06/19/07 – Muscat vs. Sherry (the battle of the dessert whites)

By Jesse on June 18, 2007


I’m in the mood for a battle, aren’t you?  I say we take two of the more famous white “dessert wines” and totally deconstruct them.  By no means are they the only important dessert whites, but it’s fair to say that Muscat and Sherry are two of the most prominent… and the most misunderstood.  First of all, what’s a Muscat?  We see labels like “Muscat Canelli ,” but how is that different from other Muscats?  Is it a regular (table) wine, or is it a fortified wine?  And Sherry, don’t even get me started on Sherry.  Only old ladies drink Sherry.  I just saw Notes on a Scandal, and it just seemed so appropriate when Judi Dench’s 70-year-old spinster character ordered a “dry sherry, please.”  What does that even mean??

All of these questions and more to be answered at Tuesday’s meeting.  We’ll walk away with not only a better understanding of these two enigmatic wines, but also a good sense of how they compare to each other.  First, some background information on both:

Muscat is actually a large family of grape varieties all around the world, and it may be the world’s first cultivated wine grape.  They will tend to be less syrupy or voluptuous than other dessert wines, erring instead towards more aromatic characteristics.  Muscat can be made into a regular table wine, a sparkling wine, or a fortified wine (dessert wine), depending on where it’s grown.  When you’re shopping, look for the following:

Muscat Canelli: a version of Muscat grown in Europe, California, and elsewhere (also called Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains)
–Orange Muscat: grown primarily in California, and often exhibits orange characteristics
–Alsace: in this French region, Muscat is made into a dry table wine
–Asti or Moscato d’Asti: in Italy, Muscat is made into these sparkling wines

Sherry (also spelled Jerez or Xerez) is grown in Spain, made primarily from the Palomino grape (small amounts of Muscat, here called Moscatel, may be blended in).  Like Muscat, Sherry also ranges along a spectrum from dry to sweet.  According to the Bible, they don’t taste like any other white (or red) wines in the world, and simply have to be tasted to be understood.  But here’s a broad guide, with words to look for:

–Fino-type Sherries (tend to be tangy and crisp)
Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado

–Oloroso-type Sherries (sweeter and lusher)
Oloroso, Cream, Pedro Ximenez

Do not buy a Sherry that’s not from Spain.  It won’t be anything like the real thing.  It’s like buying a bottle that says “Bordeaux” but isn’t from France.  Dangerous idea.

Feel free to bring either a Muscat or a Sherry.  And have fun at the wine shop!  Ask for help, and let the brief guide above steer you in the right direction towards something you think you’ll enjoy.  Note: these wines can be expensive, so absolutely feel free to split a bottle with a friend.  They’ll generally start around $20 and go up.

We’ll be meeting at Newsha’s house in Venice.  Chill your delicious dessert whites, feign confidence in your selection, and arrive promptly.  We’ll see you all on Tuesday at 9:00pm.