The white grape variety originates from the Mediterranean region; possibly from Greece or Italy. Around 200 synonyms testify to the great age and worldwide distribution of the vine. The most important ones are Muscat de Berkain, Muscat de Fandouk, Muscat El Adda(Algeria); Moscatel Bianco, Moscatel Blanco, Moscatel de Alejandría,(Argentina); Gordo, Lexia, Muscat Gordo Blanco, Muscat of Alexandria (Australia); Moscatel de Alejandría(Chile); Cibeben Muscateller, Muscat-Damascener, Weißer Spanier, Weißer Zibeben-Muscateller, Zibeben Muskateller(Germany); Acherfield's Early Muscat, Muscat Bowood (England); Augibi Blanc, Jubi Blanc, Muscat à Gros Grains, Muscat d'Alexandrie Blanc, Muscat de Jerusalem, Muscat de Rome, Muscat d'Espagne, Muscat Grec, Muscat Romain(France), Angliko, Apostoliatiko, Moschato Alexandrias, Moschato Limnou(Greece); Gerosolimitana Bianca, Gordo Zibibo, Gorosolimitana Bianca, Isidori, Moscatel d'Alessandria, Moscatel de Jesus, Moscatel Romano, Moscatellone, Moscato di Pantelleria, Moscato Francese, Moscato Gordo, Paradisia, Seralamanna, Uva di Pantelleria, Zibibbo, Zibibbo de Pantellaria, Zibibo(Italy); Cibib, Cibib Muscatan Bijeli (Croatia); Moscatel de Setúbal, Moscatel Graúdo(Portugal), Tamîioasa de Alexandria(Romania); Aleksandrijski Muscat(Russia); Gordo, Moscatel Blanco, Moscatel de Alejandría, Moscatel de Málaga, Moscatel de Chipiona, Moscatel de Grano Gordo, Moscatel de Malaga, Moscatel Flamenco, Moscatel Gordo, Moscatel Gordo Blanco, Moscatel Gordo Morado, Salamanca, Zibibbo Blanco(Spain); Hanepoot, Roode Hanepoot, White Muscat of Alexandria, White Hanepoot(South Africa); Meski, Albillo di Toro, Argelino, Muscat de Raf-Raf(Tunisia), Iskendiriye Misketi(Turkey); Alexandriai Muskotály, Daroczy Musko(Hungary); Malaga(Cyprus).
Despite morphological similarity, it must not be confused with the varieties Moscato di Terracina or Muscat d'Hamburg (with confusing synonym Black Muscat of Alexandria). According to the last DNA analyses carried out in 2018, the variety originates from a presumably natural cross between Axina de Tres Bias aka Heftakilo (red) x Muscat Blanc (white). Colour mutations are Muscat d'Alexandrie Red (Red Hanepoot in South Africa and Flame Muscat in California) and Black Muscat of Alexandria (known in England since the 19th century). The Muscat d'Alexandrie variety has passed on its genetic traces worldwide as a parent in numerous natural crosses and as a partner in new breeds:
It is a very old variety that is widely distributed in considerable quantities, especially in many Mediterranean countries, but also overseas. The hypothesis that the name refers to the city of Alexandria and thus to an origin in Egypt is unlikely, however. The assertion that Cleopatra's favourite wine was made from this variety is nothing more than a gag. According to another hypothesis, they are said to have brought the Phoenicians to southern Italy long before the turn of the century. The Romans then spread them to the Mediterranean countries. It is also associated (like Muscat Blanc) with the ancient variety Vitis apiana mentioned by Pliny the Elder (23-79).
The vine was known in Sicily in the 16th century under the name Zibibbo and was mentioned by the Venice botanist Pietro Andrea Mattioli (1501-1577) (who also described the tomato imported from America in 1544). The name Zibibbo is derived from the Arabic "Zabib" (Zibebe = raisin). Under this name it is still used today in the wines of the DOC area on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria. The hypothesis of a descent from South Africa because of a Cape Zibbib allegedly located there is obsolete (there is no such Cape there, in Tunisia there is a Cape Zbib). The main name Muscat d'Alexandrie first appeared in Paris in 1713 and became widely accepted. The variety is included in the work "Le Raisin: ses espèces et variétés dessinées et colorées d'après nature" published in 1815 by the German botanist Johann Simon Kerner (1769-1832), which was illustrated by himself (middle picture).
The late-ripening, high-yielding vine with brownish-reddish, sugar-rich berries is susceptible to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis as well as insect infestation. It is particularly sensitive to cold during the flowering period. It loves warmth and is therefore very suitable for hot climates. The variety produces alcohol-rich white wines with a subtle rose and muscat tone (more restrained than Muscat Blanc). The variety is mainly used for the production of sweet wines. It is also used as a table grape and for the production of raisins. In northern countries like Belgium, the Netherlands or England it is used for greenhouse cultivation, for which it is excellent. In South America it is also used for the distillation of spirits such as Pisco and Singani, and for the production of RTK (Rectified Grape Must Concentrate).
In Europe and North Africa, the main areas under cultivation are Languedoc-Roussillon (2,610 ha) in France, Greece, Israel, Italy, especially in the south and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily (1,521 ha), Morocco (3,669 ha), Portugal (647 ha), Spain, especially Andalusia and Levante (8,237 ha), Tunisia, Turkey and Cyprus (120 ha). Overseas areas are cultivated in Argentina (2,939 ha), Australia (2,043 ha), Bolivia, Brazil (7 ha), Chile (1,090 ha), Ecuador, California, Colombia, Peru, South Africa (2,167 ha) and Uruguay. The variety occupied a total of 26,336 hectares of vineyards in 2010. Compared to 1990 with 64,224 hectares at that time, there was an extreme reduction of around 60%. This puts it in 35th place in the worldwide grape variety ranking.
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Picture left: From Viala et Vermorel - ampélography, public domain, link
Picture middle: Le raisin (1815) by Johann Simon Kerner
Picture right: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)