The noble Muscat grape

When you talk to Halloween chefs, the four ingredients they mention for sweet treats are; maple, ginger, apple and pumpkin. The rest of the spices are just fine but the basics, the stable hard core dessert goodies for Halloween, are these strictly American treats.

We all know of apple pies, pumpkin pies and maple or ginger cookies, the standard in any American-Canadian autumn cookbook. What we don't read or hear about on any level are the wines that go best with these once or twice a year ghoulishly good munchies. Well the answer is the noble and wonderfully expressive Muscat grape.

I will go on record as saying that the Muscat grape is one of my top five winemaking grapes, higher up the ladder depending on what is being served. Muscat, or Moscato as the grape is called in much of the world, is a grape that gives 100 percent of itself in the glass and in the nose. The wine made from Muscat always puts smiles on the faces of the drinkers because the aromas come out of the glass like a herd of wild horses, strong and seemingly forever. This wine is the best representative I know for the feel of grapes straight from the vine that I have ever tasted in a glass of wine; It tastes like "pick and drink" because of the intense freshness of the grape.

Here are some of the flavor sensations we get from Moscato; Juicy fruit, mellon, tropical fruits such as mango and guava, pineapple, orange peel, lemon and apple as well as many autumnal spices. This grape, whether grown in the United States or Europe, can take on a variety of flavor sensations that we rarely see in any grape variety, it is a true shape shifter of bouquet and palate flavors which makes it perfect for our Halloween treats.

Italian Moscato is the home of this princess grape. The area of Northeastern Italy, Piemonte, is the star of all of Europe for Muscats of any type. We are all familiar with Asti Spumante, the lower alcohol bubbly made around the small city of Asti with the great winery names such as Gancia, Martini Rossi, and Folonari. These festive, golden hued sweet wines are made for out Halloween treats as are other Moscato wines such as Moscato d' Asti and Moscato d'Alba which have the lower alcohol level and are not as sparkling.

From the United States we have some sparkling Muscats such as Moscato Canelli and Moscato Amabile and the awesome Moscato Maddalena which is not sparkling but enchanting on every level as a dessert wine, especially with apple or pumpkin pie. Try to pick, with the exception of the Muscat Maddalena, Muscats with less than 12 percent alcohol. I prefer Muscats under 10 percent alcohol or less if I can find them. It seems that the higher alcohol levels can deter the freshness of these wines and cause them to loose their lightness and elegance and their ability to go with apple, pumpkin, ginger and maple flavors. This alcohol "barrier" is very pronounced with fruit flavors in cuisine and can diminish fruit sensations in just about every dessert which is fruit based, so go with the lighter punch for better flavor integration.

As a last note; Ginger and high alcohol wines can really clash because alcohol and ginger are both heat based flavors. Adding high alcohol to ginger is somewhat like tossing gasoline on a flame, the heat can really be overwhelming. With ginger based foods go with tropical light flavors and forget the steam, you'll be better off with the subtleness and long, compatible flavors as a result.

So there you have the wine with Halloween treats! See you next week!

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