisine. It you like Gewürztraminer, you will love Torrontés.

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