Primarily the name for a grape variety is associated with this term. In fact, it is an umbrella term for various varieties, crosses or new breeds with Muscatel involvement and also not infrequently unrelated grape varieties. It is therefore not possible to speak of a group of varieties and certainly not of a muscatel family (the same phenomenon also applies to the four name groups Lambrusco, Malvasia, Trebbiano and Vernaccia). There are Muscatel varieties with berries in all imaginable shades of white, yellow, grey, green, pink, red, brown, purple, blue and black. According to one of the numerous hypotheses, the variety is said to have been known to the Egyptians and Persians as early as 3,000 BC, for which wall paintings are sometimes mentioned as an indication. However, there is no conclusive evidence of this, as identification is naturally not possible with such pictorial representations.
Today, Greece or possibly Italy is regarded as the probable origin. This is supported by the fact that both countries have descendants and kinship relations to other varieties. According to this, it was possibly brought to Europe by the Greeks and spread by the Romans in their dominion. It is said that already the emperors Charlemagne (742-814) and Frederick I. Barbarossa (1122-1190) were great admirers of Muscatel. The fact that Muscatel wine is supposedly mentioned in the Song of the Nibelungs seems to be a fairy tale, because there is nothing about it in the Middle High German original, which was written at the beginning of the 13th century.
There are several variations on the meaning of the name. Since it is a very old grape variety or grape varieties, possibly already known in antiquity, the Latin "musca" (fly) is supposed to be meant by it, because the intense scent attracts insects. This is then also associated with the ancient Vitis apiana mentioned by Columella (1st century AD) and Pliny the Elder (23-79). Other hypotheses mention the cities of Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman or Moschat, today a suburb of Athens. The most commonly cited reason for the name refers to the typical smell/taste of the grapes or the wine made from them - Muscat. Contrary to common belief, there are two different causes/substances responsible for this, namely nutmeg and musk. Such aromas can also be found in other grape varieties such as Traminer. Varieties with this tone are counted among the so-called bouquet varieties.
Varieties under this name can be found in old documents of many countries. The first mention was made around 1230 by the naturalist Bartholomaeus Anglicus (1190-1250) in his work "De proprietatibus rerum", in which he reports on "wine extracted from Muscat grapes". The famous Petrus de Crescentiis (1230-1320) mentioned a table grape "Muscatellus" (Italy) in his work "Ruralia Commoda". There are further reports of varieties called Muscat (1394 in France), Muscatel (1513 in Spain), Muscatelli (1536 in Switzerland) and Muscateller (1546 in Germany); the latter by the botanist Hieronymus Bock (1498-1554) in his "Kreütter Buch". In the German-speaking world, a distinction is often made between Yellow (White) Muscatelli and Red Muscatelli, and in Germany they are even separately identified. The most important muscatel varieties:
But these are by far not all. The wine lexicon contains about 150 muscatel varieties. The term "Muscat/Muscat" is included as a part of the name in many grape variety names or synonyms and homonyms in the respective national languages, although they are not always Muscat varieties. These include Meski (Tunisia); Misket (Bulgaria); Moscatel (Spain, Portugal); Moscato, Moscatello (Italy); Moschato, Moschoudia, Muskuti (Greece); Muscat, Muscateller (Germany, Austria); Muskotály (Hungary). Especially Muscat Blanc and Muscat d'Alexandrie were often either ancestors in natural crosses or crossing partners in new varieties (the varieties are listed there).
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)