Welcome to the World of Winemaking! I’m having fun alphabetizing the home winemaking process – here are the links going backwards for your convenience, in case you missed any:
A for Aromas, Acidity and Appearance
B for Barrels, Bottles and Blackberry Wine
C for Color, Clarity, Carboys and Cherry Wine
D for Decanting and Decanters
E for Equipment
F for Fermentation
G for Glass and Grape
H for Harvest
I for Infusion
J for Jeroboam and Jug
K for Kabinett
L for Leaf, Label and Lees
Today’s letter is “M”, so we’ll talk about Merlot, Muscat and Must.
Merlot – Merlot, which in French means The Little Blackbird, and is the second most popular red grape in America (after Cabernet Sauvignon). Known for being soft, ripe and elegant, most Merlots are easy drinking reds that go well both with food as well as on their own. This is an approachable grape varietal and is often recommended as the first red wine someone new to red wine should drink.
That’s actually the very first red wine I ever tried way back when – I still enjoy a good Merlot, plus make varietals of the Merlot (like Blackberry Merlot, Blueberry Merlot and Black Cherry Merlot – which are all hits amongst my friends).
It is believed that the first time the grape was used in making wine was in the late 1700s when a French winemaker in the Bordeaux region formally labeled the grape as an ingredient in his Bordeaux wine blend. From this moment on, the grape spread across Bordeaux and became known for its unique ability to add softness and luscious fruit to a wine when it was combined with the region’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon.
The combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot complemented each other so well, that the pair became the main ingredients for the world-renowned Bordeaux blend, now coveted by the majority of the world’s wine drinkers.
As the popularity of Bordeaux wine spread across the globe, so too did Merlot. When the grape arrived in California in the mid-nineteenth century, instead of being blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, American winemakers began making wines using 100% Merlot. The grape grew easily and they discovered Americans really loved the softness of the fruit on its own, and that they enjoyed its low tannin levels.
From Merlot’s American beginnings in California, the grape has since taken root in New York and here in Washington State as well, becoming a very important grape to both regions.
Muscat: noted as probably the most popular grape variety of all time. It’s certainly my favorite! The Romans already cherished it for its intense floral and fruity aromatic profile and spread its culture all over Southern Europe.
The Muscat family includes numerous grape varieties that range from white to nearly black and make many deliciously sweet or dry, fruity and mostly unoaked wines around the world.
One of the oldest grapes still in existence, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains – so named for its small, round berries – is regarded as the best-quality Muscat, exhibiting intensely perfumed orange blossom, rose petal, spice, peach and apricot flavors.
The many varieties of Muscat grapes (Blanc a petits grains or bianco, Alexandria, Canelli and many others) are grown extensively in Spain, France, Italy, Australia or California. In modern days, Muscat remains extremely appreciated in particular for sparkling wines such as Asti or the ‘Moscato’ style.
Must: A red-wine making term that refers to the soupy mass of squished skins, seeds, and pulp that are fermented together. “Must” can also be applied to fruit winemaking; it refers to the gloppy pulp/skin mixture to which the yeast are added, essentially the winemaker’s raw material.
Once the must is fermented, the juice gets extracted, leaving the pulpy mess behind – that can be done with cheese cloth, ricer, sieve (I prefer the vintage cone sieve for jelly making) or press (I love the wooden presses – I had several, and need to replace the ones left behind in PA):
In contrast, if the pulp and other solids are pressed off before fermentation, the raw material is simply “juice.”
Winemaking is so much fun – at least for me – and am tickled every time I give the wine I make as gifts to friends and family who love drinking it as much as I love making it. While we go through this alphabetical series on winemaking, if you have any burning questions, be sure to ask them in the comments below, and I’ll reply there – and maybe even highlight your specific question(s) in a future post!
Thanks for joining me in this fun adventure!