Gelber muskateller has a special, fruity taste

I wrote about gruner veltliner a few weeks ago and have covered other Austrian wines — white and red — but I think in the nearly five years since I started writing this column, I have yet to pay gelber muskateller its due.

Gelber muskateller is a yellow-skinned version of muscat a petit grains, the oldest type of muscat and one of the oldest grapes known. It’s made into dry and very sweet dessert wines. You can also find muscat ottonel, a different clone of muscat in Austria, but it has lower acid and tends to be less fragrant than gelber muskateller.

Marked by distinct floral, apricot and grapefruit aromas, yellow muscat-gelber muskateller is one of the easiest grapes to spot. Citrus and stone fruits are common on the palate, giving dry versions an especially fruity character. In Austria, it’s quite common in Burgenland near the Hungarian border, but can also be found in the Wachau, Vienna or further south in Styria.

While accounting for only 0.9 percent of all plantings, it’s arguably more interesting than muller-thurgau or chardonnay, each outnumbering gelber muskateller vines five to one.

Yellow muscat is grown in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia and other parts of Europe, and tasting examples from each of these countries would no doubt be enlightening.

Be sure to throw in something from Alsace too. However, for our purposes today, let’s stick to Austria, as even with the differences in terroir from region to region, the wines have a common minerality and purity that makes them special.

Tement gelber muskateller, Steirische Klassic, 2009 (Sudsteiermark, Austria): Southern Styria on the Slovenia border is one of the most beautiful places I have been to. It’s home to Austria’s famous pumpkin-seed oil and the fruitiest white wines made in the country. Tement makes two single-vineyard gelber muskatellers in addition to this wine, but for the money the Klassic will more than satisfy. Led off by elderflower and guava aromatics, this juicy wine has a touch of residual sugar, but with bright acidity it leaves a long, searing finish. Suggested retail: $20

Weingut Josef Maximilian Hogl gelber muskateller, Wachauer Weingarten, 2009 (Wachau, Austria): The Wachau, Austria’s most famous and prestigious wine region, is known for gruner veltliner and riesling. Hogl does a fine job with these grapes, but the gelber muskateller is its hidden gem. Citrus-laden with piquant pink grapefruit, mandarin orange and Meyer lemon flavors, rose petal overtones and a superb finish, this is a vibrant and delicious wine. Suggested retail: Not available

Weingut Schrock gelber muskateller, Vogelsang, 2009 (Neusiedlersee Hügeland, Austria):
It might be sacrilege to write an article on Austrian muscat and not mention Heidi Schrock. One of the founders of 11 Women and Their Wine, a 10-year-old group of Austrian female winemakers, Heidi is a role model to young winemakers of both genders. She also makes a terrific Muscat that blends gelber muskateller with muscat ottonel, but this gelber muskateller is one of the best Schrock wines I’ve tasted to date (and for the record, in the past 15 years, I’ve been blessed to taste no less than five dozen of her wines). As overused as the word may be, the first word I wrote down with the wine still swishing around my mouth was “awesome.” With a floral array of rose petals, orange blossoms and elderflowers followed by fresh apricots, guava, banana and orange peel, this relatively dry wine explodes on the palate but still has remarkable finesse. Suggested retail: $25

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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