Falling under the Muscat family umbrella, the Muscat of Alexandria grape is considered to be one of the oldest, genetically unmodified vitis vinifera grape varieties. DNA analysis suggests that its parentage was the result of a natural crossing between Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains (white Mediterranean variety) x Axina de Tres Bias (an old black-berried table grape that is still grown on the island of Sardinia). Due to its name, you might think that Muscat of Alexandria’s roots began in Egypt; however, historical research suggests that southern Italy, Sardinia, Sicily or even Greece are more likely where it originated.
Often confused with its parent grape, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria is definitely a grape of many names. Here are some of the most popular synonyms to just name a few;
- Mosctat Gordo Blanco and Lexia (Australia)
- Muscat d’Alexandrie or Muscat Romain (France)
- Muscat d’Alexandrie, Moschato Alexandria (Northern Aegean Islands of Greece)
- Moschato Limnou (Greek island of Limnos)
- Moscato d’Alessandria (Italy)
- Moscatel Graúdo or Moscatel de Setúbal (Portugal)
- Zibibbo (Sicily)
- Hanepoot (South Africa)
- Moscatel (South America)
- Moscatel de Alejandría, Moscatel or even Moscatel de Málaga (Spain)
There are even a few mutations of Muscat of Alexandria such as a pink version called Flame Muscat (California) and Red Hanepoot (South Africa), as well as a black version found in the UK called Black Muscat of Alexandria that is often confused with Muscat of Hamburg.
Muscat of Alexandria has been cross bread with other varieties to create both table grapes and even some other vitis vinifera varieties, such as Argentina’s famous Torrontes variety, which is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and a Mission grape known as Criolla Chica.
Let’s Talk Terroir
The warm, dry heat of the Mediterranean is where Muscat of Alexandria thrives. As this variety is late ripening, it requires a climate where the growing season is long and hot in order to achieve desirable sugar levels within its larger than average berries. Additionally, this variety is susceptible to both powdery mildew and bunch rot so a dry climate with substantial air-flow is necessary, especially considering the fact that it is a late ripening variety and would be highly even more vulnerable damp, cool conditions. Finally, pests such as grapevine blister mites and wasps are also keen on this variety; therefore, precautions must be taken within the vineyard management programme.
The best regions for growing Muscat of Alexandria fall within the Mediterranean climate zone. It is extremely popular in Greece on the island of Lemnos where the PDO Muscat of Lemnos produces sweet fortified wines while the PDO Lemnos offers up dryer styles. On the Italian island of Pantelleria it is made into lusciously sweet wines from grapes that have been either late harvested or dried, along with fortified styles. Known as Moscatel de Alejandria in Spain, dry, sweet and sparkling styles are made, such as in the Alicante DOP. Just south of Lisbon in Portugal’s Setúbal DOC, a sweet fortified style is made called Moscatel de Setúbal.
All About the Wine
While Muscat of Alexandria is used to make excellent wines, it is still considered to be a bit ‘second class’ to its parent grape, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains which is grown primarily throughout France. However, it is easier to grow as it is less susceptible to diseases such as fungal infections and mites. The main difference between the two grapes is that Muscat of Alexandria tends to possess more floral aromatics and more orange marmalade characteristics when made into a dessert wine. Additionally, it tends to have less “grapey” aromatics than its parent grape.
Along with its numerous names, Muscat of Alexandria is a rather versatile vitis vinifera variety, which can be made into a variety of wine styles (still, fortified and sparkling) and sweetness levels (dry to lusciously sweet). Personally, I’m very fond of this variety and jump at the chance to sample a new style or region.
Grape: Muscat of Alexandria
Species: Vitis Vinifera
Ripening: Mid budding, late ripening
Preferred Climate: Warm mediterranean
Key Regions: France, Italy, Spain and Portugal
Sweetness: Ranges from dry to lusciously sweet
Alcohol: Ranges from low to high depending upon the style
Body: Ranges light to full bodied depending upon the style
Aromas and Flavours:
Floral: Honeysuckle, orange or lily blossoms
Fruit: Some “grapey” notes, marmalade, citrus, apricot and honey
Herbal: Mint (Greek Island of Lemnos)
Pairings: Enjoy as an aperitif or depending upon the style, pair sweeter versions with dried fruit and almond cakes, which is a common pairing in the Alicante DOP. Enjoy dryer styles with spicier cuisine. This wine also pairs well with Garroxta cheese from Catalonia.
Drinking Window: Sweeter styles age longer; however, dryer styles are meant to be enjoyed within 1-2 years of being released.