Mike Dunne's Wine of the Week: 2009 Clarksburg Muscat Cannelli Frizzante
Lange Twins Winery & Vineyards 2009 Clarksburg Muscat Cannelli Frizzante ($10)
From intimate workshops to large general assemblies, the thousands of grape growers and winemakers who gather in Sacramento each January for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium are inundated with a flood of statistics concerning plantings and sales.
One of the more curious set of figures to emerge from this past winter's gathering reflected the rising popularity of wines made from the muscat family of grapes. For decades, the muscats - muscat canelli, muscat frontignan, muscat of Alexandria, moscato bianco, organge muscat, black muscat and on and on - have languished far from the awareness of mainstream wine consumers.
Now, suddenly and surprisingly, they're generating buzz. Both Danny Brager, a vice president of the Nielsen Beverage Alcohol Team, which tracks wine sales, mostly in grocery stores, convenience markets and the like, and Francesca Schuler, chief marketing officer of Treasury Wine Estates, a global wine company whose California brands include Stags' Leap Winery, Chateau St. Jean and Beringer, reported at the symposium that the growth in sales of muscat wines last year far outpaced other varietals, nearly doubling.
In addition, Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, a marketing cooperative representing more than 500 farmers in the state, reported that new plantings of muscat are surging.
Keep in mind that up to now muscat has been a minor player on the California wine scene. Only 7,000 acres are planted to the variety in the state, compared with 120,000 acres of chardonnay and nearly 100,000 acres of cabernet sauvignon. Of those 7,000 acres, however, fully a quarter were planted just within the past couple of years and have yet to start bearing substantial crops. "If it's a fad, we're in trouble," said DiBuduo of the enthusiasm with which growers are embracing the muscats.
What's driving consumer interest in muscat? Difficult to say, given that the muscat family not only is large but diverse. There are dry muscats and sweet muscats, still muscats and sparkling muscats, white muscats and red muscats. The style that looks to be developing perhaps the most enthusiastic following is white, floral and sweet, with a viscous texture that is given life with intentional effervesence.
Back in January, I wrote here of just that style of California muscat, the Vino Noceto Winery 2010 California Moscato Bianco Frivolo, a spritzy blend of moscato bianco and orange muscat.
A similar version, also perfect for the balmy days of spring, is the Lange Twins Winery & Vineyards 2009 Clarksburg Muscat Cannelli Frizzante. In its smell and flavor, it's classic muscat, all rosewater, nectarine and orange rind. It's medium-bodied and sweet, but not cloying. Its acidity and its touch of spritz make it refreshingly zesty.
The Lange family's winemaker, David Akiyoshi, modeled the muscat after the joyful Italian wine Moscato d'Asti. The grapes were grown in the Dutra family's rich Delta soil during a year that was a bit dodgy, with an unusually cool summer and an early fall rain.
The wine is packaged in an eye-popping 375-milliliter blue bottle, but only for the 2009 vintage. After committing to an initial run with the blue bottles, the Langes discovered that they can't be recycled, contrary to their advocacy of sustainable farming. Henceforth, future releases will be in standard 750-milliliter flint bottles.
By the numbers: 12.5 percent alcohol, 2.5 percent residual sugar, 100 cases, $10.
Context: Given the wine's sweetness, it can stand on its own as an aperitif. Akiyoshi, however, also has found it an amiable companion with such Asian dishes as Thai curry and chicken satay. He also pairs it with desserts based on fresh fruit: an apple tart or claufouti, or a bread pudding with peaches, slivered almonds and ginger-scented creme anglaise.
Availability: Beyond the winery, the muscat is available at only one Sacramento restaurant, Red Lotus, but the Langes recently signed on with a distributor who likely will raise its local profile. The wine also can be ordered through the winery's website, www.langetwins.com.
More information: The Langes don't expect to open a tasting room for another year, but they welcome visitors by appointment only. The winery is in Acampo.