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Today we are going to explore a wine made from a grape which has an often maligned reputation: Muscat of Alexandria. This grape is better known, perhaps, as one of the main grapes used to make that dreaded sweet wine often identified as a favorite of beginning wine drinkers and late middle-aged women: Moscato. Yet, I feel in many ways this is an unfair categorization of this grape, and the 2016 Muscat of Alexandria from Saeculum Cellars is a good example of why this is an unfair reputation for this ancient grape. This is a bone-dry, aromatic white wine that bucks the expectations of what this grape has the potential to do.
The Grape: Since I really haven’t explored an Arizona version of this grape, it’s only fair to give Muscat of Alexandria a proper introduction. As it turns out, this is a very old, possibly ancient varietal. This grape is a natural cross between Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains (aka Muscat Canelli) and Axina de Tres Bias. It is also known as Zibibbo in some places with an Arabic influence, which comes from the Arabic word for raisin. Some of the most famous sweet wines of Classical Antiquity, from Limos, Khios, and Kos were made from this grape. Despite the name, it probably did not originate in Alexandria, Egypt; more likely it came from the Aegean or Magna Graecia. According to Jancis Robinson, the viticultural characteristics of Muscat of Alexandria are that it is mid-budding, late ripening, and likes heat, being adapted to drought conditions. This grape is known for big bunches of big berries and is susceptible to bunch rot, which can make it difficult to grow in Arizona due to our Monsoon season. Rolling View Vineyards, as it turns out, is one of only two vineyards growing this grape that I have been able to uncover; the other is Dragoon Mountain Vineyard. Dry Muscat of Alexandria wines are also made in Spain and Italy, though aren’t as commonly imported as their sweeter, sometimes bubbly, brethren from Italy. The 2016 Muscat of Alexandria acts as an homage to this dry Iberian style.
The Wine: The Saeculum Cellars 2016 Muscat of Alexandria is made from 100% varietal grapes, sourced from Rolling View Vineyards in the Willcox AVA, located at the heart of the Willcox Bench. The wine was made in the Four-Eight Co-Op facility in Camp Verde. There was no skin contact, and this wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel before bottling. It is a cheerful straw hue. The label, designed by winemaker Michael Pierce, shows the mountains surrounding the Willcox AVA as viewed from the Bench.
The Nose: The nose of this wine opens with bright aromas of blood orange, orange blossom, apricot, and flint, intermingling with other floral and herbaceous notes of jasmine, gardenia, honeysuckle, roses, and bay leaves.
The Palate: The 2016 Muscat of Alexandria is a light bodied, high acidity white wine. Blood Orange again returns to the palate, intermingling with notes of apricot, pomelo, starfruit, and persimmon, with undertones of lemongrass and caliche. The finish of this wine has notes of limestone, persimmon, vanilla, orange blossom, and gardinia, lasting for 38 seconds.
The Pairing: I want to pair this wine with Chinese food, like orange chicken. Yes, I know it sounds odd pairing wine with takeout food, but that’s how I roll sometimes. This wine would also pair well with Ceviche or Sushi. Vegetarian Chinese or Vietnamese dishes will work well with this wine also.
Impressions: This is not your grandmother’s bubbly and sweet Moscato d’Asti. This is a desert in comparison; dry, stretching across the horizon. It is lemons at dawn. This is a style I think which is well-suited for our dry landscape; and an excellent homage to drier Muscat wines coming from Spain and Portugal, as I’ve stated above.
While this wine is bright, blonde, cheerful and friendly, she also has a sharp, sardonic edge. She plays with knives in the shower… and possibly is a lawyer with an extensive knowledge of Krav Maga. Either way, while she is fun to be around, you should be careful careful.